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A Plan for the Future

The third annual Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competition (MEPC) promises to be the best ever - and most lucrative
By: Marc Ballon
December 07, 2012 —

Dean & Fariborz Article Image
Dean Yannis Yortsos and Benefactor Fariborz Maseeh

Biomedical Engineering Professor Ellis Meng has a vision. She has spent much of the past eight years working on a wireless, implantable pump that she believes could dramatically improve the delivery of medicine to mice and rats in pre-clinical trials and one day even the therapeutic delivery in humans.

Meng is hopeful that a strong showing in the third annual Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competition (MEPC) will help her and her Fluid Synchrony team successfully bring their promising product to market sooner.

“I would love to see devices worked on in my lab help people down the road,” said Meng, whom MIT Technology Review named in 2009 as one of the world’s foremost innovators under 35.

Fluid Synchrony joined 17 other budding entrepreneurial teams Dec. 5 in Ronald Tutor Hall to kickoff the MEPC, a business plan competition for Viterbi students, faculty and other would-be business builders. With $100,000 in prize money, the most in the competition's history, the stakes have never been higher. Neither has the diversity of companies, whose proposed creations range from social networking websites to secure photo-sharing technology to novel media management platforms.

“This competition is becoming a very important part of innovation and entrepreneurship at the Viterbi School,” said Viterbi School Dean Yannis Yortsos.

Thirty-six teams submitted initial applications, which a group of external business experts reviewed and whittled down to the 18 most viable plans. Seven semi-finalists will be chosen in mid-March with the winner announced March 28, 2013.

Team Article Image
Team Fluid Synchrony

Thanks to alumni donations, the amount of prize money has doubled to $100,000, with a grand prize of $50,000 in seed money. Four Alumni Choice Awards of $25,000, $15,000, $5,000 and $5,000 will also be awarded for the first time. The grand-prize winner can receive an Alumni Choice Award.

“I’m tremendously excited about this competition,” said Viterbi School Professor Peter Beerel, who oversees the event. “The teams are the most competitive I’ve ever seen. The mentors are tremendously strong. This is going to be fabulous.”

In addition to Viterbi’s Beerel, Tommy Knapp of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurship and Ashish Soni, executive director of digital innovation at the Viterbi School, have played integral roles in organizing this year’s competition.

To help the budding entrepreneurs move innovative ideas to the marketplace, the Viterbi School will offer five intensive educational “boot camp” sessions in coming months. Under the guidance of USC Marshall School of Business professors, venture capitalists and others, participants will learn about customer acquisition, intellectual property, fundraising, marketing and crafting an effective “elevator pitch.”

In a larger sense, MEPC underscores the Viterbi School’s commitment to nurturing and spawning tomorrow’s transformative technologies.

Abtum Inc., the competition’s first victor, is developing a programmable, integrated wide-band transceiver chip. Abtum’s chip would enable users to access a wider variety of media from a smaller device with a longer battery life.

Since its victory, Abtum’s founders have raised more than $5 million, hired two full-time and two part-time staff and filed two additional provisional patents.

In April, Forbes.com featured last year’s winner, ClariTrac, in a flattering profile. ClariTrac hopes to improve ultrasound-guided breast biopsies by attaching a tiny light to the end of a biopsy needle. This would allow physicians to see what they are targeting.

The Viterbi School established the business plan competition with a $1 million endowment from Fariborz Maseeh, founder of IntelliSense. A scientist by training, his studies in mechanical engineering and applied mathematics inspired him to pursue the field of micro-electro mechanical systems (MEMS).

He said the competition has exceeded his expectations. “This is one of the best philanthropic investments I’ve ever made.”