Dorfman Incubator Grants aid in four Cal Lu alumni startups


Photo Contributed by Sabith Khan

Sabith Khan and Fabiola Lara, co-founders of Tlali•Pani are amongst the first to receive the Dorfman Incubator Grants.

Emily Henbest, Reporter

For the first time ever, the Dorfman Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at California Lutheran University awarded a combined $180,000 to four startups led by Cal Lutheran affiliates with the new Dorfman Incubator Grants.

Gerhard Apfelthaler, dean of the School of Management, oversees all undergraduate majors and graduate programs at the School of Management as well as the Steve Dorfman Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting, and the Center for Economics of Social Issues.

“We’re incredibly excited to have this grant opportunity, and to have chosen the first four, inaugural award recipients. Coincidentally, all four recipients already had a Cal Lutheran affiliation – several alumni are included and one current professor in the School of Management (Dr. Sabith Khan) and his wife Fabiola Lara,” Apfelthaler said in an email interview. 

However, it is important to mention that anyone can apply for the grant, Cal Lutheran affiliation is not required. 

“Applicants don’t have to have a Cal Lutheran affiliation when they apply, but they have to explain how they will involve Cal Lutheran students or recent alumni when they receive the grant and how they would provide educational value to our students,” Apfelthaler said.

These non-dilutive grants are designed to aid recipients through funding, but, according to Apfelthaler, they also benefit the Cal Lutheran community by creating partnerships that will bring students educational opportunities.

“What the grant recipients do have to do, however, is to provide educational value to our entrepreneurship education – by providing internships, guest-speaking in classes, mentoring students, helping us to write case studies on their journey,” Apfelthaler said.

The four Cal Lutheran affiliates who received the first Dorfman Incubator Grants have each founded startups unlike each other but all will use the funding to further their entrepreneurial efforts.

“Not every awarded company has to engage in the same range of activities, but they all had to document in their application how they would be providing educational value. We are hoping that entrepreneurship education thereby not only becomes more tangible for students, but also that students get inspired to start their own startup companies,” Apfelthaler said.

Cal Lutheran alumnus Joshua Janik is the founder and creator of ‘A Fox and His Robot’, a video game that is set to release in the upcoming months.

“I applied for this grant because ‘A Fox and His Robot’ has been about a four-year project, and is now coming to the conclusion, which is very exciting. Once you come to the release, especially for a video game, there’s a pretty large cost in terms of the financials,” Janik said. “This grant is going to help fund part of the marketing campaign that’s going to happen for the product launch.” 

Director and Assistant Professor of the Master of Public Policy & Administration Program Sabithulla Khan co-founded Tlali’Pani with his wife Fabiola Lara. Tlali’Pani is a social enterprise that works with artisans around the world, helps create new markets for many of these artisans and celebrates creativity and beauty.

“The purpose of applying for the grant was because we are bootstrapping–bootstrapping, meaning we are investing our own money–and everything we do costs money,” Khan said in a Zoom interview 

Cal Lutheran alumnus Christian Masegian created Modern Football Technology to solve the business problems of coaches through an analytics platform that provides live, historical and self-scout tendency analytics all in a single pane of glass. 

“We applied for the Dorfman Incubator Grant because it represented a unique opportunity to support our business objectives while becoming involved with and supporting CLU’s vision to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Conejo Valley,” Masegian said in an email interview.

And finally, Cal Lutheran alumnus Brian Malchow, CEO of InvoCure, will help medical groups provide supplies to more manufacturers through their app that is set to launch in the near future. 

The Dorfman Incubator Grants were made to provide support for entrepreneurs with hopes that they will remember the Cal Lutheran community that helped them when they find success.

“In addition, there are of course positive secondary and long-term effects. The secondary effects might include increased visibility and attractiveness of our programs in the community. After all, we are not aware of any other program in the nation of a similar kind. In the long-run, we are of course also hoping that some of the awarded startups will be very successful and will not forget who helped them get started,” Apfelthaler said.