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A group of Cal Poly industrial technology students handcrafts high-end lamps for stylish outdoor fun 

The drone of a drill and the whir of a gigantic water jet punctuated the busy silence in Cal Poly's industrial technology workroom.

Nearly a dozen students flitted to and from a large wooden workbench. Some wore fluorescent orange utility jumpsuits, and all sported safety goggles. Tools and several half-constructed oak and galvanized steel lamps peppered the bench. They needed to finish 50 Nova Light units by May 22.

click to enlarge LIGHT RACE The Nova Team is racing to craft 100 units of the Nova Lamp by June 3 in order for their senior project to be successful. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE NOVA TEAM
  • Photo Courtesy Of The Nova Team
  • LIGHT RACE The Nova Team is racing to craft 100 units of the Nova Lamp by June 3 in order for their senior project to be successful.

"As a team, everyone here is averaging about 30 hours a week or more on this project," fourth year industrial technology student Holden Kooiker said. "We're not as worried about the grade in this class as we are about making a really good product and getting it out to people."

Nova Light project lead Kooiker and his undergraduate team had 12 lamps almost ready to go as of May 19. The Nova is a rechargeable, app-controlled, portable lamp that's meant to provide outdoor activities with more aesthetically pleasing illumination. Its vertical light bulb is encased in a helix-shaped cage of galvanized steel, and it rests on a red oak charging base.

"It's handcrafted. There are not many outdoor portable lights. The closest competitors you might see are little, tiny, handheld lanterns. But those aren't necessarily for an aesthetic purpose, just more utilitarian. We're trying to get something that's specifically outdoor and aesthetic and can be moved around easily," Kooiker said.

The Nova Light is the eight-week-old senior project for the industrial technology students in their business and production management class. Success means selling 100 units by June 3. With pre-orders flowing in, the group of 11 needs 28 more to hit the goal.

"We've had purchases from wineries already. Just seeing what their outdoor spaces look like, and reaching out to them via email, some of them have been super supportive. They just bought a bunch right away," said sales lead Reece Brown.

Brown added that J. Lohr Winery and Paso Robles' Brecon Estates expressed interest, with the latter buying three lamps. At almost $260 for a galvanized steel lamp and $280 for the black version (plus $30 for a customizable nameplate), the Nova is marketed as a high-end product because of the hands-on manufacturing process. Kooiker said if they only made one lamp, it would take nine hours to complete, provided each step is added sequentially.

"We had to self-fund. The material cost for each one of these is $120 to make. We had to put in our own money to get started. As sales from pre-orders started coming in, we would use that money to fund the rest of the materials," he said. "We would be making an 80 percent profit margin on each unit sold, and that's gonna go straight back into our pockets."

The Nova team tries to generate public interest by parading the lamp around local events like the Downtown SLO Farmer's Market and robustly engaging on social media platforms. The students said they're tired, with a demanding schedule that keeps them on campus until 9 p.m. some days. But there's light at the end of the tunnel: graduation in early June.

"I'm doing a big Europe trip as soon as graduation hits. I'm gonna go backpacking for a whole month, so that's probably where my profits are going to," laughed Kooiker.

Fast fact

• The Cayucos Chamber of Commerce's May Madness fundraiser returns after a two-year hiatus on May 28 at the Cayucos Elementary School auditorium. Tickets are $200 and admit two guests each. All event proceedings will go to the local July 4 fireworks fund and other chamber programs. Purchase tickets at the Sea Shanty, Shoreline Inn, Beach Bums, Schooners, and the Cayucos Chamber office, or by calling (805) 995-1200. Δ

Reach Staff Writer Bulbul Rajagopal at brajagopal@newtimesslo.com.

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