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Demo Day Showcases Over 50 Startups

Demo Day Showcases Over 50 Startups

Founders exhibited cutting-edge companies at TroyLabs’ annual marquee event.

(left to right) Glenn Fox, Scott Goldberg, Chloe Nicole Cruz, and Ellen Chen at DEMO 2024

(left to right) Scott Goldberg, Chloe Nicole Cruz, and Ellen Chen celebrate DEMO 2024.

[Photo courtesy of TroyLabs]

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On April 11, TroyLabs’ annual marquee event DEMO 2024 took place in the Ronald Tutor Ballroom.

“This event is the premier student-run event,” said Elissa Grossman, professor of clinical entrepreneurship and director of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

Each year, the student-run entrepreneurial incubator gives student and alumni founders a platform to showcase their startups to investors, classmates, and hundreds of potential customers. This April, TroyLabs welcomed 50 such startups for a full day of networking, workshops, panels, and even a pitch competition with thousands in prizes.

“One of the greatest things that we are proud of is that this event is completely student-run,” said Chloe Nicole Cruz ’24, co-director of DEMO 2024 and a business administration major at USC Marshall, citing the group’s organization of the event and booking of the keynote speakers. “We are the ones who were able to confirm and reach out to Ellen [Chen] and to Scott [Goldberg] to have them be our keynote speakers.”

The event kicked off with the keynote panel featuring Ellen Chen, founder of Mendocino Farms and Scott Golberg, founder of Fresh Brothers, moderated by Glenn Fox, assistant professor of entrepreneurship. The wide-ranging discussion touched on every step of the entrepreneurial process, from pre-seed funding to scaling businesses.

Aside from quantifiable measures of success, both Chen and Goldberg emphasized the importance of building a positive, excellence-driven culture. Both founders agreed: those values start at the top.

“One of the things that … we wanted to really make sure got codified in Mendocino Farms was building the right culture and really being able to define the values of who we were and the purpose and the why,” Chen explained. “That ‘why’ is so important to who we are. As we’re doing every single one of these jobs, [we’re] really thinking about how do we operationalize our culture and values so it lives in every single action of our team members?”

Goldberg exemplified these values from the start. His first foray into pizza-making was a solo effort, working late nights at a small pizza shop he’d purchased in Gary, Indiana. He offered the DEMO crowd a simple lesson on starting out: surround yourself with good, smart people and then be the hardest worker in the room.

“I can remember putting bags of flour out to take a nap at three in the afternoon because I would be open from 11 in the morning until midnight, seven days a week,” Goldberg said. “That was really the key ingredient for me — just showing dedication and learning it slowly as I went through it.”

This event is the premier student-run event.

— Elissa Grossman

Professor of Clinical Entrepreneurship / Director, Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies

The keynote panel led into the startup fair. Across the ballroom, dozens of startups set up tables with samples, prototypes, pamphlets, and business cards. Attendees and potential investors had the opportunity to engage with a diverse selection of companies, ranging from tech to health and even to boba, a nutritious drink company called Amino Avenue, founded by Marshall student Jenna Wu.

According to Cruz, TroyLabs sifted through a record number of applications from prospective startups. Only the top 50 companies were accepted for a booth at the high-profile event.

The event culminated with the pitch competition and an opportunity for the winners to take home thousands of dollars in prizes.

The winner of the $4,000 grand prize was Underdose, a burgeoning company dedicated to creating accessible, easy-to-use Fentanyl tests. Founder Tatum Verona, a Marshall graduate student pursuing her MS in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, launched Underdose to tackle the growing opioid crisis among young people. In recent years, over 100,000 people have overdosed on the deadly substance.

Verona hopes to change that tragic statistic, one test at a time. She explained that Underdose may be in its infancy, but events like this offered her a chance to meet investors, receive feedback, and drum up interest.

“This is the first big day for me,” Verona explained. “I haven’t really shown this, mostly because the design is proprietary. It was a huge IP concern. If I started showing people how it works, could competitors come in and beat me to the market? But the response has been great. We had 40% of people [in our email list] sign up for pre-sales without even seeing our product.”

The work doesn’t stop here for TroyLabs. The group works year-round to guide and grow student startups around USC’s campus. For many founders, DEMO 2024 is the culmination of those efforts. For others, it’s only the beginning.