In a room full of student founders, the excitement was palpable as a day of learning, networking, and opportunity at the first in-person Demo Day in two years kicked off. Hosted by Troy Labs, Demo Day is considered the biggest student-run entrepreneurship event on campus.
Sean Rad kicked off the event as keynote speaker and was awarded “Entrepreneur of the Year,” presented by Troy Labs president, Parthsarthi Suri '23 and Parker Shurtz '24, co-lead of DEMO.
Rad is the Founder of Tinder, the largest dating platform in the world with more than 60 billion new connections made in more than 190 countries.
During his time at USC, Rad founded two companies, Orgoo, an early messaging and video chat integration tool, and Adly, an influencer social media management company. During a conversation with Anthony Borquez, assistant professor of clinical entrepreneurship. He spoke fondly about his experience as student and key learnings that have led to his success.
“Start with the problem and sell the problem,” he told the audience. “That’s the first battle, great investors know that ideas evolve but the problem doesn’t. That’s the soul of the company. Being mission- and goal-oriented is part of the success.
“I always had a fascination with how human beings communicate,” he said. “With Tinder, it was about connection and using technology to empower us to come together. It was solving the problem of rejection. I didn’t have the courage to do that, and Tinder was about solving that problem.”
On his “aha” moment, Rad recalls a remarkable experience of the early days of Tinder. “We launched on college campuses because we were solving a problem in these social hubs. if it worked with college students, it would work for everyone.”
Rad served as Tinder’s CEO from inception in 2012 through 2016, when he stepped down and became Chairman of the company until 2017.
Grief Center Director Monica Dean introduced USC President Carol Folt, who encouraged student entrepreneurs to continue working toward their goals.
“You’re in Los Angeles, an ecosystem bursting with creative energy and ideas. Here, the arts, humanities, health, and tech mesh together. You are also in one of the most diverse regions. We must continue to build out this amazing ecosystem, and students are leading the way!”—USC President Dr. Carol L. Folt
“You’re in a great place to do this,” Folt told the audience. “You’re in Los Angeles, an ecosystem bursting with creative energy and ideas. Here, the arts, humanities, health, and tech mesh together. You are also in one of the most diverse regions. We must continue to build out this amazing ecosystem, and students are leading the way!”
The day continued with a well-attended startup exhibition and concluded with a pitch competition with the winner awarded a $7,000 cash prize to help grow their business, while the runner-up was awarded $2,500.
Troy Labs is a student-led organization devoted to providing students with tools and education for startups founded by USC Trojans. Sponsored by Marshall’s Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Troy Labs also supports early-stage companies with funding, strategy, and community engagement.