University of Southern California

The Summer of Startups
USC Marshall Lloyd Greif Center Works with Young Entrepreneurs in Pilot Summer Program
August 14, 2012 • by News at Marshall

Leaders of a dozen emerging businesses got important tips of the trade in a summer incubator program offered for the first time at the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at USC Marshall.

"Being an entrepreneur can be lonely," said Andrea Belz, an adjunct faculty member at the Lloyd Greif Center who supervised the Acclerator+Incubator+Mentoring (AIM) summer program. "This is an opportunity to work together in a guided setting."

Participants, most of whom run Internet companies, attended weekly workshops in which they heard experts speak on everything from the legal ramifications of operating a business to accounting and marketing practices. The program ran for 10 weeks and culminated in entrepreneurs making pitches to top local investors on Aug. 1.

The program, whose primary focus was networking and providing business expertise, was free of charge and only required that participants have some affiliation with the Marshall School. Different from other incubator programs, the USC Marshall effort does not take equity from participating companies nor charge additional fees; the program was free to participants.

Entrepreneurs included Steve Gatena, who earned a master's degree in communication management from USC Annenberg in 2010 and now runs REP Interactive, a video and broadcast media production company that started as a homework assignment in a business entrepreneurship course.

While he has a strong academic background in finance, accounting and business models, Gatena said he wants to better understand the consequences of his decisions before he makes them. "The more I know, the better my odds of success," he said. "This program has been extremely beneficial and I am lucky to have had the opportunity to participate."

"There were a lot of smart people in our program," added Gatena, a left tackle on the 2009 Rose Bowl team. "Hearing their honest opinions and getting their help was invaluable. That kind of dynamic presents an opportunity to gain new insights."

In Los Angeles, businesses such as REP Interactive form the economic backbone, said Belz, whose efforts to grow technology companies includes stints at NASA, Caltech and UCLA. While the city’s economy is 60 percent as large as that in New York City, Los Angeles only has 15 percent as many Fortune 500 companies, she added, making the Greif program vital.

"If you care about the economy, you have to care about startups," Belz said. "And if you care about startups, you have to find ways to support entrepreneurs. The Marshall School really wanted to create an innovative program to support its entrepreneurs outside the classroom."

Another incubator participant was Amy Liu, whose company MyPaperbuds is an e-commerce marketplace for worldwide graphic designers to sell and showcase print designs, including greeting cards, wedding invitations, stationery and wall art.

"The feedback I received on MyPaperbuds was one of the most valuable parts of the AIM program," said Liu, who earned her MBA from Marshall in 2008. "It expanded our business network to include investors, experienced entrepreneurs, and other aspiring entrepreneurs. The feedback we received allowed us to go back to the drawing board and really think of ways to improve our business."

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.