Logo: University of Southern California

Hot tech startups in ‘Real Deal @ USC’ event

Entrepreneurs get valuable feedback from investors including retired Gen. David Petraeus and USC President C. L. Max Nikias
By: Dan Druhora
November 12, 2015 —


USC President C. L. Max Nikias, left and retired Gen. David Petraeus talk during “The Real Deal.” (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Pitching showcases and technology and startups are making waves in Silicon Beach. But not everyone with a pitch gets feedback from a legendary military and business leader or an audience with a university president.

That’s what happened to five USC engineering start-up teams Wednesday night at “The Real Deal @ USC,” where groups presented their business ideas to a room full of venture capitalists and angel investors including retired Gen. David Petraeus. Also on hand: USC President C. L. Max Nikias and USC Provost Michael Quick.

The event was organized by the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and featured Dean Yannis C. Yortsos and Andrea Belz, USC Viterbi Entrepreneur in Residence and director of the National Science Foundation-funded Innovation Node–Los Angeles.

Investing in vision and judgment


In addition to being the brainchildren of engineers affiliated with USC Viterbi, the companies chosen to pitch share other elements in common. They’ve all emerged from the USC ecosystem and have invested much more than just thought into their ideas. Each has a proven product recognized at international business competitions and has the “secret sauce” to leverage technology to capture a large audience with the aid of modest capital.

Retired Gen. David Petraeus, left, and USC President C. L. Max Nikias discuss leadership and innovation (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Petraeus stressed that the entrepreneurs are just as important, if not more, as the ideas they’re championing.

“You invest in leaders and you invest in big ideas,” he said. “You weigh the vision and the judgment — the ability, without micromanaging, to have an eye for detail and a heightened awareness of the economic context in which the big ideas will be operationalized.”

Petraeus, who holds a PhD in international relations and economics from Princeton University, is a Judge Widney professor at USC and a partner with global investment firm KKR & Co. He serves as chairman of KKR’s Global Institute and as a mentor to USC student-veterans, in addition to academic appointments at CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College and Harvard University’s Belfer Center.

USC, a microcosm of the real world


In a fireside chat with Nikias after the showcase, Petraeus addressed the most significant contemporary global challenges, including various international security issues, macroeconomic trends, and the importance of strategic leadership in the 21st century.

“In order to thrive,” Petraeus observed, “entrepreneurs have to understand, in particular, the trends developing around the world amid the energy, manufacturing, life sciences and I.T. revolutions.”

Abtum co-founder Behnam Analui gives a presentation on his company's radio frequency filters to a room of investors during "The Real Deal @ USC," company showcase presentation (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Nikias echoed these sentiments and offered that, at USC, “we’ve created an environment that is a microcosm of the real world: 128 different nations are represented here, and they all come together under the Trojan umbrella.

“We’re creating the culture for entrepreneurship and innovation through transformative faculty and progressive institutes,“ Nikias said.

He cited USC’s Information Sciences Institute, Institute for Creative Technologies, Stevens Center for Innovation, Alfred E. Mann Institute for Biomedical Engineering, Army Research Lab West — which is making USC the laboratory’s largest university outpost — and the Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy.

“The best is yet to come,” Nikias said.

Petraeus and Nikias also fielded questions from the audience on USC’s role in medical science and biotech.

“The LA basin is lacking in biotech,” Nikias said “Each year, [area universities] graduate over 5,000 engineers and scientists. But most of them migrate, and we need to establish additional infrastructure to keep them in this area.

“In addition to creating the infrastructure for biotech, we are developing entrepreneurship in our professors. They don’t have to go and work for a large corporation like Google that will own their intellectual property. We are helping them start their own companies that they can then sell to the Googles of the world.”

Petraeus, who upon joining USC’s faculty ranks in 2013 said the university “is in the middle of a surge” in innovation and prominence, wants to organize events like The Real Deal every semester.

“The word will go out that USC is the place to innovate, to transform a big idea into a company that can succeed,” Petraeus said.


Making the pitch


Here are the five companies that pitched at Wednesday's event, three of which (Abtum, Fluid Synchrony and Statis Labs) launched out of the Maseeh Entreprenuership Prize (MEPC) Competition: 


High-performance frequency filters for mobile devices. Abtum offers solutions for handsets, tablets and ultra-books, providing better filters in critical performance metrics and significant annual savings for customers.


Intelligent adaptive security solutions. Armorway offers software that analyzes real-time big data to provide decision-makers with meaningful dashboards and goal-directed actions that optimize the use of available assets in an environment, mitigate risks and increase security.


Micro-pumps for on-demand drug delivery. Fluid Synchrony offers implantable programmable micro-pumps that can deliver a diverse assortment of drugs at the right dose, to the right tissue at the right time, improving the efficacy and safety of drug therapies.


Proprietary warm-on/cool-off adhesives for wound closure that can be easily removed from a patient’s skin by applying a cold compress, minimizing trauma to the skin caused by traditional adhesives.


Patient health-monitoring systems. Stasis Labs offers devices for hospitals and clinics in emerging markets, giving health providers continues access to patient health parameters and the ability to make rapid decisions to improve patient outcomes.