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Lloyd Greif Center Awards Six USC Student Teams Funding to Launch Businesses New Venture SeedCompetition Fuels Entrepreneurial Energy Throughout CampusDecember 13, 2010 • by News at Marshall
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Of the 80 teams and approximately 200 students who submitted business proposals hoping to start the next Kinko's or Pinkberry or Myspace.com -- a few of the many world-renowned companies founded by USC alumni -- 12 finalists presented their ideas to seasoned investors.
On the volunteer judging panel were Lloyd Greif, President and CEO of investment banking firm Greif & Co.; Rob Ukropina, Founder of Overnite Express; Thomas J. Leary, securities partner at the law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP; Dr. Fred M. Haney, venture capitalist and President of The Venture Management Co.; and Robert Aholt, vice chairman of the angel investment capital group Pasadena Angels.
In previous years, the competition had separate categories for undergraduates and graduate/faculty levels. Bryce Benjamin, CEO-in-Residence at the Lloyd Greif Center and the organizer of this year's competition, decided to eliminate the separate categories. This way, the competition functioned much more like the real world. In the real world, Benjamin stressed, entrepreneurs compete for funding against the world's best regardless of age, education, or experience.
And the winners are...
"I think the students were extremely impressive," said Lloyd Greif, the founding donor of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. "The finalists were a nice mix of businesses, ranging from consumer products to technology to social entrepreneurship Internet ventures. Most had very compelling market needs that they were addressing with unique solutions. These were not theoretical or hypothetical companies. These were the real deal."
The judges found three business ideas to be the most promising: a proposal to create an application that would provide a one-stop log-in for social gaming (PlayOnSocial), a sail that can be used to slow down extreme skateboarders and skiers so that they can perform precise maneuvers, and a website for individuals with disabilities to rate and review restaurants, hotels and attractions. The teams with the above ideas were each awarded the top prize of $12,500.
PlayOnSocial founders Justin Lewis and Kevin Greene, who are seniors at the Viterbi School of Engineering, realized that people don't like creating new user accounts for each game or application. Their winning PlayOnSocial concept allows users to login into a website or online game using any combination of their existing accounts for popular sites like Facebook, Google, MySpace, Twitter and Microsoft WindowsLive messenger. Lewis and Greene plan to launch the engine in January, and said they will put the prize money into marketing to build their customer base.
Sporting-Sails (http://www.sporting-sails.com) by Sukrafte LLC, which was founded by Nick Smith, a senior in Marshall's entrepreneurial studies program, and his brother Billy, was also awarded the top prize. The company has already sold 200 Sporting Sails worldwide since obtaining a design patent in April for a kind of body parachute that skateboarders, snowboarders and skiers can use to reduce their speed and maneuver treacherous terrain. Their business was inspired by their grandfather, H.W. Smith Jr., who in 1977, manufactured a similar product called the Ski-Klipper, which had been modeled after the device created by Italian skier Leo Gasperl in the 1930s and 40s. The brothers plan to use the seed money from the competition to develop new styles and colors as well as a pro model that would allow professional skateboarders to push the boundaries of the craft further. They also plan to apply for a utility patent to protect their design.
Speaking about the competition, the Smiths say they appreciated the recognition from business leaders with vast business experience as much as the award.
"We have people who know more than we'll ever know who believe in us, and it kind of helps me believe in myself," "Nick Smith said. "It's hard to imagine what avenue this is going to take going forward from here but, with a little cash in our pockets, I don't think there's anything stopping us anymore."
The third of the first-prize winners was WheelsUp, which proposed a website where people with disabilities could rate and share information about the accessibility of different venues worldwide. The idea is to create the "go-to" site with the essential details so that individuals with disabilities can travel freely and know what to anticipate when they arrive at unfamiliar locales. The founding team members are Natalia Bogolasky, a graduate student at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and David Radcliff, a 2005 graduate of USC's College of Letters, Arts & Sciences, who was inspired to create this site due to his own experience with cerebral palsy.
"We're going to put the money into the creation of the website and target, at first, young people with disabilities who, like I do, want to travel and explore but don't know where to find that information," "Radcliff said. "So this money is going to make a very visible impact on the actual website itself."
Winners of the $5,000 awards were MBA students David Crowell, Stanley Fu, Mike Hsu, Sarah Krysanick, Haseeb Malik, Jennifer Meyers, Viet Nguyen, Dmitriy Pindrik and Christy Schnurle for the proposed website MuttMatching.com, which would provide a service that matches people looking to adopt rescue dogs with ones available at shelters; James Hotson, a senior International Relations/Global Business within the College of Letters, Arts & Sciences, for his company CENTO, which manufactures ultra-thin wallets made of bonded leather (http://www.centostore.com) and Tracy Lawrence, a senior at Marshall, and Gary Yao, a senior in the School of Policy, Planning and Development, for The Dish Dash, a website (http://dishdashla.com) for restaurants to target and reach the college student market.
Another award was given from the Kairos Society, an international student-run non-profit organization that gathers 500 of the world's brightest student entrepreneurs and over 100 leading CEOs at a Global Summit each February. The Kairos Society award was given to the top undergraduate in the competition, Nick Smith of Sporting Sails. Smith received a $200 flight subsidy for airfare to the Summit in New York and sponsorship to attend the conference, which will provide the opportunity to showcase his company and build professional relationships.
"Frankly, I think some of them are going to make it," "Mr. Greif said of the winners and the other six finalists."
"It's one thing to say they're going to give it a go, and quite another to say that, two to three years from now, they'll beat the odds, still be standing and their ventures will be viable. I think there's a good chance that will be the case with several of these startups."
Mr. Benjamin said, "This has the spirit of a successful competition, money is a good candy, but all the participants were winners as the real value is in the experience and feedback they got along the way."
"The goal is to get them off the dock," he added. Given the way companies typically get created, seed competitions are helpful as they catalyze initiative and the founders gain the confidence to launch much faster.
Surveying the range of talent competing this year, Benjamin remarked, "This underscores that the amount of entrepreneurial energy on campus is absolutely tremendous."
About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.