Logo: University of Southern California

“They are out there on the cutting edge.”

From drones to 3D printers: “impressed” SEC Commissioner Kara Stein visits USC Viterbi Startup Garage, talks fundraising for start-ups
By: David Haldane
October 29, 2014 —
Screen Shot 2014-10-24 At 2.45.58 PM
 From left to right: USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos, SEC Commissioner Kara Stein and Ashish Soni

Things have a way of humming at the USC Viterbi Startup Garage. Animated conversations permeate the large space filled with electronic devices as students sit hunched over laptops and computer screens. Scrawled diagrams and numbers cover walls. And a prominently displayed poster counsels the young people that “Life is short. Do stuff that matters.”

This week there was a more literal hum at the business accelerator for budding engineering entrepreneurs on the fifth floor of the university’s Information Sciences Institute in Marina Del Rey. It was the sound of a new kind of drone demonstrating its ability to soar for a new kind of audience: SEC Commissioner Kara Stein, in town Thursday, Oct. 23 to check out the landscape for innovative startups.

“I was very impressed,” Stein said following the demonstration, one of several presented for her benefit to show off potential new products.

Stein, appointed by President Obama last year to sit on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission which is responsible for maintaining fair, orderly and efficient markets, facilitating capital formation and protecting investors, was in Los Angeles to deliver a lecture at a conference hosted by the Los Angeles County Bar Association. She decided to visit the Startup Garage after local contacts told her about the program – a six-month incubator for USC Viterbi-led or cofounded startups that offers space, coaching, and $50,000 in exchange for 10 percent equity. So the university organized a roundtable discussion about how startups – especially small ones – go about getting funded. About 35 participants, including professors, successful entrepreneurs and several venture capitalists, attended.

“This is wonderful,” the commissioner said of her visit. “It’s very interesting to see all of these exciting projects. This is an incubator for the best and brightest engineers and business people to create the next big thing; it’s very important and I’m here to help get them funding.

“They are out there on the cutting edge, and we [in Washington] are trying to catch up. Our job is to provide a pallet of options to firms at different stages of their development,” she added.

During her brief tour of the facility, Stein learned how one young entrepreneur, Jens Windau, had managed to raise $100,000 through crowdsourcing, aided, in part, by the Startup Garage. AIO Robotics, the company he founded and heads, is developing the world’s first all-in-one 3-D printer that prints, scans, copies and faxes.

In a reflection of the Startup Garage’s successes at nurturing burgeoning companies, five of the 10 businesses launched in last year’s inaugural incubator have raised a total of nearly $6 million in follow-on capital.

Ashish Soni, Startup Garage’s founding director, said he felt gratified by Stein’s visit. “It’s a great opportunity to show some of the work that we’ve been doing,” he said. “We are pleased and happy to host this event here.”