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Fighting On Against False News

As a student, George Sehremelis ’19 launched a startup that supports journalism and truth

June 07, 2022
George Sehremelis started Overlooked to combat false news
George Sehremelis '19 launched Overlooked to combat false news.

When George Sehremelis ’19 witnessed how disinformation on social media fueled hatred and genocide in Myanmar in 2017, the tragedy brought back painful personal memories. His own family had barely escaped the Nazi massacre in their village of Distomo, Greece, during World War II. The Rohingya Genocide reinforced for him just how dangerous disinformation can be and how important the truth is. 

“Disinformation has strong ties with authoritarianism, and when people believe absurdities, they can be led to commit atrocities like genocide,” Sehremelis said.

Though he was still a junior in the USC Marshall School of Business at the time, he wanted to do something about the way social media spread disinformation so efficiently and on a global scale. It had been weighing on him during the leadup to the 2020 election when Russian interference via bots and fake social media pages were revealed. 

His entrepreneurship classes at Marshall helped him validate the idea for a startup. 

“I wanted to create a social news network to limit the disinformation on social media,” Sehremelis said. “In [former Marshall professor] Greg Autry’s small business management class, we studied Steve Jobs, and I learned to think big.”

Today Sehremelis said his company, which he named Overlooked, is on the frontlines of the information war.

Overlooked is a website and an app that aggregates content from U.S. and local/university newspapers, providing a trusted source for news on social media while also creating a revenue stream for the struggling newspaper industry. 

“We need to structurally overhaul the way consumers access and share information,” Sehremelis said. “Eighty-five percent of Americans trust local newspapers, and 57% do not trust social media. But 86% of U.S. adults get their news on their smartphone.”

Sehremelis wants to help newspapers and journalists thrive. “We want to bring the tech gains to local publishers,” he said, noting that Overlooked has helped several of its partnered publications earn digital revenue for the first time. In December 2021 Overlooked became an affiliate of the Associated Collegiate Press, the nation’s largest organization for collegiate-media groups.

Developing the Startup

Sehremelis worked out his business idea in Autry’s class, participated in the Blackstone Launchpad and entered the USC Incubator at the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, where he developed and launched Overlooked with guidance from Incubator Director Paul Orlando. Overlooked was one of three companies to represent USC’s entrepreneurship program at Launchpad Propel by Blackstone and TechsStars in New York City.

Orlando said in an article Autry wrote for Forbes, “George is a scrappy entrepreneur who knows how to get things done. I’m impressed with the way he gets in front of investors and users to call attention to the problem that ad-based revenue model algorithms determine what is newsworthy.”

Sehremelis found his anchor investor at USC’s ATHENA Summit, a conference focused on women entrepreneurs that features a pitch competition. Jill Higgins, a human rights activist and entrepreneur, wrote him a $100K check. 

“If not for Marshall, and the unique set of experiences I had at the school,” Sehremelis said, “I just wouldn’t have had this idea or business.”

Trojan Values

“Just a few weeks after getting started,” Autry wrote in Forbes in 2020, “Overlooked.com [had] over 5,900 unique monthly users,” thanks to its strong social media outreach efforts. Ever since, Overlooked has continued to garner attention and grow its distribution.

Overlooked’s goal is to raise significant capital to scale its capabilities. To acquire more enterprise customers, the company is targeting businesses that want to generate revenue on the platform and will start accepting advertising from all businesses and consumers in June. “We are looking for businesses that want to monetize their audiences on a platform built around trust.”

Startup watchers have taken notice. Sehremelis was included in the Los Angeles Business Journal’s “20 in Their 20s” special edition in June, 2020. He notes that many in the Trojan family have backed his efforts, including those who consult with him. “Overlooked’s mission aligns with Trojan values,” said Sehremelis, who divides his time between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Overlooked has also been featured in TechCrunch, Spectrum News LA, and several local publications.

As the proliferation of disinformation surrounding the Russian invasion of Ukraine makes clear, false news is a huge problem. Sehremelis will fight on: “Putting an end to disinformation is something that I care deeply about, and I believe we are building the most important company of this generation.”

For more information, visit overlooked.com or download its mobile application in the App Store.