Logo: University of Southern California

Shark Tank, Trojan-style

Promising USC Viterbi start-ups pitch to Gen. David Petraeus, Ret. and an audience of investors as part of ongoing “Real Deal” events.
By: Sam Corey
April 13, 2016 —

 

Harsh Vathsangam, USC Viterbi post doctoral research associate at the Robotic Embedded Research Laboratory, Department of Computer Science, pitches his start up Moving Analytics to a room of investors. Photo/Peter Shin

Some entrepreneurs think they need to drop out of college to start a business. Many don’t consider a traditional university, where business is done “on the side,” as the best place to launch the next big thing.

But USC is not “traditional” in that sense.

Over the years, Trojan alumni have been behind companies that have set off a seismic transformation in the L.A.’s entrepreneurship scene: Qualcomm, Salesforce, Apple, Myspace, Lucasfilm, Inuit and Vizio to name a few.

USC President C.L. Max Nikias’s rallying cry for the “spirit of innovation” is infused into the bloodstream of the larger Trojan Family.

USC - a university model for launching entrepreneurs

Nikias, together with Gen. David Petraeus Ret., and Yannis Yortsos, dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, created the “Real Deal @ USC” event, in part, to highlight Los Angeles as a premier tech start-up hub as well as the quality of the dynamic entrepreneurs coming out of the university.

They also did it to provide a blueprint, a long-term game plan that would leverage the enormous advantages of starting a business at USC with access to capital investment, mentoring and a curriculum that balances theory with real world application. It comes as no surprise that Reuters recently included USC on its "World's Most Innovative Universities" list.

Four USC-bred startups – Reduced Energy Microsystems, Abtum, Moving Analytics, and Transient Plasma Systems – presented their business platforms in front of venture capitalists and angel investors, including Petraeus.

“This is a strength of the United States,” Petraeus said. “The way capital markets can enable startups and help them scale.”

Petraeus, who holds a Ph.D. 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 also serves as chairman of KKR’s Global Institute and as a mentor to USC student-veterans.

The USC Viterbi School of Engineering organized the event and featured Dean Yortsos and Andrea Belz, USC Viterbi entrepreneur-in-residence and director of Innovation Node–Los Angeles, partially funded by the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (“I-Corps”) program.

“This event highlights the work in engineering and entrepreneurship and the talent that comes out of USC,” Yortsos said. “The fact that we can play a role in shaping the innovation ecosystem of Los Angeles, and the world, is very important.”

Student entreprenuers and private investors exchange ideas and business cards at Real Deal @ USC event. Photo/Peter Shin

Each of these four businesses are affiliated with the USC Viterbi School:

Abtum
Designs more powerful radio frequency filters for smartphones and wireless devices to increase connectivity and bandwidth. 

MOVING ANALYTICS
EMPOWERS PATIENTS IN CARDIOVASCULAR REHAB TO COMPLETE THEIR PROGRAMS FROM THE COMFORTS OF HOME, STREAMLINING PATIENT-DOCTOR COMMUNICATION. 

REDUCED ENERGY MICROSYSTEMS
CREATES SUPER-EFFICIENT MICROPROCESSORS, PROLONGING BATTERY LIFE in SMARTPHONES AND ENABLING COMPUTERS TO PERFORM TASKS AT GREATER SPEED.

Transient Plasma Systems
Uses plasma pulses for various purposes. Most notably, they reduce emissions on cargo ships while increasing fuel-efficiency.

Harsh Vathsangam, Moving Analytics CEO and USC Viterbi alumnus, said he practiced his pitch for six weeks leading up to this event.

“All that was on my mind was practice, practice, practice,” Vathsangam said. “But it was an amazing experience to see that so many people were interested in our work. It validates everything we’re doing.”

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 in the vein of “Shark Tank.”

“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. And those establishing startups at USC clearly have that understanding.”

The Real Deal @ USC inherits a strong legacy of private investment in USC-bred companies and opens new doors for these engineering entrepreneurs and their ideas to business leaders and investors eager to be part of the next big innovation coming out of USC.

"These innovations are quickly transforming Scilicon Beach into SCilicon Beach," said Yortsos.