Logo: University of Southern California

Turning Laboratory Research Into Marketplace Reality

Venture capitalist Mark Stevens launches a new institute to stimulate technology commercialization on the USC campus

November 12, 2004 —
Stevens, second from right, holds up a Trojan football jersey with his name and the number 22, which reflects the amount of his gift — in millions of dollars — while Dean Nikias, left, holds up a Trojan football helmet with the name of Stevens' new institute etched on the side.  President Sample, right, and several Viterbi School engineering students joined Stevens on the stage.
Hundreds of spectators from across campus crowded into USC’s Engineering Quad Nov. 11 to salute alumnus Mark Stevens — one of Silicon Valley’s most successful venture capitalists – for his $22-million gift to establish a new Mark and Mary Stevens Institute for Technology Commercialization (SITeC) at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.
Faculty, students, staff, alumni, and corporate and industry colleagues turned out for a late afternoon celebration for Stevens, a USC graduate with two engineering degrees and a degree in economics, who is now a general partner at Sequoia Capital in Menlo Park, Calif.  Stevens’ gift, the second largest in the School’s seven-year fundraising campaign, has pushed the Viterbi School’s $300-million campaign over the halfway mark, bringing the fundraising total to $160 million.  
“It’s a great honor that Mary and Mark Stevens have chosen to associate their name with an academic enterprise dedicated to encouraging innovation in the lab and translation to the marketplace,” said USC President Steven B. Sample, an electrical engineer who, early in his own career, successfully commercialized his invention: the digital touch controls used in microwave ovens and other appliances.
“Thanks to Mary and Mark Stevens’ forward-looking generosity, we will not only speed up our ability to turn laboratory research into marketplace reality, but we will also be able to attract and retain the best professors and educate the best students,” he said. “Their gift truly has the potential to transform this university.”
Brightly painted tech transfer illustrations adorned the stage on the steps of Vivian Hall.  Approximately 200 VIPs were seated in chairs in front of the stage, with spectators crowded around on all sides to watch the festivities.
President Sample introduces the new institute while Dean Nikias, center, and Mark Stevens, right, look on. 
An ‘extraordinary catalyst’
Sample said SITeC would serve as an “extraordinary catalyst” for USC students and faculty looking to turn their research into products that will address a wide variety of societal needs. 
USC Viterbi School Dean C. L. Max Nikias introduced Stevens as a “man with a passion for improving people’s lives.”
“Today we salute a man with a passion for benefiting the lives of ordinary people everywhere,” Nikias said. “A man who has shown great wisdom and magnanimity in his investments in the leading businesses and industries of the future.  A man who has now created a dramatic partnership that will allow USC and its Viterbi School to join him in his passion for building a better world.
“It is one thing to have a passion, but it is a completely different thing to achieve the goals that our passions drive us to,” he continued. “Mark Stevens has modeled this latter ability.  And we are all better for it.”
Stevens was called to the podium to watch as engineering students unveiled a 60-foot-long cardinal red banner bearing the institute’s new name — the Mark and Mary Stevens Institute for Technology Commercialization — in gold letters.
The crowd burst into applause, then raised their hands and formed the “V” for victory as Band Director Arthur Bartner led theTrojan Marching Band through “Conquest.”
“I think one of the key changes for universities in the 21st century is going to be interdisciplinary study, being able to cross-pollinate, cross-fertilize ideas from different parts of a university campus,” Stevens said.  “I believe that SITeC can be a key element to that, in taking ideas from the business school, ideas from the engineering school, ideas from the cinema school or the medical school and coming up with technologies in these diverse areas.”
The genesis for companies like Cisco, Yahoo! and Google — all companies that Sequoia Capital helped take public — came right off of university campuses, Stevens noted.
”It’s a trend that must continue if America is going to have a competitive economy in the 21st century,” he said. 

The crowd closed in around the stage to watch the festivities.
SITeC’s mission     

As envisioned, the new Mark and Mary Stevens Institute for Technology Commercialization will be home to a rigorous program of technology transfer and academic instruction.  While some universities have technology transfer programs at the institutional level, Nikias said SITeC’s home within the USC Viterbi School of Engineering will make it a first.
SITeC’s program of comprehensive commercialization education and training will set it apart from other university-based tech transfer programs. “In tomorrow’s world, everyone with an engineering degree, no matter how specialized, must understand the key elements of technology commercialization,” Nikias said.
“Our goal isn’t simply to raise individual competence, but to create a new culture and awareness of the value of     commercialization.  Then technology transfer can become a natural, intuitive process,” he said.  “SITeC’s professional staff will provide a dynamic interface between USC engineers and potential investors and corporate partners with a full range of consulting services, from market analyses to third-party investor introductions.  In this way, SITeC will build new links to industry as it assists USC engineers in addressing the overlapping technical, legal and business aspects of commercialization. The result: a more seamless technology transfer process.”
SITeC will be run by a professional staff, including an executive director, licensing and marketing experts, Nikias said.  The staff will concentrate on helping researchers at the USC Viterbi School, and in other parts of the campus, to commercialize new technologies produced by their research.
As more USC technology innovations enter the marketplace, creating new opportunities and jobs, SITeC could boost Southern California’s economy, as well as the state’s and the nation’s economy.  “Many companies have learned that the USC Viterbi School welcomes cooperation and collaboration with industry,” Stevens said.  “I hope that SITeC will spread this message still further.”     
SITeC will be a resource for students and faculty from across campus to strengthen technology transfer capabilities university-wide.  The institute will collaborate with the USC Marshall School of Business and the USC Gould School of Law to create a strong academic program providing comprehensive technology commercialization education and training for all of its engineering students at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
“Everyone who earns an engineering degree at the USC Viterbi School will leave here with a basic understanding of the key elements of technology commercialization – intellectual property, business, economics, marketing, management, business plan development and ethics – as they relate to technology commercialization,” Nikias said.  “We believe this will be unique in engineering education.”

Brightly painted technology banners decorated the stage in honor of the new commercialization institute.
About Mark Stevens

Stevens, 44, earned his B.S. in electrical engineering and his B.A. in economics simultaneously at USC.  He went on to earn an M.S. in computer science, and then joined Intel, then a mid-sized company about to capitalize on the PC boom.  He left later to earn an MBA at Harvard University.
In 1989, he became a partner at Sequoia Capital and began to concentrate his talents on semiconductor, software and systems-related investments.  Over the years, he became a rising star on Forbes magazine’s Midas List of top 100 venture capitalists, climbing as high as 10th place in the ranking.  
Currently he is one of five voting partners at Sequoia Capital and jointly responsible for some of the high-tech industry’s most spectacular investments: Google, Yahoo!, NVIDIA and others.  He also sits on the board of NVIDIA and six Sequoia-funded private companies, and has been a director of such winning startups as mp3.com, Aspect Development, Documentum and BillPoint. 
He is a member of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering Board of Councilors and the USC Board of Trustees.
His business intuition and marketing skill have served him well in venture capital, but Stevens knows from experience that there is a void in today’s engineering curricula that a commercialization program can fill.
“Many engineers in industry know how to build a widget, but they have no idea how to build a company,” he said earlier when asked about why he was establishing SITeC.  “I have a widget that I built in my garage. Now what do I do with it? How do I sell it? How do I market it? Who’s going to build it for me? How do I file my patents so I can protect my invention? Engineers learn this by accident or by osmosis or just on their own. The learning’s not very structured or formalized — and that’s why we’re doing SITeC.” 
--Diane Ainsworth
Photos by Irene Fertik and Jason Dziegielewski