Startup Feature: AIO Robotics


AIO Robotics

Interview with CEO Jens Windau


WHAT THEY DO

“We make the only stand alone 3D printing machine on the market — Zeus. If you think about Xerox copy machines, they’re completely standalone. They can scan, copy and print without being hooked up to a computer. We’re the only machine in the market that can do that in 3D and with a beautiful touchscreen and a powerful processor. There are machines that try to do the same thing but they’re not stand alone, so they’re not machines that you can put somewhere without an external computer. Since December 2014, we have shipped around 500 machines at about $2,500 each to customers worldwide.”

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“We secured angel investment funding the year after and with that capital, we were able to finish the development process. At the end of 2014, we started manufacturing our machines with a huge team of engineers and a partner in Taiwan. We finally grew to a team of seven people and moved to an office in Santa Monica.”

MOST REWARDING EXPERIENCE

“As an entrepreneur, you pretty much have to do everything by yourself first and then hand over tasks, and I think that’s one of the most rewarding things. Then the fun part in between was, for example, the Secret Service called and said “we need a machine.” The FBI called. Those kinds of things you don’t really expect.

We build prosthetic hands for kids and they’re incredible. It’s like $10 to print them and they’re super light. You can print them in 24 hours and kids can have instant prosthetic hands. We donate them to hospitals and kids here doing the special olympics. There was one little kid who came to our booth who was missing a few fingers, and the moment where you can help was very rewarding. It’s about opportunities to help people and give something back, and I think those moments are also moments when you realize it’s not always about competition or profit.”

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BEST ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS

“Be prepared for a roller coaster. When you’re in the field of tech, often your product development cycle takes a lot of patience. When you get your product up and running is not necessarily when it’s ready for the customer, so you definitely need a strong team that hauls together and sustains a long product development phase until it’s ready for the market.

You will still experience a lot of ups and downs, both financially as well as making sure the team gets along. You just have to be persistent, and think about what the end game is going to be and where you want to go.”

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Startup Feature: Pulp Pantry

Want to know what it takes to build a successful startup? The Blackstone Launchpad’s startup feature series showcases USC’s most accomplished startups and their innovative founders.


Pulp Pantry

Interview with CEO Kaitlin Mogentale


WHAT THEY DO

“Pulp Pantry is rethinking what it means to produce good food with sustainability, local sourcing and social impact as top priorities. We work with commercial juiceries to turn organic vegetable and nut pulp into superior delicious, healthy products that are fit for a variety of restricted diets, armed with a mission to bridge the gap between food waste and food insecurity. We’re creating food that’s good for you and good for our collective environment.”

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HOW PULP PANTRY WAS BORN

“Pulp Pantry was born from a simple ah-ha moment, when I watched a friend juice a carrot in my final year at USC. I was dumbfounded by the relatively small amount of liquid that resulted, leaving behind a beautiful heap of vibrant, fresh carrot pulp. My friend, knowing that I was already deep in the zero-waste mindset, admitted that she had never known what to do with the pulp (ultimately, sending it to the trash) and let me take it home to experiment with.

I made my first carrot cake cookies, and they were delicious! My mind was whizzing thinking about the issue of food waste on a larger scale, and I began to consider how I might help large food producers such as commercial juiceries manage their organic waste. The next day, I called up 10 juiceries in the area to see what they were doing with their pulp. All were sending it to the landfill. Then I asked if they would let me come to collect pulp, which they were happy to do. And thus, the Pulp ideation process began.”

MOST REWARDING STARTUP EXPERIENCE 

“The product is a direct result of a passion for sustainability and a desire to spread the mission and vision for a more equitable and efficient food system. Connecting with people who are also passionate about making a difference in their community has been by far the most rewarding aspect of all of this; there is so much power in the collective impact our actions may have with some directed and focused energy.”

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OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

“The first obstacle for me was to drop the structured and certain life I’d become so used to living, which I was eager to do, but at the same time frightened. I am full of positive but frazzled energy, which is a wonderful thing that I embrace in many cases, but not so great when you need to prioritize and organize your self-directed tasks. Secondly, I understand now that being a woman entrepreneur does come with significant challenges. You have to demand respect, but the first part of that is taking yourself and your business seriously.”

ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS 

“Test your ideas and prototypes early on and in front of potential customers. Don’t be afraid to share your work openly and with the courage to accept feedback (be it negative or positive). Continue to transition and redefine your products as you collect consumer feedback. This way, you can make sure that your products are truly filling an unmet need.

I have created some crazy things in my kitchen and I am thankful for the many USC friends and roommates who came back to try my iterations over and over again. Mapping out the people and resources in your network is also incredibly helpful, because quickly you’ll feel less overwhelmed knowing you can draw on them for support. Actually, it’s been great to start thinking about going through life in that way – to really consider the different skills and resources we all bring to the table and then try to connect those things to create something meaningful. Sometimes the answers aren’t obvious, but by asking the right people the right questions, things come together magnificently.”

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Shark Mark Cuban Shares Insight with USC Audience & Student Startups

Three USC student startups got to swim with the sharks, as billionaire investor Mark Cuban agreed to hear a few impromptu pitches while talking entrepreneurship before a capacity crowd at Bovard Auditorium.

Hosted by the USC Marshall School of Business and the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, the March 25 event “Tech, Sharks and Mavericks” was moderated by David Belasco, co-director of the Greif Center, as part of his class on the entrepreneurial mindset.

“It is a great time to be an entrepreneur,” Belasco said. “And in my opinion, USC is the best place in the world for students who want to launch their own businesses.”

Some of those students got a real leg up with Cuban, who, as a regular investor on the ABC series Shark Tank, is known for his keen interest in new business propositions – and for his blunt assessments of those not deemed worthy.

In the audience were teams from three student startups — EnvoyNow, Stasis Labs and TalentTrail — that were recently featured in an Inc. Magazine article on the coolest college startups of 2015. All three had experienced some level of fundraising success, but this was the big time.

Internet potential

Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Landmark Theatres and Magnolia Pictures, made his fortune by envisioning the potential of the World Wide Web before anyone else. In 1995, he and a partner started Audionet.com, which enabled people to listen to broadcasts over the internet.

“This thing we now call streaming didn’t exist back then,” Cuban told the audience, comprised largely of students who have never known a world without high-speed internet. “We thought, ‘This is going to take over cable!’ ” he said. “We knew it was going to be enormous. We just didn’t know how to build it.”

They figured it out, and it was enormous. In 1998 it changed its name to Broadcast.com and went public, making history at the time for the biggest one-day surge in stock price (it opened at $18 and closed at $62.75). In 1999 Yahoo! bought the company for $5.7 billion.

Cuban was joined onstage by Mark Burnett, who produces Shark Tank and who himself is a serial entrepreneur, first producing the game-changing Survivor series in 2000.

“In the end, every young American wants to start a business,” he said. “It’s the American dream.”

Feed the sharks

Belasco interjected: “Do you know what my dream is? My dream is to see a Shark Tank, college version, here at USC.”

He then asked if the two would be up for hearing some pitches from student startups in the audience. Cuban and Burnett agreed, and the crowd went wild.

The sharks were ready to be fed.

First up were Dinesh Seemakurty ’16 and Michael Maylahn of Stasis Labs, marketing a low-cost health monitoring system for hospitals in emerging markets. Although the team was awarded the Most Innovative Venture Award and the Trojan Family Choice award at the USC Stevens Innovator Showcase last year, Cuban wasn’t impressed. He peppered them with questions about their technology and then cut to the chase brutally. This product wasn’t ready for market. Thumbs down.

Next up were the four USC Marshall students behind EnvoyNow, a food delivery service specifically designed for the college market, who jumped onstage. Founder Anthony Zhang ’17 boldly took a seat in the chair next to Cuban, who eyed him incredulously.

“You think that’s gonna work?” he asked.

“Let’s see what happens,” said Zhang, who admitted later that it was mostly a tactic to calm his nerves after seeing the previous team get shaken up by the sharks.

While Cuban threw out questions, Burnett liked the idea straight off. And while another team member was explaining the money details to Cuban, Zhang walked over and shook Burnett’s hand. He had just been offered a $100,000 investment.

“Professor Belasco had told us to be prepared to pitch, but he couldn’t guarantee it. But I knew Mark Cuban being Mark Cuban, he wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to hear some pitches,” Zhang said. “And I think he enjoyed ripping into us.”

Sydney Liu ’17, a USC Viterbi School of Engineering founder of TalentTrail, which links students with internships and companies with students seeking them, came next. Although a company Cuban has invested in, CyberDust, already advertises for interns via TalentTrail, Liu wanted the chance to pitch his company to Cuban personally.

“Mark’s worked with many early stage startups, and the questions he asked on stage help me understand what things are important in our business,” he said. “I wanted to hear his thoughts about our business and potentially work with more of his companies.”

He came away with a personal invitation to talk more behind the scenes. A victory for a young entrepreneur.

Entrepreneur of the Year     

At the end of a raucous evening celebrating entrepreneurship, there was a crowning moment yet to come. Lloyd Greif MBA ’79, came onstage and presented Cuban with the Greif Center’s 2015 Entrepreneur of the Year award.

“There’s nothing we treasure more than a serial entrepreneur,” he said. “And Mark fits that definition to a T. What we do at the Greif Center is what he does on Shark Tank and in life — and that is fostering entrepreneurship, inspiring entrepreneurship and funding entrepreneurship.”

Seemakurty and Maylahn of Stasis Labs, watched and nodded. Like good entrepreneurs, they believed completely in their product and had no intention of letting one ding sway them. “We have a complex system that can’t be explained in a short period of time,” said Maylahn.

Seemakurty agreed that they would continue working to launch their business. “I’d love to see him two years from now,” he said.