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At the Crossroads of Business and Science

Erkan Ozkaya

I’m fascinated by innovation and love creating products and services, I have enormous respect for scientists and engineers, and now I get to work alongside them for NASA-CPP.

Mentoring the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

When Erkan Ozkaya was attending college in his home country of Turkey, he faced a dilemma familiar to many— what to pick as his major.

“I was really interested in science and also into business,” he says. “It was a tough choice to make.”

Ultimately, Ozkaya decided to major in business, graduating from Baskent University in Ankara with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2003, then his MBA from Yeditepe University in Istanbul,  and going on to earn a Ph.D. in marketing from Michigan State University. In 2011 he joined the faculty at Cal Poly Pomona as an assistant professor of international business and marketing.

In a twist he couldn’t have imagined back when he was a young college student, today Ozkaya is fully immersed in the worlds of both business and science. Now, he is a professor of innovation in the College of Business Administration and the founding director of NASA-CPP, a start-up program where students and faculty across campus collaborate on developing consumer applications and products based on NASA aerospace technologies.

“I’m fascinated by innovation and love creating products and services,” Ozkaya says. “I have enormous respect for scientists and engineers, and now I get to work alongside them for NASA-CPP. It’s fantastic!”

The four-time recipient of the Faculty of the Year Award in the Department of International Business & Marketing department has led multidisciplinary teams of students, faculty and mentors in creating a wide range of products, from high-powered portable microscopes for kids to Posturonic, a posture correction device with sensors that emit signals whenever you’re slouching. Ozkaya was inspired to develop Posturonic because his own poor posture was making it impossible for him to sit in lotus position and meditate for more than five minutes at a time.

Now, with fresh funding from university donors, NASA-CPP is moving onto a new phase, patenting their products, with hopes of bringing them to market within the next few years.

It’s a big pivot from Ozkaya’s first job out of college, working for an Istanbul-based gaming company where he helped create and market a sports-betting service.

“While I really enjoyed that project,” he says, “I realized that I wanted to work in multiple industries and be involved with the big picture rather than focusing on only one enterprise, which turns into a day-to-day deadline grind after a while.”

The complex innovations Ozkaya is leading requires a vibrant ecosystem across disciplines.

“Nobody can succeed in sophisticated technologies in isolation,” he says. “Our ecosystem for the NASA-CPP program includes NASA advisors, CPP faculty and students and executives in residence, who are leaders in the tech and biotech industries.”

“Another vital element is potential investors, and we’re building relationships with venture capital firms in Silicon Valley,” he says. “The good news is that among venture capital firms that are used to dealing with Stanford and MIT, there’s a great deal of interest in what we’re doing at Cal Poly Pomona.”

Ozkaya estimates he spends at least 35 hours a week on NASA-CPP projects. He also teaches two classes each semester and oversees the annual Bronco Startup Challenge, a 13-week competition where student entrepreneurs formulate business plans and pitch their ideas to a panel of judges. As the director of Cal Poly Pomona’s new Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Ozkaya is developing a series of workshops for entrepreneurs; he regularly publishes research in leading business journals on topics such as the impact of corporate reputation on emerging brands in India and China, and he is a committed mentor to his students, coaching them on career goals years after they’ve graduated.

“I don’t know if this is sustainable,” Ozkaya says with a laugh after reciting his ambitious to-do list, “but I absolutely love what I do.”

Published on September 27, 2021

Impact Map

Explore Impact Map

The Impact Map shows how Cal Poly Pomona alumni are making a difference in Southern California and around the country. Explore the map or share your own impact.

Explore the map

Submit Your Story