A 20-Year-Old Undergrad At USC Is Revolutionizing Advertising On Mobile Games

Founder Joshua Javaheri wins big with his Lucky Day app.

StartupLucky Day

Launched: May 2014 (product launched July 2015)

Founder: Joshua Javaheri

Location: Los Angeles

Employees: 4 in the U.S.; 8 in Belarus (mostly engineers)

The pitch: The hardest part about sustaining a mobile gaming company is attracting and retaining users. Joshua Javaheri, the founder and CEO of Lucky Day, thought he might be able to change that and get to 100 million users. The summer after his freshman year at Boston University he created three, simple-to-use mobile games that allow players to win real money, not just points, tokens or a free game. He kept the game’s interface simple (often a one-click endeavor) with a focus on prizes in small amounts, generally between $1-$5. “We would rather have more small winners than just a few big ones,” says Javaheri, “because we want everyone to feel like a winner.”  Hence a mobile gaming app named, appropriately, Lucky Day.

How it works: Some of Javaheri’s fondest memories of his childhood in L.A. involve trips to gaming arcades, so he built games that recall that. In arcades you can win a huge prize that can be turned into cash or lots of smaller prizes, but what Javaheri remembered most was, he says, “the feeling of winning.”  He wanted to deliver that winning-moment feeling and excitement to gamers on their phones, and for free.  The first three games were a virtual scratch card, a virtual slot machine and a virtual Lotto game. “We started by creating simple games that people already understood,” said Javaheri. Each day users are given a certain number of credits—essentially tokens—with which they can play games.

The real innovation here is the way Javaheri and his team are integrating advertising, making it part of the actual game. There are no pop-up or banner ads on the games themselves, which Javaheri finds distracting. Instead, the ads are part of the game. “Imagine a scratcher game as a kind of mobile ad, like a billboard. You’re scratching off on the billboard, but it’s contextual, it’s part of the game,” he says. For example, the background of the scratch game might be an ad for your favorite coffee place. Or in the slot machine game, you’re trying to match different coffee brands.  That’s the future of advertising in mobile games, according to Lucky Day.  “When people advertise on television or on highway billboards, it’s all about estimating impressions, because they never really know who is looking at their ads,” says Javaheri. “But with Lucky Day, you know exactly who is looking at your ads and how many people have seen it.”

Traction: In the six months since they launched their first games, Lucky Day has acquired half a million users;  more than 25 percent play games every day. The number of users is doubling every month, says Javaheri, and that’s without doing any advertising. The company has introduced casino games too, like Big Fish Casino, Double Down and Blackjack.

Funding:  Lucky Day had a pre-seed round of $500,000 and is in the process of raising $2.5 million, which is on track to close by the end of March. Javaheri says the company is still building out its team and doesn’t yet spend money on marketing. Growth has been by word of mouth.

The future:  Javaheri wants to fill out the number of games offered in the casino category and then jump to other ones down the road. He says the company will also move from simple, one-click games to ones that require a bit more skill but also allow for more control over how they are played. And of course, he still has to graduate from college. Javaheri is now a junior at USC in the Marshall School, learning about entrepreneurship and business. Although running a business and raising money would have most students cutting back on their course load, Javaheri increased his. Whatever he learns in a given week he tries to use immediately, with Lucky Day. “I took a marketing course last semester and just applied it to the business, right away. It’s just the way I am, I have way too much energy,” he says.  “In fact I’m jumping right now while I’m talking to you.”

Credit: Forbes –Eilene Zimmerman

A Rocket Built By Students Reached Space For The First Time

A USC team won the collegiate space race by sending a rocket above the Kármán line, the imaginary boundary that marks the end of Earth’s atmosphere.  ILLUSTRATION–USC ROCKET PROPULSION LAB

IN THE EARLY morning of April 21, 10 students from the University of Southern California’s Rocket Propulsion Lab piled into the back of a pickup truck with a 13-foot rocket wedged between them and drove down a dusty dirt road to a launchpad near Spaceport America, in southern New Mexico. When they arrived, their teammates helped them lift the 300-pound rocket onto a launch rail. Dennis Smalling, the rocket lab’s chief engineer, began the countdown at 7:30 am. When he reached zero, Traveler IV shot up off its launchpad, exhaust and flames pouring from its tail.

The USC team is one of several groups of college students across the United States and Europe that have been racing to send a rocket above the Kármán line, the imaginary boundary that separates Earth’s atmosphere and space. For most of the history of spaceflight, sending a rocket to space required mobilizing resources on a national scale. The V-2 rocket, which was the first to reach space in 1942, took well over a decade to develop and cost the Nazis a fortune. In the eight decades since, dozens of other countries—and a handful of billionaires—have produced their own rockets capable of suborbital flight. But several student teams, including some from the top aerospace universities in the US (Princeton, MIT, UC Berkeley, Boston University), set out to show that they could do it too.

As Traveler IV crossed the sky, the USC team and dozens of spectators watched in apprehensive silence, shielding their eyes from the rising desert sun. They scanned for signs of the rocket and listened to the avionics lead, Conor Hayes, call out the altitude. Eight kilometers … 13 kilometers … 17 kilometers. Just under three minutes after launch, a member of the launch team radioed in with the words that everyone was waiting to hear: “The drogues have fired.” The first set of parachutes had deployed at apogee, suggesting the rocket had made it to space as planned. Peter Eusebio, the team’s recovery lead, let out a whoop and turned to embrace Sidney Wilcox, the team’s launch coordinator, and the pair began jumping with glee. All that was left to do was find the rocket.

 

ILLUSTRATION – USC ROCKET PROPULSION LAB

The USC rocketeers recovered their spacecraft 12 miles downrange from where it had launched. For an object that had just been traveling at five times the speed of sound, it was in pretty good shape. And when they analyzed the flight data, they concluded with near certainty that the rocket had breached the Kármán line, making the USC Rocket Lab only the second amateur group to ever send a rocket to space. The vehicle had reached an altitude of 339,800 feet and achieved a top speed of 3,386 mph.

Although breaching the Kármán line was the goal of the collegiate space race, this “official” space boundary is somewhat arbitrary. NASA, for instance, gives astronaut wings to any pilot that flies 50 miles above Earth’s surface, which is some 60,000 feet below the Kármán line. By these metrics, the USC team was well into space proper, even accounting for any measurement errors by the onboard accelerometer tracking the rocket’s ascent.

The USC Rocket Propulsion Lab has been chasing this goal since it was founded in 2005. It began only a year after the Civilian Space Exploration Team became the first group in history to send an amateur rocket into space; that group repeated the feat in 2014.

 

ILLUSTRATION – USC ROCKET PROPULSION LAB

Like the Civilian Space Exploration Team, the USC lab focused on solid fuel rockets, which require far less complicated—and dangerous—motors than the liquid fuel rockets launched by SpaceX or Blue Origin. Some of the rockets being developed by the leaders of the collegiate space race have two stages, but the USC team opted for a single-stage rocket. If you’re trying to get to orbit, which requires reaching speeds of more than 17,000 mph, a two-stage rocket is a must, so as to jettison the dead weight of empty propellant tanks. But for lower altitudes and speeds, a single-stage rocket can do the trick.

In 2013, the USC rocket team attempted its first space shot with the Traveler I, which exploded just seconds after launch. A similar fate befell Traveler II, which was launched the following year. Clearly, it was time to make some changes. Following the failure of the first two Traveler rockets, the USC team began to develop the Fathom rocket and Graveler motor as testbeds for flight systems that would be used on subsequent space shots. The Fathom rocket was effectively a scaled-down version of the Traveler rocket that allowed the USC team to build multiple rockets in quick succession to see how the subsystems worked together. After extensive ground tests, the team’s Fathom II rocket set a record when it reached an altitude of 144,000 feet in 2017. Other collegiate rocket teams had reached only about 100,000 feet. The time seemed ripe to attempt another spaceshot.

In September 2018, the USC team launched Traveler III, which may have been the first collegiate rocket to make it to space. The team expected it to reach about 370,000 feet, but the USC team failed to activate the avionics payload, so none of its flight data got recorded. Prior to the launch of Traveler IV, Tewksbury says, the team overhauled its operational procedures to avoid a similar gaffe.

ILLUSTRATION – USC ROCKET PROPULSION LAB

USC may have been the first collegiate team to make it to space, but the race is far from over. A number of teams, including USC, are exploring liquid-fueled rockets, despite the greater engineering challenge. They offer several advantages, including greater degrees of control and the ability to carry more payload mass to altitude. The huge costs of building such rockets makes them daunting for universities, but the same thing could have been said about solid-fueled rockets just 15 years ago.

Tewksbury says the USC team is up for the challenge. But the team is also not done with its solid-fuel rockets. The Rocket Propulsion Lab hopes to also claim the title of the highest amateur rocket launch in history. This means adding another 50,000 feet to their altitude, but once you’ve traveled 64 miles into the atmosphere, what’s another dozen miles?

Updated 05-22-2019, 11:00 pm ET: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the avionics lead as the range lead and stated the rocket traveled 29 miles down range. The rocket actually traveled 12 miles down range.

Co-Living Keeps Growing As Tripalink Raises $10M At $100M Valuation

Tripalink, a Los Angeles-based real estate startup providing co-living space for students and  young professionals, has raised a $10 million Series B at a $100 million valuation. ILLUSTRATION: LI-ANNE DIAS

Founded by University of Southern California-Los Angeles (USC) graduates in 2016, Tripalink has grown rapidly. According to CEO Donghao Li, the company has been profitable since the year it was founded and tripled its revenue in 2018.

The latest financing marks Tripalink’s third funding round in a ten-month period, Li said, bringing its total capital raised to $20 million. Existing investors Calin SJG Fund, China-based K2VC, and Tekton Ventures participated in the round, along with new investor Oriza Ventures.

Tripalink has two product lines. First, it works with small and medium-sized developers to create and manage co-living spaces. Second, it has also become a developer, building out its own co-living projects.

Tripalink helps provide furnished, all utilities-paid co-living spaces in Los Angeles, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Irvine, Austin, and Philadelphia. It claims that its properties are “fully occupied” in most of the cities where it currently operates. The new capital will mostly go toward market expansion with a goal of being in 30 cities by 2020, according to Li. By the end of this year, the company expects it will have developed itself nearly 4,000 beds via master leases or joint ventures.

“Besides building a community, our price per bedroom is much cheaper compared to most luxury apartments,” Li told Crunchbase News. “Purchasing land and then building our own co-living space is our ultimate goal in each market.”

The model is attractive to developer partners because the more bedrooms in a unit, the higher the value of their property, Li said. Tripalink purposely targets centrally located areas that are more likely to see appreciation over time.

Most apartments that the company rents have room for four people, with a total square footage of about 1,200. Each person has their own bedroom and bathroom, and each unit has a kitchen and living room. Larger units that can room up to six people are about 1500 square feet. Average rent per person varies on the market, Li said. In Los Angeles, monthly rent per person runs around $1,300-$1,500 whereas in cheaper markets, it’s less. Each unit has common indoor and outdoor space.

The trend of rising rental costs in hot job markets has brought all sorts of new ideas regarding living to the market. WeWork’s WeLive product line, hacker houses of dubious repute and more have become regular fare. And so long as jobs continue to cluster in big urban environments, the market may keep generating demand for new housing arrangements like what Tripalink and others can provide.

Credit: Crunchbase News – Mary Ann Azevedo

Mi Terro Limitless Milk Shirt

Mi Terro’s vision is to make Earth green again. In order to do so, we need to teach people to shop eco-friendly products and to live with minimal waste. We want to make green fashion affordable to almost everyone. From creating the Forbes featured travel bag made from ocean plastics and natural cork to making a shirt from upcycled milk, we will never stop discovering new ways to solve world problems through means of green fashion.

Earlier this year, we created the world’s travel bag made from recycled ocean plastic and natural cork for which we crowdfunded about $14,000 on KickstarterWe were featured on Forbes recently for our product innovation and sustainability.

We launched our second Kickstarter yesterday, for our Limitless Milk Shirt. The shirt is made from upcycled milk. It is 3 times softer than cotton, silk-like, odor-free, wrinkle resistant, body-fitting, and temperature regulating. We were fully funded in less than 2 hours and still have over a month left before our campaign ends.

We partner with a dairy farm in the Shandong Province of China to source our milk. Because our partner dairy farm generates an excess amount of the milk, the milk that we sourced could have been dumped or wasted if we don’t use it. There are only two manufacturers in China that has the craftsmanship and capability to turn unwanted milk into clothing fabric. Every 5 Limitless Milk Shirts save one glass of milk from being dumped. Our next step is partnering with supermarkets so we can collect the so-called “expired,” or past sell date, milk from them. Our goal is educating the general public that we are consuming too much dairy products and we need to cut down our food waste. Our Kickstarter will launch tomorrow at 9 am PST. Here is the project link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/miterro/limitless-milk-shirt-the-first-shirt-made-from-milk.

We partner with Eden Reforestation Projects to plant 10 trees for every product we sell. So far, we have planted over 2700 trees with this organization. We want to rebuild our forests because trees are the best solution to climate change. These trees are planted in Madagascar, Indonesia, Nepal, Haiti, and Mozambique. Mi Terro is committed to planting 1,000,000 in the next 5 years.

Spark SC hosts startup career fair for students

Spark SC hosted its biannual startup career fair Wednesday. The event featured small companies to give them a platform apart from the big corporations typically present at recruiting events. (Thomas Forman | Daily Trojan)

Students lined up to enter Alumni Park Wednesday morning to speak to prospective employers at Spark SC’s Startup Career Fair, many of whom were USC alumni.

The fair featured more than 20 startup companies from the Los Angeles area that promoted internships and full-time positions.

Spark SC, an organization dedicated to getting students involved in entrepreneurship, put on the biannual fair that included companies from the design, technology, business and medicine fields.

The lineup included companies like Verkada, a startup that builds enterprise security cameras, and Vezt, the first mobile app that allows music fans to acquire rights to songs and recordings.

Alyssa Goldberg, a sophomore majoring in arts, technology and the business of innovation, led this year’s startup career fair committee. She said many of the startups looked to hire multiple students — not just one or two, but even up to eight or 10.

“There are a lot of career fairs that happen on campus, but a lot of them are directed toward a certain major,” Goldberg said. “A lot of the companies at those career fairs are really big, and a lot of the small companies get drowned out.”

Sina Karachiani, a senior majoring in computer science and music composition, said this was his second year attending the fair.

“It’s really hard to get to know startups because they’re not as public so there’s not much information about them,” he said. “It’s good to just come see what’s out there. There are a lot of USC alumni so it’s easy to network.”

Nathan Wallace, a USC alumnus and software engineer at Verkada, said this was the company’s first time at the startup career fair. He said he used to organize the event while attending USC, so he made sure Verkada was present.

“We’re a relatively new company,” Wallace said. “We closed our Series A round of funding in April, so now we’re looking to grow and expand.”

Kerri Ma, a sophomore majoring in business administration, said her goal was to learn about companies she’s never heard about.

“I want to learn more about what startups have to offer … and see how they differ from larger corporations in how they construct their business and the types of careers they seek,” she said.

As someone who currently works at a startup, Goldberg said she sees the value in the experience.

“You can really see the impact that you’re having,” Goldberg said. “At a lot of big companies, that often gets lost in the hierarchy … There are so many people working on one thing.”

Credit: Daily Trojan – Briana Latter

The Startup Life: Road to Y Combinator

Jackson Berry stands next to Y Combinator logo after being admitted into cohort

Jackson Berry is co-founder of Splish, a Y Combinator-backed startup that’s carving out a new niche in the social sharing space. Touted as the next anti-Instagram, Splish is a short-form video sharing app where friends can create and share looping videos and animated photos.

Splish is decidedly about life, friends, and meaningful community; less about follow counts, likes, and glossy perfection. Its videos have a grittier look and feel than your average Instagram feed and more staying power than Snapchat’s ephemeral messaging app.

“The incumbents in the consumer social space fail to build relationships in the same way that humans do in real life. They’re generally split into two categories – broadcast and messaging,” says Jackson. “Splish instead functions as an online ‘third space,’ giving people a place to build and reinforce their relationships on the internet.”

Splish originally started as a generic creative tool in the augmented reality space. While the early photo and video-focused product was evolving, it still felt uninspired until the team discovered a subset of power users who were using the app in a very specific way. Through user feedback and testing, the team began to design deliberately for this segment of power users to reinforce the features that users valued.

“We’ve followed a product design process that’s balanced our thesis and our users’ requests, ensuring that we’re building with their values and intentions in mind. It’s very similar to a design-thinking or user-centered design methodology, and has proven very impactful on our product iterations,” says Jackson. “Splish’s success is the culmination of focusing solely on the things people fanatically love most and cutting the clutter of indifferently-received product features.”

Exploring new spaces and experiences is nothing new for Jackson. An Arizona native, Jackson moved to Los Angeles to attend the USC Iovine and Young Academy before setting off on a solo backpacking trip around the world. When he’s not working on his startup, Jackson immerses himself in meditation retreats and creating meditative VR experiences.

Here, Jackson shares his best advice and tips for a successful Y Combinator application.


When did you decide to apply to Y combinator and what was the application process like?

Y Combinator (YC) has been a personal dream of mine since I was 16 years old. Where I grew up, no one was involved in tech. I was the only person at my high school who took computer science, and I taught myself how to make video games and websites via YouTube tutorials. Most of my early schooling in the startup realm came from YC’s forum “Hacker News” and the essays of YC’s founder, Paul Graham. So, naturally, it was my top choice when applying to accelerators, but that didn’t mean getting in was an easy process.

When Splish first applied to YC in Fall 2017, we got one phone interview and were subsequently rejected before the next round. We kept our heads up, continued working, and decided to reapply in Spring 2018. This time we got the interview in Palo Alto. YC interviews are intense ten-minute bouts of ravenous idea debate. Usually teams have one debate, but we were called in for a second because they’d not finalized a decision on our application after the first round.

Describe a typical day at Y Combinator? 

Day-to-day life in Y Combinator’s program is exactly what you’d expect – we spend 15+ hours a day heads-down talking to users and building features. We’re lucky to work from a living room instead of a garage. To break up the intensity of the long, hard sprints, YC hosts weekly dinners with all the founders of the Summer 2018 batch. We also have small-group office hours with other companies in our space. This small-group time is incredibly impactful as we’re able to solve the biggest problems that face our startup with the best mentors, advisors, and founders who understand exactly the position we’re in.



Any tips for startups wanting to apply to Y combinator? Is the program worth it? 

I used to think that the best way to learn about yourself was by wandering the world, exploring ancient cultures, and reading great books – these are all great options. But, after this summer, I’m convinced the most potent learning experience you can have is sitting in the same chair, hunched over a computer, drinking egregious amounts of coffee, working 15 hours a day on the same problem, with the same people, for three straight months. I don’t think it would be possible to condense more leanings about business, tech, people, myself, and life in general into such a short time frame as YC managed to. I would highly recommend applying to any founder. Even if you don’t think you have a chance of getting in, if you want it, you might as well take a shot.

My advice to getting in to YC is this:

Find a great team that you love to work with. Find a problem that you all are uniquely qualified to solve (and would enjoy solving). Work day and night to make your solution a reality. Then learn how to tell your story succinctly and intelligently. If you do all those things, you’ll have a good shot at getting in to YC. And if you don’t get in to YC, all will still be well because you now have a hardworking team aimed at problem you enjoy solving.

Three top lessons learned so far?

1. Everyone who was successful before you was just as human as you. They had the same doubts, anxieties, stresses. What sets the most successful founders apart is their ability to keep fighting. Formidability trumps talent.

2. Your team is your product. The character of any project you build will inevitably reflect the character of the people who built it. Be sure to choose a team that fits the product and a product that fits the team.

3. You need to learn to scale yourself as much as your company. You need to examine your own deficiencies as much as your product’s, and work constantly to improve on them. No one begins this journey anywhere near as impressive as they end it (just google a before and after photo of Jeff Bezos and you’ll see what I mean).


Best advice you’ve received?

“Make something people love.” This is YC’s mantra and the most important point at the heart of any startup. It doesn’t matter how pretty your design is, how advanced your tech is, or how visionary your mission is – if there isn’t a core group of people who love it, it’s worthless.

Something about you that people might find surprising or unusual?

I’m very interested in philosophy, meditation, and spirituality. I spent part of this spring practicing at a Zazen monastery in Big Sur and will be doing a seven-day silent meditation retreat in the fall. I tend to combine that interest with another passion of mine – video game development. When I’m not working on my startup, my consistent side project is making meditative VR experiences. The most recent was “Gestations,” a surrealist VR experience about being born.

I also spent much of last year solo backpacking around the world. I spent two weeks in South East Asia, a month in the Middle East, two months in Europe, and two weeks in Cuba. While traveling I 3D modeled the people and places I encountered and made them in to a computer game.

Thank you, Jackson!

Credit: USC News

This new discovery could allow dentists to regenerate the roots of teeth

Yang Chai and fellow researchers at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC have discovered how genes for the roots of teeth turn on and off, a key step on the path to someday regrowing the teeth themselves.

USC expert Yang Chai’s research could one day find a way how to activate proteins with in our own bodies to make teeth re-grow. (Photo/Shutterstock)

To figure out how the body changes over time, researchers are increasingly looking to understand epigenetics, the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself. This scientific endeavor extends to teeth as well.

Yang Chai, associate dean of research at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC, reported in a recent article how he and colleagues discovered that epigenetic regulation can control tooth root patterning and development.

“This is an aspect that doesn’t involve change in the DNA sequence, but it’s basically through the control where you make the genes available or unavailable for transcription, which can determine the pattern,” he explained.

A protein called Ezh2 helps the bones of the face to develop, but it was not known how it affects tooth root development, the authors wrote. So the team looked at what happens when Ezh2 is not present in the molar teeth of developing mice. They found that Ezh2 and another protein called Arid1a must be in balance to establish the tooth root pattern and the proper integration of roots with the jaw bones.

The goal: To someday regrow teeth, first regenerate the roots

teeth root regrowth yang chai

Yang Chai says that changes in our diet and environment affect how our bodies regulate our genes, which is evident in the difference between the formation of our teeth and those of ancient humans. (Photo/Phil Channing)

Chai said the new work is motivating: “I feel excited about this because, through human evolution, there have been changes in our diet and environment that can influence our epigenome — the ways our genes are regulated – and you can clearly see a difference between the root formation of our dentition versus Neanderthals.”

Neanderthal molars have longer root trunks than the ones seen in anatomically modern humans and show late splitting of the roots, which could be due to the effect of diet and exercise on the proteins that turn the genes on and off.

The balance of regulators also has a hand in disease and wellness. In different types of cancer, research has shown that the balance of two opposing epigenetic regulators is quite important. Knocking out one regulator can create cancer, Chai said, but modulating its opposing regulator can stop the cancer.

“These epigenetic regulators, which are not changing the DNA sequences, are important in themselves, but their level of their activity is also important,” he said. “Basically, you can’t have too much or too little — if the balance is off track, then you get developmental problems or disease.”

The ultimate goal of Chai’s research on the regulation of tooth development is to regrow teeth— but generating an entire tooth is very challenging because it takes a long time for nature to build a tooth from development to eruption, Chai explained. So he aims to find ways to regenerate a molar root, and put a crown on top.

“It would be the best of both worlds: a natural integration of the root with the jawbone with the periodontal ligament in place, and a reduction in the amount of time we need by using just a crown to restore function,” he said.

Credit: USC News – Katharine Gammon

USC Rossier EdVentures completes its first year with $13 Million in Funding for its Cohort of Emerging Companies

Presenting the companies that completed the first Rossier EdVentures cohort

Los Angeles – August 2nd – The USC Rossier EdVentures program has completed its first cohort, providing 16 ed-tech companies from around the globe with mentorship and other support. These student- and alumni-founded companies – as well as companies from five countries – mostly run by minorities and women, are developing products that enhance educational and financial opportunity.

USC Rossier EdVentures aims to strengthen companies that take a holistic and diverse approach toward conquering obstacles often faced in education. By mentoring company leaders and connecting them to potential investors, EdVentures unlocks a variety of strategies and products that benefit learners in early childhood, K-12, postsecondary, and adult education programs.

Simply by emphasizing diversity and focusing on quality, we were able to get an unparalleled cohort of companies who are already doing amazing things. The number of world-class mentors in the program is a reflection both of the quality of the cohort and the support innovators have for the Trojan family,” said Doug Lynch, managing director of the program.

USC Rossier School of Education Dean Karen Symms Gallagher initiated EdVentures as part of Rossier’s Center for Engineering in Education (CEE). EdVentures is run by a team of managing directors including Anthony Maddox, Dean Kline, Doug Lynch, James Bottom, and Julie Slayton, and an investment committee including George Straschnov, John Brooks Slaughter, and Phil Kim.

The program collaborates with many centers across USC’s campus, such as Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars, Incubate USC, the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the Marshall School of Business, Center Edge at the Rossier School of Education, and the Student Entrepreneurship Education Program at the Viterbi School of Engineering.

EdVentures is supported by Michelson 20MM, Bisk Ventures, and Novitas Ventures. Additional funding and services are provided by Cooley LLP and Microsoft.

The Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship program helps USC students succeed. Open to all students and alumni in all majors, the campus-based Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars enables participants to access mentoring, grow their network, and access the resources to accelerate the success of their business.

The companies included in EdVentures’ first cohort are:

About Akilah

  • Akilah, located in Rwanda, is a distinguished higher education institution for women. Akilah helps hundreds of women become ethical leaders in fields ranging from finance, technology, eco-tourism, and more. The organization has expanded to include Davis College, a network of personalized, affordable, and market-relevant higher education in Africa and Asia.

About Ampligence

  • Ampligence is a technology that boosts your efficiency learning and solving math or any math-related subjects, up to 10x more efficient. It upgrades all math-related information-exchange to fully digital like never before. You will no longer need any paper material or calculator for any math purpose.

About APoll01

  • APoll01 is software for building and managing communities, while curating experiences for each community member. APoll01 can manage entire sets of communities, such as a university, a school system, a company, or even a country. Our software establishes portable and interoperable user profiles, enables private and secure mobile voting, incentivizes participation, and delivers roll-up reporting at every community level. Your APoll01 profile will be the last online profile you ever have to make, enabling a lifelong, personalized journey through education and work.

About ClassCalc

  • Educational math tools, specifically, the graphing calculator, are outdated and painfully expensive. ClassCalc believes that all students should have equitable access to tools that make math easier, not harder. Since the beginning, ClassCalc grasped that unlocking the power of mobile devices was essential to making its belief a reality. So we created ClassCalc – a powerful, test-safe calculator app with a “test-mode” that allows teachers to temporarily lock students on the app screen during tests and classroom sessions. This allows for an environment with no distractions and no cheating– only healthy, unburdened learning.

About CollegeBacker

  • CollegeBacker is democratizing access to higher education with a social investing platform that helps millennial parents conquer their #1 financial fear – paying for college – with help from family and friends. In just a few minutes, a family can open a 529 college savings plan and invite family and friends to help them grow their investment. CollegeBacker has already helped American families save millions – and their kids avoid millions more in debt – by making college savings simple and social.

About Equally

  • Equally is building engaging games for kids that encourage physical activity, personal development and exploration. 

About EasyTeach

  • A customizable WordPress Plug-In for creating and providing online courses.

About Giblib

  • GIBLIB curates and creates high-quality medical education videos from subject matter experts at the leading academic medical centers and streams on-demand to medical professionals globally.

About Immerse

  • Immerse developed the first virtual reality language-learning platform, connecting language students and language instructors live in virtual environments. Backed by research from some of the brightest minds in the language education community, the Immerse platform provides a learning experience in which students can move from review of language formulas, to task-oriented, real-life experiences that stimulates language fluency. 

About Intervene

  • Intervene partners with school districts to drive student academic improvement. Intervene uses comprehensive assessments and analytics to understand students’ skill deficiencies, then adapts to deliver personalized instruction to close gaps. Intervene uses a whole student approach, including Social Emotional Learning, Culturally Relevant Content, and Data Driven Instruction to grow and motivate students.

About LoanBuddy

  • LoanBuddy develops solutions that help college graduates optimize their student debt. LoanBuddy technology empowers financial advisors and borrowers with tools to calculate federal income-based repayment programs and track the certified months of Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Understanding this student debt lifecycle is crucial for grads working at nonprofits or in the government. LoanBuddy has an accelerating “Member Community” of 300+ Advisors, that now track over $150 Million of client student debt within the LoanBuddy platform. Innovative Advisors are incorporating student loan planning at their firms, helping better serve their communities and now any borrower can start using the LoanBuddy self-service portal for free to learn more about their options for their student debt. 

About Mandarin X

  • MandarinX provides an active online language learning experience for over 270,000 students. MandarinX bridges the gap between cultures by facilitating five in-house designed courses to help students understand different facets of Chinese life.

About Octagon Studio

  • Octagon Studio is a tech company specializing in providing high quality Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Mixed Reality (MR) products, services, and solutions to elevate the education system in terms of engagement, interaction, and efficiency, as well as the fun factor. Founded in 2015, the Company has grown from a local to an international product. Along the way, we have made various AR Educational Flashcards Series starting from Animal (Animal 4D+), Occupation (Octaland 4D+), Space Exploration (Space 4D+), and Dinosaurs (Dinosaurs 4D+). These apps have been downloaded over one million times. The Space series flashcards were used by the UK Space Agency as a tool to inspire children to become astronauts. Octagon believes Dales’s theory of Cone Experience; we would like to elevate the education to a new level.

About Reto

  • Reto is a mobile platform customizable for any exam. Reto ENARM, our first niche, has helped more than 100,000 physicians to prepare for the Mexican medical residency entrance examination (ENARM). Reto ENARM features exclusive clinical cases, gamified interactions between users, a web simulator, and insights based on their performance. Reto ENARM was launched at the end of 2015 and it has been adopted by more than 100,000 users that accounts for more than 50% of the market. Reto MIR, our next product release, is for the Spanish Medical Board assessment (MIR). Reto Universidad will help high school students in Latin America prepare for college entrance examinations and Reto Bursatil will be used as a tool to prepare for Mexico’s finance and banking certifications. 

About Studioso

  • Studioso aims to simplify and promote music education through technology. Studioso provides a platform for music teachers and students to easily connect and plan lessons.

About Ucroo

  • UCROO helps organizations become more efficient by organizing their internal and external information (documents, notes, messages, links, etc.). Our platform is a new generation of portals that unifies users’ experience and makes data and content social and collaborative. Our first product, Campus, addresses a gap in the higher education market and efficiently replaces old student portals. How ironic is it that universities, of all places, while in charge of sharing and making sense of the world’s information, cannot organize their own information online? Better connection and access to personalized information lead to better outcomes for the students and higher rates of retention for universities.

Alex Bottom, Co-Founder of LoanBuddy, exclaimed that “We were proud to have been a part of the first USC Rossier EdVentures Cohort over the last year.” The collaboration with its leaders – Doug Lynch, Dean Kline, Anthony Maddox, Julie Slayton and my brother, James Bottom – had a profound impact to LoanBuddy.

“The curriculum was very friendly for virtual attendance and its personal configuration was very impressive,” continued Bottom. “Our experience with EdVentures especially benefited from the diverse education provided by the topical weekly meetings with business leaders; it allowed us to leverage their vast experiences. The USC Edventures Accelerator is a great starting point for an entrepreneur (not just a USC Grad) focused on solving problems in education. At LoanBuddy, we have developed software to help college graduates optimize their student debt and have been able to implement insights gained from the program in real-time; helping us think big while remained focused on growth and delivering our unique products into the marketplace.”

“USC Rossier EdVentures has been the product of over a decade of experience in encouraging sustainable entrepreneurship in education,” said Dean Kline, Managing Director of USC EdVentures. “We have taken the lessons learned from that experience and built a unique program at USC that achieved beyond our expectations across the board.”

“We were able to attract a diverse group of entrepreneurs with respect to their focus on learning challenges, ethnicity, sex, location, and stage of their companies. At the end of our six-month program they had raised over $13 million and impacted over 500,000 learners. We are accepting our second cohort applications for what will surely be another exceptional collection of learning entrepreneurs.”

The application process for the second cohort opens on August 5. Edtech entrepreneurs can apply here.

 

Credit: Danielle Kaiser & Samika Tara

The $3.5 Million Company Born Out of a USC Football Tailgate

Erin Reilly and Sterling Wilson of Pop! Promos. COURTESY COMPANY

Sterling Wilson was 22 when he stumbled into the $25 billion promotional products industry during a stint at a Chinese manufacturing firm. Five years later, the company he founded after selling sunglasses to football fans out of his backpack has gone on to attract giant customers including major U.S. university systems and Coca-Cola. The Philadelphia based co-founder of Pop! Promos describes how team spirit and a clever manufacturing regimen has helped his company outplay the competition.

–As told to Melissa Studach

When all my friends were going to study abroad junior year, I didn’t see any point in paying tuition to cut class and go travel around Europe. I had seen China in the newspaper every day and decided to take a job with a Chinese pharmaceutical manufacturing firm in Shanghai.

My job was to organize logistics. I learned that there’s basically no overnight mail in China. Sending something between provinces could take a couple days, but you could export something out of the country by air to the United States in two days, which was fascinating to me.

I hadn’t managed to save a dime living in Shanghai, so when I got back to school for my senior year in 2011 and paid my first and last month’s rent and security deposit, suddenly I realized I didn’t have a dollar to my name.

I went to the first football game of the year for the University of Southern California, and there were thousands of people tailgating on campus. Everyone’s got the hats, shirts, cooler, and koozies, but no one had sunglasses on. I was like, “Oh, my god, this is obvious.”

So that night, I got up at midnight after the game–which we won, by the way–and I got on Skype and started calling around. Turns out, the cousin of my old roommate from Shanghai had just bought a sunglasses factory. I designed a pair of sunglasses that were cardinal in color and in gold said ‘Game Day’ on the sides, and I borrowed some money from my roommate and ordered 2,000 pairs of them.

They showed up, and I made a big sign that said ‘Game Day Glasses $10,’ got on my bicycle with a backpack full of sunglasses, and sold through 2,000 pairs in three days. I called up a bunch of my high school friends, and they started selling them at their schools. By October, we had quite a little operation going, selling almost 100,000 pairs of sunglasses all over the country.

It quickly shifted from selling glasses out of backpacks to schools coming in and ordering a few thousand pieces at a time. Then we started doing business with some corporate clients, and we had to learn about Food and Drug Administration registration, safety testing, and all these things that we had no concept of.

Eventually our clients started asking us to make products other than glasses. We’d said no for about a year and finally realized that we just had to. Pop! Promos now has a line of about 20 products, and what differentiates us from everyone else in the market is we don’t have any inventory–zero. Our ability to never have to say we’re out of stock, to perfectly match a color, and to manufacture it from scratch with custom packaging has allowed us to catapult through our industry. I didn’t really think much of it when we first started, but when Coca-Cola called up and started ordering from us because we had Coca-Cola red and no one else did, it suddenly clicked.

We’ve made our place in this business not by looking at things and asking, “How does everyone else do it?” but rather by asking, “What are our options?” How can we do this differently? And by bringing in young people who don’t have a ton of experience, we get new ideas.

Credit: Inc. – Melissa Studach

Painter Gena Milanesi On Working With The NBA, Meeting Jerry West And Celebrating Female Pioneers

Artist Gena Milanesi models one of the custom hand-painted jackets she does for the NBA.  PATRICK HOELCK

L.A.-based artist Gena Milanesi is a fascinating interview subject. Sometimes soft spoken and reserved, she is  equally full of compelling stories and facts and not what you expect at all. A passionate Lakers and soccer fan, she teared up at meeting the legendary Jerry West, also known to many NBA fans as “The Logo.”

On her website, http://genamilanesi.com/, under collectors, there are photos of Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Ronda Rousey, Manny Pacquio and more. She was selected through a licensing partnership, with JH Design Group, to be the only artist to hand paint exclusive team jackets for both the NBA and MLB. Her jackets sell online on the NBA store website for $2,000 and everyone is one of a kind.

A fan of Leroy Neiman growing up, she has become in her own right one of the hottest and most in-demand sports artists working right now. But when we met up recently it is at the Werkartz Gallery in Downtown L.A., where her current show is running through August 12.

The show, part of Milanesi’s monochromatic period as she calls it, centers on female pioneers who have not been given credit for accomplishments such as inventing the fire escape and The Landlord’s Game, the original version of Monopoly that predated the game we all grew up on by three decades.

Like I said, she has a lot of stories. I spoke with Milanesi about how the ESPY awards led to her art career, working with people like rapper the Game and “lifer” sports fans, as she calls them, and how her subject matters have evolved as her interests grow.

Steve Baltin: This has been a busy time for you as you were telling me

Gena Milanesi: I have back to back shows, I’ve never done that before. The March show was great. I was really proud of that work, then this kind of fell into my lap. I’ve been juggling this with my other work — my commissions, my NBA/MLB stuff. It’s all coming together.

Baltin: This NBA off season has been so crazy. How do the fans you work with get affected by all of the players constantly switching teams?

Milanesi: I get the mega fans, so they’re lifers more or less, which speaks dear to my heart because I am Lakers through and through. I’ve been fortunate with the work I make because I truly get the lifers and that’s very special to me. For instance, I had this one client who is a massive Boston fan. It was fantastic – he and his dad are true Bostonians, which is hilarious as a Lakers fan. He had all this sports paraphernalia from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s and he’s like, “Can you make some paintings for me?” I did a Larry Bird one with all these historical cutouts and I collaged them as a backdrop and then I rendered the player as the focal point. Then, I put a smaller sketch of Magic guarding him because it felt like the right call.

Baltin: As a Lakers fan didn’t you meet Jerry West after you painted a portrait of him?

Milanesi: That was a huge career point for me, I cried that day. It was really special. He got choked up. He said, “Gena, I don’t get emotional, but this is beautiful.”

Baltin: How did you get started with the sports stuff?

Milanesi: I graduated college from USC and I was making art on the side, but I thought I wanted to get in the fashion game. I was a buyer for a couple of years and I wasn’t really happy. But I had a great job and I was learning a lot. I was at the point in my career where I’d have to relocate to Arkansas to move up in the company since Dillard’s is based there. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that and this opportunity came up. My friend worked at ESPN and she asked me if I wanted to put my paintings in the gifting suite for the athletes at the ESPYs. I was like, “Yeah.” I was painting whatever I could, friends’ shoes, denim jackets, whatever, just to do it. I gravitated towards sports because I played soccer my whole life and I was surrounded by talented athletes – it was all I knew. Leroy Neiman and Ronnie Wood were inspirational at the time and it was interesting to see how they processed color on a canvas.

Baltin: What year was the ESPYs you did?

Milanesi: This was 2013. It was rad. I had some pieces up and then from that I got a couple of clients. I made the decision to pursue art not long after that.

Baltin: What were the paintings you supplied that year?

Milanesi: That year there was a heavy emphasis on football and boxing. I think I had one Laker in there, Magic [Johnson].  It was the gifting suite, so it was kind of like a “let’s test it and see” kind of thing. It fell into my lap and then I got my first big commission from the rapper, the Game.

Baltin: What did you do for him?

Milanesi: He was moving into his new house at the time and he asked me to do one room. He’s a Lakers fan as well, so we did an evolution of the his favorite players. That was a cool project to do. We did all the eras, we started with Jerry and the Forum behind them, then Magic, Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar], Shaq [O’Neal] and Kobe [Bryant] with Staples behind him. From there, it led to other commissions of athletes and even collaborations with incredible players, like Landon Donovan and Chris Paul.

Baltin: Having done back to back shows for the first time do you have perspective on it? Or you won’t have that until after the shows are over?

Milanesi: You have no clue. I don’t think you do when you’re in the trenches. And that’s one thing painting taught me too, you have to start something without having answers. It’s not until you step back where you know what’s going on and can see that big picture. When I started on monochromatic two years ago, now I’m like, “Whoa, I have a period of work. I didn’t know I’d have a transition like that.” You start finding the confidence to explore unchartered terrain and experiment more. I was doing heavy sports stuff and I was coming away from that and experimenting more and  have done this unit now.

Baltin: What led to the transition?

Milanesi: The sports became more of a business thing. I still work with the NBA and MLB of course and do the jackets. And I’ll get amazing commissions from mega-fans like I mentioned, but I’ve come away from it more.

Balrin: Also as anyone gets older their interests broaden and you become curious about more things. This show currently is women pioneers, correct?

Milanesi: During my Bergamot Station show two years ago, I was so broke I couldn’t even afford paint.  An opportunity to do a show came about and it was essentially in my backyard in Santa Monica. I had no money, but this was my dream as a kid to have a show there. I was doing research on subject matter and I became captivated with British inventions because of my roots. I was doing the research and found this color, Payne’s Gray. The artist behind it, William Payne was a watercolorist and he invented this pigment to replace black since it was making his paintings look flat. It made them pop all the better. I was experimenting with it and found a comfort in it.  And it’s only one color, so I could afford it (laughs).  I did British inventions for that show and carried forward that style into the March show with World War II imagery.  I was seeing all these stories of these females doing all these random objects like the fire escape and chocolate chip cookies and Monopoly. There are all these stories of these fearless women that were getting their patents taken away and all this controversy during the time and it was fascinating to me. One of the most interesting stories was the Monopoly game. So there was this amazing woman, Elizabeth Magie. She created The Landlord’s Game and it was initially to educate students on the economics going on, at the time. She made this board game and it was well received in universities and played throughout America. Then three decades later this dude [Charles Darrow] comes along and he’s like, “I made this game in my basement called Monopoly.” Exact same rules and everything except the name. He brought it to Parker Brothers and they started selling it. And she came forward saying “Guys, I did this decades ago.” There was controversy and they ended up compensating her with $500. It’s very interesting but in all of these paintings, there is a similar story with these objects and I just couldn’t look away from it. I had to find ways to translate it on canvas.

Credit: Forbes – Steve Baltin