Logo: University of Southern California

Startup Companies That Care

The Min family’s recent gift to USC Viterbi will establish a student business plan competition to fund startups with a socially assistive bent.
By: Marc Ballon
October 20, 2015 —

Julie and Bryan Min (Photo: Peter Shin)
In recent years, USC Viterbi has become a burgeoning center for innovation and entrepreneurship. With the creation of the USC Viterbi Startup Garage – Southern California’s only venture accelerator for engineering founder-led companies – the Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competition (MEPC), the NSF I-Corps Innovation node on campus, and the HackSC hackathon, USC Viterbi students have more opportunities than ever to create transformative technology-centric startups and channel their inner Steve Jobs.

Thanks to the generosity of the Min family, USC Viterbi students interested in making an important social contribution through innovation will now have the resources do so.

On Monday, Oct. 12, Dean Yannis C. Yortsos announced the creation of the Min Family Challenge in Social Entrepreneurship at an intimate gathering at the University Club. The business plan competition, inspired by MEPC, will encourage would-be social entrepreneurs to build businesses that benefit society, ranging from technological problems facing under-served communities to frugal engineering in developing countries, including access to clean water and affordable energy.

“The competition will allow our students, not only at USC Viterbi but across all of USC, to transcend the classroom in a truly unique and rewarding way, while advancing their ideas and technology to meet societal needs, both here and overseas,” Yortsos said.

The Min Challenge, the dean added, will complement the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges. The 14 challenges, which USC Viterbi has taken a lead in championing, aim to build a more secure and sustainable world.

Like MEPC, the Min Challenge will provide cash prizes to winners. Participants will also receive education in how to build a viable business.

Bryan Min, who holds a B.S. in Industrial and Systems Engineering and is a member of the USC Viterbi Board of Councilors, said his family’s decision to make the gift was based on their love of Troy and commitment to helping the underprivileged as part of their faith.

“We asked ourselves how can we encourage and inspire the next generation,” he said. “If you look at the talent here and the way they groom students, it was an easy decision.

“With all the issues we have around the world, social issues, we want to incentivize students to create something wonderful that addresses them,” he added.

The Mins have long legacy of philanthropy to USC and beyond. In 2000, the family established the ESSential Foundation, which funds military support organizations, caregivers of wounded soldiers, international micro-finance, Christian and educational organizations as well as community programs that support troubled youth. The Mins have also supported funded fellowships at the university.

Andrea Belz, director of the NSF-funded Innovation Node – Los Angeles and entrepreneur in residence at USC Viterbi, said the Mins’ generosity “expands our portfolio of student-focused innovative activities.”

Addressing the audience during the Min Challenge kickoff, Mary Ann Schwartz, the senior associate dean for advancement, thanked the Mins for “their vision to change the world, one problem at a time.”