Logo: University of Southern California

USC Inaugurates Nation’s Newest NSF-Funded Entrepreneurial Hub

Potential entrepreneurs from around the country leave labs and classrooms behind to come to USC’s “I-Node” in hopes of turning ideas into startups
By: Dale Legaspi
October 27, 2014 —


Andrea Belz addresses teams of potential entrepreneurs from universities around the country

Innovation is alive and well in Los Angeles. Not surprisingly, USC is right in the middle of it, as the newly named anchor institution of the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps entrepreneurship activities in Southern California.

Established by a $3.5 million grant from the NSF, the new Southern California Node is a joint effort among three of the nation’s top-25 research institutions—USC, UCLA and Caltech.

With engineering teams from around the country descending on the downtown campus for the kickoff event, perhaps paradoxically, the overwhelming message from the leaders of the academic program was to “get out of the building” — leave the comfort zone of academia and go meet the people who might be the first customers of their businesses.

“I really feel strongly about entrepreneurship being a force in this country,” said Andrea Belz, Los Angeles Node director and senior lecturer in the USC Marshall School of Business and USC Viterbi School of Engineering. “Establishment of an NSF hub gives us the perfect opportunity to combine efforts, not just among our own schools but also collaborating with UCLA and Caltech students to unlock the immense innovative potential of the entire Southern California region.”

Belz works alongside Peter Beerel, a USC Viterbi associate professor and the faculty director of innovation and entrepreneurship in engineering, who is the Node’s co-director and principal investigator for the USC I-Corps Site.

USC Viterbi Dean Yannis Yortsos serves as the principal investigator of the grant establishing the new Southern California national node, which is the sixth in the country. He sees USC as well-positioned to serve as an engine of technology entrepreneurship.

“At the end of the day, technology is the driver of innovation, and the potential to develop an incredibly robust ecosystem in Southern California is great,” Yortsos said. “Establishing USC as an anchor institution in the I-Corps program ensures that our university is squarely in the middle of technology and entrepreneurship in the region.”

The event kicked off Sunday, October 19 with a dinner that enabled the engineering teams from around the country to meet each other and introduce themselves to potential investors and business partners. The following morning, groups heard from Yortsos and Elizabeth Garrett, USC's provost and senior vice president for academic affairs .

“The Los Angeles I-Node collaboration firmly establishes Southern California as the intellectual and creative capital for global innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Garrett. “On the west coast, we’ve seen an expansion of influence from Silicon Valley to what many are calling ‘Silicon Beach,’ [and] Los Angeles County now has more high-tech jobs than any other metro region in the country, including the Bay area.”

This new Southern California node has been established concurrently with one in Austin anchored by the University of Texas. The two join previously established nodes in the San Francisco Bay Area; New York City; Washington, D.C.; Georgia; and Michigan.

The National Science Foundation believes that the academic institutions in seven locations contain not only some of the best and brightest minds in technology and innovation but also the courage and entrepreneurial spirit to collaborate and deliver the solutions that will truly shape the future.

“It has become more and more clear that the most effective approaches to solving challenging problems arise when experts working across different fields and disciplines—and often across different institutions—combine their knowledge and perspectives,” said Garrett. “Engineers and entrepreneurs assume a vital role in our modern society, where cutting edge technology, structures and design cannot simply move in step with societal need, but must, in fact, anticipate it.”