Logo: University of Southern California

Best In Class

Startups from the second USC Viterbi Startup Garage shared their new technologies with 500 friends at Demo Day.
By: Marc Ballon
February 23, 2015 —

AwesomeSauce Labs CEO Brandon Angelo discusses his company's drones.
From a fashion-themed app to drone operating systems to a wireless charger for smartphones and other devices, innovation was abundantly displayed Feb. 13 at the USC Viterbi Startup Garage’s Demo Day.

The newest crop of would-be, high-tech entrepreneurs dazzled a rapt crowd of about 500 business builders, investors and students who gathered in the Grand Ballroom of Tutor Campus Center for the coming out party of the second class of the Startup Garage, Southern California’s only venture accelerator for engineering founder-led companies.

At the event, NV Drones made an immediate impression. A drone, which was controlled by a cellphone and employed the company’s operating system, hovered above the crowd and snapped a group photo. NV Drones makes the world’s first application-based drone operating system “that can easily support any drone app for unlimited purposes,” said Chief Executive Officer Emerick Varga.

Another drone company, AwesomeSauce Labs, also captured the crowd’s attention. The startup showed a video with aerial shots of rowers, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts taken with a company drone holding a GoPro camera. Unlike traditional selfies, the ones taken by Awesome Sauce’s “portable flying camera” offer a “much wider and dynamic perspective,” said Brandon Angelo, company CEO and USC Viterbi alumnus.

Muko CEO Yang Gao demonstrated her company’s emotion-driven search and music discovery platform by speaking into a cellphone and requesting “happy music with a flute.” Moments later, an upbeat song featuring flutes began playing, much to the audience’s delight. The technology, which relies on natural language processing and machine learning, will be available soon in Apple’s App Store.

"We think there is a tremendous opportunity for technology and entrepreneurship here in Southern California, and we want to be at the center of it," said USC Viterbi Dean Yannis Yortsos.

Added Ashish Soni, founding director of the USC Viterbi Institute for Innovation (VSi2), creator of the Startup Garage: "This is a really terrific group of companies. The teams worked on really big disruptive technologies across the board. Their ambition and vision are impressive and inspiring.”

The Startup Garage’s goal: to create successful, USC Viterbi-led or co-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 startups in a virtuous circle of entrepreneurship.

More than 115 teams competed for the seven spots in this year’s cohort, which launched June 30 and ran until the beginning of the year. Each team received $50,000 in exchange for 10 percent equity. That compares to $20,000 and 4 percent in the first Startup Garage. Companies in the business accelerator also received mentoring, legal advice, office space and other strategic resources to a select group of budding business builders over a six-month period.

“We literally built the company in the Garage with only an idea and a few parts I brought from home,” Awesome Sauce’s Angelo said.

Other new startups include Ventata, which makes dynamic pricing software as a service platform; Pixtasy, which is building the first intelligent online marketplace for non-professional photos; Bezalel, the maker of a wireless charger for smartphones, tablets, smart watches and other devices; and Wauw, a mobile platform that helps women collaborate and coordinate outfits with a small group of close friends.

Bezalel makes a wireless charger for smartphones and other devices.
The Startup Garage already has an impressive record in helping to launch strong companies in the hyper-competitive world of entrepreneurship. Companies in the 2013 class have raised more than $6 million in follow-on investment capital that has allowed them to rent offices, hire new employees, ramp up marketing efforts and secure manufacturing and distribution networks.

Startup Garage alumnus MediaHound Inc. announced in October that the firm had secured $4.5 million in funding. That same day, the company launched its web and iPhone apps to help consumers search for, collect and share their favorite entertainment content, ranging from movies and shows to books, music and video games.

For AIO Robotics, the Startup Garage led to an introduction to a USC alumnus who ponied up $25,000 of the $175,000 the 3-D printing company has raised to date. AIO Robotics, manufacturer of the Zeus, the world’s first all-in-one 3-D printer that prints, scans, copies and faxes, has received several plaudits for its machine. Forbes.com called Zeus “a game changer.”

During a late 2014 Startup Garage visit, SEC Commissioner Kara Stein called the accelerator “an incubator for the best and brightest engineers and business people to create the next big thing.”

The newest crop of Startup Garage hopefuls seems equally poised to flourish after graduating from the accelerator.
AwesomeSauce has raised $230,000 to date and plans soon to raise more on Kickstarter.com.

Bezalel has raised more than $800,000 from investors. That money will fund research and development for improved and future products, said Jam Isaga, the company’s chief marketing officer.

“When you say you’re part of the Startup Garage, there’s an instant credibility with investors,” she said.