Logo: University of Southern California

Start Me Up

The USC Viterbi Startup Garage’s Demo Day showcased the next wave of hot new local high-tech companies, all led by USC Viterbi students and alumni.
By: Marc Ballon
October 24, 2013 —

The USC Viterbi Startup Garage had a coming out party Thursday, Oct. 17 at Town and Gown, and about 300 supporters, including students, alumni and investors, showed up.

At the first annual Demo Day, executives from nine of the Startup Garage’s burgeoning companies made presentations that demonstrated the business incubator’s diversity, innovation and promise.

“Our goal is to become the catalyst for making LA and Southern California a hub for entrepreneurship,” USC Viterbi Dean Yannis Yortsos said. 

“That’s a pretty solid bunch of companies,” added entrepreneur Michael Sheha, a USC Viterbi electrical engineering alumnus (M.S. 2000), angel investor and a member of the electrical engineering advisory board. “There’s a lot of bright people here, and it’s great to see them applying their talents to startups.”

The Startup Garage’s goal: Create successful, USC Viterbi-led local startups to produce cutting-edge technologies and products; fuel economic development and job creation in the Southland; foster the development of a vibrant local ecosystem of venture capitalists, angel investors, consultants, designers, accountants and other business builders; and beget more new startups in a virtuous circle of entrepreneurship.

At the event, the audience watched with rapt attention as Koala founders Jon Sutherland and Ted Hadjisavas demonstrated their mobile app that allows users to record and share an audio annotation to tell a photo's story. Moments after displaying a text message picture of beach volleyball players, a man’s voice said, “Hey dude, what’s up? Come to the beach and play volleyball with us.”

The team plans to sell Koala on the Apple App Store starting late October.

AIO Robotics Chief Executive Jens Windau discussed his company’s Zeus printer, the world’s first all-in-one 3-D printer, copier, scanner and fax machine. The USC Viterbi Ph.D. student touted the machine’s beauty, price and ease of operation – “even little children can use the machine,” he said.

Windau’s enthusiasm appears warranted. In a recent Kickstarter campaign, AIO Robotics surpassed its one-month goal of $100,000 in a single day. Amazon plans to start distributing Zeus next summer, he added.

Tilofy Chief Executive Ali Khoshgozaran demoed his company’s location-specific app that provides information in real time about interesting goings-on in a particular neighborhood. With the image of his cellphone projected on a large screen, the USC Viterbi Ph.D. launched the Tilofy app to find “everything interesting happening on the USC campus right here, right now.” His search turned up a blood drive and information about Demo Day. Tilofy has raised $350,000 to date and seeks another $550,000.

Other Startup Garage companies that presented include Moving Analytics, which has created a platform for physical activity monitoring and coaching using a smartphone; Racevine, a website that aggregates and reviews thousands of endurance races across the country; Taggle, an online reverse auction platform that brings together buyers who want customized T-shirts with local screen printers; MediaHound, an online platform that builds tools to improve search and social discovery of premium entertainment; and GymFlow, a mobile platform that leverages historical data and gym card swipes to predict current and future fitness center traffic.

“They’ve put in a lot of sweat and blood this summer to make this a reality,” said Ashish Soni, the Startup Garage’s founder.

So did he.

A self-described “polymath” with wide ranging interests in science, culture, technology and history, Soni leveraged his personal connections – and he has hundreds of them worldwide in industry, finance and the academy – to enlist the support of venture capitalist heavyweight Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers and leading talent and literary agency United Talent Agency (UTA). The Startup Garage’s unique partnership is the first of its type in the nation among a leading engineering school, major talent agency and venture capital firm.

Mike Abbott, Kleiner Perkins general partner, and USC alumnus Brent Weinstein, UTA's head of digital media, played key roles in the Startup Garages success, Soni said. 

Over a 12-week period this summer, the Startup Garage offered financial support, mentoring and other strategic resources to a select group of USC students and alumni. More than 90 teams competed for 10 spots in the accelerator, which is located in the USC Information Sciences Institute in Marina del Rey. Each team, cofounded or led by a current USC Viterbi student or alumnus, received $20,000 in exchange for 4 percent equity.

Several of those teams, including many that presented, remain in the Startup Garage, where they continue to receive support and much needed resources in a highly collaborative environment.