Logo: University of Southern California

19 Teams. One Winner. No Losers.

The 4th annual Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize competition unveils a new wave of highly-mentored, engineer-lead start-ups.
By: Anna-Catherine Brigida
December 02, 2013 —
2012 MEPC winner Thomas Cummins gives a presentation to the crowd at the kickoff event. 

Thomas Cummins is ready for another win. The 2012 Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competition winner and USC Viterbi biomedical engineering Ph.D. candidate met with his new team at the fourth annual MEPC launch on November 20, along with scores of hopefuls looking to turn their business plan ideas into the $50,000 grand prize.

Cummins has returned to the competition as part of a team, InDepth, which has invented a device to safely find arteries in neonatal patients during critical care. The device is designed to increase the initial arterial placement rate from 33 percent to more than 80 percent to decrease risk of injury to the patient.

InDepth is just one of 19 teams in the competition with an innovative engineering idea. Other company ideas include revolutionizing medical records using Google Glass, creating new algorithms to support big data applications and building a power-generating gym facility.

IntelliSense founder Fariborz Maseeh created the competition four years ago with a $1 million endowment to foster an entrepreneurial spirit among engineers. As a top 10-ranked engineering graduate school by US News, USC Viterbi has an abundance of talented and skilled engineers. With the MEPC competition and USC Viterbi Startup Garage, the school seeks to combine its students’ engineering skills with an entrepreneurial edge to help them succeed.

Left to Right: Peter Beerel, Fariborz Maseeh, USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos

“We live in an era where technology, innovation and entrepreneurship is crucial to continuous economic growth and prosperity,” said USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos. “Along with our student and alumni- centered initiatives, including the Viterbi Startup Garage and the Viterbi Student Innovation Institute, MEPC fosters a strong entrepreneurship and innovation spirit that will lead to the creation of vibrant technology start-ups.”

The 19 chosen teams are each matched with two mentors who dedicate four hours a month to help them turn ideas into products. The teams also attend boot camp training sessions about marketing, business models and fundraising to prepare them to submit their business plans in March. Eight semi-finalists are selected in March and four finalists in April. The first place team receives $50,000.

Cummins was part of the 2012 MEPC winning team with ClariTrac. His team is producing a product that improves biopsy accuracy by placing a virtual light at the end of the biopsy needle on the screen of ultrasound imaging machines. This helps prevent misdiagnoses of breast cancer among other applications. With the prize money, ClariTrac filed their patents and worked toward earning an NIH Small Business Innovation Research grant. The company just received a $200,000 grant to build its prototype.

Peter Beerel, faculty director of innovation and entrepreneurship in engineering, believes this competition provides a unique opportunity for engineering students.

“There’s very few opportunities centered around engineers helping them connect with business people and understand that process,” said Beerel, MEPC’s lead organizer. “We need to teach these engineers that process and the steps towards taking their ideas into the market-place.”

The competition has exceeded expectations for competition founder Maseeh. Watching the teams excel has been a rewarding part of his investment.

“There is one lucky winner at the end, but there are no losers,” he said. “That’s the most exciting part, to see 19 teams flourishing.”