We give USC’s top student, alumni, and faculty/staff entrepreneurs the resources and guidance to do more faster.
The Fall 2019 cohort is being run differently. Please see additional information below and the application.
The Fall 2019 cohort is being run differently. Please see additional information below and the application.
The USC Marshall Greif Incubator accelerates the development of the University of Southern California’s top student and alumni entrepreneurs through experiential education, mentorship and community.
The Incubator, supported by the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at USC’s Marshall School takes founders from feasibility and development work, on to customers, a tested business model, getting distribution, building a team, bootstrapping and investment preparation. We also provide access to other supporting resources, such as legal and financial assistance.
Participating companies have been acquired, raised money, run successful Kickstarter campaigns, received NSF grants and of course, shipped product to customers. We’ve also had winners in USC competitions including the New Seed Venture Competition, the Min Family Challenge, and the Stevens Student Innovator Showcase, among others.
The program is run by Paul Orlando, who is a Professor of Entrepreneurship at USC, teaching the classes Growth Hacking: Scaling Startups (BAEP 469) and Feasibility Analysis (BAEP 452). In a typical month, Incubator startups meet with Paul and other mentors in private sessions to discuss issues specific to their business. Incubatees also come together during group sessions to connect with other teams, potential customers, mentors and investors. If you need work space, we have that too.
The program is inclusive.
Teams that include one or more USC students, alumni, or faculty/staff founders (no matter what school at USC) are eligible to apply.
We believe that great businesses are built by teams with a mix of skills including tech, design, business and marketing.
We’re always trying new ways to work with entrepreneurs. As a new experimental working model, this is what we’re doing for the Fall cohort.
The Fall 2019 cohort will focus on people interested to build solutions for the following problem areas. 1) Civic Issues. Cities will continue to face challenges to meet the needs of their growing populations as they deal with the problems of aging infrastructure, environmental degradation, and unsustainability. 2) Issues related to an Aging population. Demographic trends in the United States indicate that by the 2030s, for the first time in its history, more people will be older than 65 than under 18.
This time we are open to earlier stage participation than in prior semesters, and expect to build teams internally at the Incubator rather than requiring pre-formed teams. In addition, we are providing a set of starter projects that may directly or indirectly lead to startups to address the problems above.
This cohort will focus on understanding of the problems addressed, the customer segment, business model, and relevant domain expertise and connections. The semester will include group workshops and individual office hours. One semester isn’t much time, but our goal in this test is for Incubatees to come out of the experience knowing if there is potential for their concept, whether they want to work in this industry and with these customers, and an overall focus on the entrepreneurial process. At a minimum we hope that founders will find interest in one of these big social problem areas and meet potential co-founders.
More information is at the application.
We’ve done this before and have experimented with several different models and formats. Since there are diverse needs at USC, we believe that there is value in selective workshops, based not on a standard curriculum for the group, but instead based on the individual participants. We believe that there is more value in continuity than one-off events. We bring in continuity in the form of office hours with each team and tracking what they learn. We also believe that challenging, encouraging and pushing have their place as we help the Incubator companies to do more faster.
USC has a large alumni base of successful and helpful entrepreneurs. When it comes to alumni involvement, we favor selective connections to exchange specific domain expertise.
We want the founders and teams to learn how to build businesses. If they totally change direction, or even take a break and return to entrepreneurship later, that is fine. We provide an experience that will be valuable no matter where your path takes you.
We work with any university department and external group where there is benefit to our Incubatees. This includes connecting talent with opportunities at Incubator companies, collaborating with existing courses taught at USC and connecting founders with first customers, advisors, legal and other support, potential investors and people in industry.
We don’t automatically “kick you out” after three months, as is typical. As long as you’re still actively working, you may be able to take advantage of Incubator resources for up to a full year. This extra time allows teams to meet customers, learn, build and make progress.
We take no fees or equity in Incubator businesses. However, on a case-by-case basis we do set teams up with grants, access to free resources and bring in investors. We expect that Incubator companies will apply to the new Marshall Fund, as well as other sources of funding.
Those who need it can qualify for workspace at the Incubator.
We bring in cohorts year round. We keep close contact with program graduates after that. Building a business takes time.
Once you’re an Incubator alum, you’re still supported (see above).
One year after your “graduation” from the incubator, we do invite Incubatees to return and tell the new companies what they have learned along the way. We find that this one year anniversary talk about actual experience is more valuable than a demo day event.
This isn’t only for tech startups. Entrepreneurship is broader than tech. We have a mix of different company types in the program. While Paul comes from a tech background, he believes that there are commonalities that can be shared across industries and great businesses come in many forms.
The terms accelerator and incubator do get interchanged a lot. While we sometimes perform more like an accelerator, we do not take equity in our portfolio companies.
We welcome businesses building solutions to Los Angeles area opportunities including:
– When the application is open, you may Apply Here.
About Paul Orlando, Director & Adjunct Professor
Paul Orlando has a passion for helping founders achieve a lot of progress in a short time. In addition to his own entrepreneurial experiences, Paul co-founded and operated the first startup accelerator in Hong Kong. To understand how he thinks about entrepreneurship, read his bio.
Paul’s work has been featured in media, including Forbes, TechCrunch and The Next Web. He regularly blogs about his experience working with many startups. Paul has a BA from Cornell, an MBA from Columbia and speaks Mandarin. At USC, he created and teaches a course in Growth Hacking (BAEP 469) and also teaches Feasibility Analysis (BAEP 452).
Details on how we think about entrepreneurship programs at universities. This is an evolving document.
Abstract: There is growing awareness of the importance of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking, on and off the university campus. There is also massive growth in entrepreneurship programs, from weekend events to bootcamps to longer format accelerators and incubators providing education, mentorship and funding. When I first co-founded an accelerator in 2012, there were only an estimated couple hundred of those programs around the world; now there are probably thousands (and I've run three programs around the world). More universities are also launching accelerators and incubators. But in this market for entrepreneurship, much of the focus is on scalable tech startups, where high-value outliers drive portfolios. In some cases there is misalignment between the program’s business model and the long-term benefit of the participants. A look around shows both good programs and some that produce more PR than results. It is my belief, after the experiences of running an accelerator (where we invested seed capital in exchange for equity), running a for-profit (and expensive) bootcamp and now starting on a university program, that there are activities that we should bring to entrepreneurs and activities from which we should shield entrepreneurs. These activities focus on what serves the entrepreneur regardless of the market they find themselves in, bringing in structure, education and connecting people to talent, domain experts, sources of investment and other resources. Those of you who know me or who have read my blog and book over the years might not be surprised at the direction I describe below.
Update December 2017. At this point I have been running programs for five years. This is how the experience has influenced the way I look at advising startups: What I Learned Running Startup Programs on Three Continents over Five Years.
Today all students and alumni, at USC or elsewhere, have to learn about and practice entrepreneurship, whether they realize it or not. Entrepreneurship or entrepreneurial thinking is no longer an option. This is unlike my experience when I was in school. Back then, there were still abundant and stable (so we thought) corporate careers that offered long-term growth. The burst dotcom and telecom bubbles were also still fresh in the collective memory. The association of “entrepreneurship” with “dotcom” or ”startup” was a dangerous one that neither reflected reality nor helped those that made the association, as young graduates took career steps that reflected the past more than the future or what would serve them better in the following decades.
Over the last ten years, an at first quiet and then deafening rework of thought about how to build new companies took place both within and outside the university. These movements gained popularity in the tech community but were also partly based on work done earlier in manufacturing and scientific exploration.
There are more good resources and content available on entrepreneurship than ever before and yet people still question the results of this output and tools and processes. That’s fine. I question pieces of it myself.
Some programs are built around inexpensively churning through large portfolios of companies with the expectation that the true survivors will identify themselves over time. As long as equity is taken in a large enough portfolio then the long game provides enough upside to run the program. (As long as the program is beneficial and can last long enough.)
Some programs are built around education, trying to give founders the tools to become more successful, faster. The growth in programs like these shows that there is demand for knowledge beyond what many universities currently provide.
There are business models based on selling hope and fun to entrepreneurs. There is a lot of talk and little follow through.
There are many opportunities to learn and practice entrepreneurship at and around USC, from courses to clubs to other programs. There are many students and alumni to serve, many of which are not yet being served.
Entrepreneurship is broader than tech startups.
Sometimes, a great way to thrive is to avoid what everyone else does, as long as there is a reason.