USC Founder Central Initiative

Create and disseminate knowledge about the most important early decisions faced by founders and the other people who help build startups.

For founders and their startups, early decisions about people – cofounders, employees, investors, and board members – are vital to the founders’ and startups’ long-term success.  Yet these decisions are often made without the benefit of a roadmap of the most important early decisions, when these decisions should be made, which options to consider, and the likely long-term consequences of those decisions.

As a result, “people problems” are the biggest reason (by far) for the high failure rate of high-potential startups.  Without a solid roadmap, founders are at an increased risk of making poor people decisions and thus increasing the chances that the founding team will splinter, growth will be harmed, or the founder will be replaced as CEO.

Providing this roadmap is the mission of USC’s Founder Central initiative, facilitating research into the most important decisions faced by founders and spreading the knowledge to the people who can most benefit from it. 

Founding Director

Noam Wasserman

The founding director of the Founder Central initiative is Prof. Noam Wasserman.  Prof. Wasserman was an award-winning professor at Harvard Business School for 13 years before coming to USC to start and build Founder Central. He is the author of the bestselling book, The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup and his new book, Life is a Startup: What Founders Can Teach Us About Making Choices and Managing Change.

The core material of Founder Central’s initial external-education activities comes from the course Prof. Wasserman developed based on his research, Founder’s Dilemmas:

  • Highest-rated entrepreneurship course at Harvard Business School for 7 years.
  • One of the 10 best entrepreneurship courses in the country - Inc. magazine
  • Awarded Academy of Management’s Innovation in Entrepreneurship Pedagogy award and Impact on Practice award.

Executive Director

Michael Rivera

The Executive Director of the Founder Central initiative is Michael Rivera. Michael works to create and disseminate knowledge about the most important early decisions faced by founders and the other people who help build startups. Leveraging Professor Noam Wasserman’s books (The Founder’s Dilemmas & Life is a Startup), research, and coursework, Michael oversees the development of an online learning experience, angel investor and founder bootcamps, teaching symposia, postdoctoral fellows, faculty recruitment, and related projects.

Michael joined Founder Central after eleven years as the Founder & Managing Director of an early-stage investment firm based in Santa Monica. He received his J.D. from the Pennsylvania State University School of Law and his B.A. from Georgetown University.


Christina Lubinski

Christins Lubinski

Christina Lubinski, formerly of Copenhagen Business School (CBS), is a star mid-career entrepreneurship historian who is also a stellar teacher and institution-builder. Christina joined Copenhagen Business School as Associate Professor for Business History in 2014. After her PhD (Univ. of Goettingen) she held fellowships at Harvard Business School and the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC. She is senior editor of Management and Organizational History and co-editor of the Routledge book series International Studies in Business History.

Christina has earned a visiting scholar year from CBS so she will be a Visiting Professor at Founder Central and USC’s Greif Center for 2018-2019 and will then transition to a full-time role in 2019-2020. Christina will teach two sections of the Founder’s Dilemmas course (bringing the total number of sections to five). She is also co-developing the course on entrepreneurial history, Making History: Entrepreneurship in the Past, Present and Future.


R. Daniel Wadhwani


Prof. Wadhwani is the Fletcher Jones Chair in Entrepreneurship at University of the Pacific. He also holds appointments as a visiting professor in the Greif Center at USC Marshall, the Department of Management, Politics, and Philosophy at Copenhagen Business School and the Department of Economics at Kyoto University. At Founder Central, Dan is engaged in the design and development of the course and course material in entrepreneurial history, Making History: Entrepreneurship in the Past, Present and Future. This course takes a novel approach that emphasizes the usefulness of historical knowledge and reasoning for entrepreneurs.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Smrithi Prasad

Smrithi Prasad

Smrithi Prasad completed her Ph.D. from the University of Oregon in Social and Personality Psychology. Prior to that, she earned her B.S. in Psychology and M.S. in Management at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Her primary research examines how events in our social environment – like acute social stressors and competitive outcomes – may modulate the influence of biological and psychological processes in motivating social and economic decision-making behaviors. Her questions are informed by theories and methods from social psychology and behavioral endocrinology using both laboratory paradigms and naturalistic field methodologies.


Hadar Ram

Hadar Ram

Hadar Ram received her Ph.D. from the Tel Aviv University in Social Psychology. Her research focuses on the question: When people learn, what do they learn? More specifically, she takes a social-psychological perspective on learning examining how the generality of what people learn is affected by psychological distance and valence (positive vs. negative information). She examines these effects in a variety of domains ranging from learning from experience through attitude formation and attitude generalization to more complex knowledge such as learning moral lessons and product evaluations. During her Ph.D. studies, she was a visiting scholar at New York University and at the Social Cognition Center in Cologne, Germany.


Katie Steele

Katie Steele is a Special Project Coordinator for Founder Central. Katie’s well-rounded experience includes coordinating faculty workshops, event management, logistics, administrative duties, student worker oversight, and much more.