Stepping In​to the Marketplace



Campus: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Major/Program: B.S. in Business Administration, Concentration in Entrepreneurship, ’18

Company: Pashion Footwear

Launched: 2019

Sales: $1 million net revenue since launch, maintaining an average growth rate of 60 percent month over month for the last five months

The idea for Pashion Footwear was born from years of high heel pain and inconvenience. While president and CEO Haley Pavone loved the aesthetic of heels, she would often end up barefoot everywhere she went. “This came to a head in 2016 when I was at my sorority spring formal and was barefoot on the dancefloor,” she recalls. “Inspiration struck when one of the other women accidentally stomped the ballpoint of her stiletto through my bare foot—impaling me through the toe.”

As she writhed in pain, Pavone looked around and realized that most of the women were also barefoot, having ditched their heels in a giant pile in the corner of the room. “In that moment, it struck me how odd it was that everyone knows high heels hurt, yet there was no marketable solution,” she says. “I was studying entrepreneurship in school at the time and had just come out of a series of lectures on identifying market opportunities. I couldn't help but feel like this one had smacked me in the face, so I doubled down and started pursuing a solution myself.”

Enter Pashion Footwear, a line of convertible high heels that can quickly turn from high heel into a comfortable flat with the removal of the heel.

A person models a shoe from Pashion Footwear.

Pashion Footwear's convertible design allows instant transformation from heel to flat, and back again.


Pavone found the assistance she needed for her fledgling idea at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (CIE). Depending on where students are in their journey, the CIE offers programming that will help them in three main areas: learn, prepare and launch.

The Hatchery, which is on campus, is geared toward students who may have an idea in the early stages,” explains Lynn Metcalf, Ph.D., professor of entrepreneurship in the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and director of the Faculty Fellows program for the CIE. “Participation in the Hatchery positions student teams to apply to the summer accelerator program, which is located in the HotHouse ​downtown.”

In addition to a bachelor’s with a concentration in entrepreneurship, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo offers an entrepreneurship minor that draws from all colleges and disciplines across campus. “Students often get their start in our experiential classes, where they identify a problem that interests them and develop initial ideas for a solution,” Dr. Metcalf says. “They can take it into the Hatchery, work on it further and find mentoring, advising and programming that helps them grow their idea into a business.”

Students are able to attend workshops put on by local professionals on topics such as accounting, legal issues and fundraising. “Our mentor network doesn’t just draw from the local area,” says Thomas Katona, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. “We find the very best mentors who are active in the space. If a student is working in artificial intelligence, we'll bring someone in to advise them.”

Haley Pavone poses next to her products.

"Ever since I was a little girl, I was a natural leader and loved solving problems," Haley Pavone says.

For Pavone, joining the Hatchery and HotHouse programs was an invaluable experience that was essential to getting Pashion Footwear where it is today. “The programs helped us secure funding, develop our business plan and find mentors, contractors, advisors and other necessary resources,” she says.

The work has now paid off. Just recently, Pavone appeared on an episode of Shark Tank—during w​hich she turned down an offer that wasn’t up to snuff. “I was absolutely shocked when I got the call that we'd made it through the application screening,” she says. “In truth, it took years of perfecting the pitch and growing the business to land that shot. I firmly believe ‘luck’ is just preparation meeting opportunity.”