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 – USC Rossier EdVentures 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 outside of USC and from five countries – mostly run by diverse men and women, are developing products that enhance equitable access to learning and educational finance opportunities.

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, Mary Atwater James, 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 Northrop Grumman Foundation, Michelson 20MM, Bisk Ventures, and Navitas Ventures (Australia). 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 on 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, gender, location, and stage of their companies. At the end of our six-month program they had raised in excess of $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 opened on August 12th. 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,, 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

With Love Cards : Spreading The Message Of Good Times


Our startup for this week is With Love Cards, a business that aims to streamline the greeting card industry. The company was founded and launched in the August of 2018 by Kathleen Quinn, a 2nd year master of social entrepreneurship with the mission of enhancing grater human interaction through the written word. “We think having something to hold with a physical presence is getting lost among our generation,” says Quinn “The word os so powerful in making your day when you see it.” 

Quinn was inspired by a challenge she presented herself a few years ago for the season of Lent. “I wanted to do something positive for the people in my orbit for a few weeks like my doorman, my gym buddy and the feedback was so inspirational because it put a positive spin on the day.” 

The company also ties in mental health by partnering with mental health organization and supplying these partners with cards that address the stigma of suicide and depression. “Right now were measuring the impact of these cards by market surveys but were looking to increase the impact in the future.” Says Quinn. While people with mental health problems are complex, these cards reach out to people personally and talks them through their journey of struggling. 


The company is selling to millennial and organizations that work with millennial all over the United States and around the world. “The greeting card industry is 7.5 billion dollars.” Says Quinn. “Five years ago, the market dropped and now its picked back up by becoming a cool, trendy, gift.”

The company mainly uses social media marketing and word-of-mouth around USC students. Three weeks ago, the company launched an e-commerce website to sell the cards with prices ranging from five to seven dollars. 


Thee business is a team of six graduate students, coming from a big, diverse background with multiple perspectives. 

Michael – Web Designer and Developer

Myra – Product Designer

Janice – Strategist for future initiatives

Romero – Marketing

Kevin – Social Impact 


The company is currently in friends-and-family stage funding and is currently planning to register for competitions and entrepreneurship grands over the next few years to push the company forward. 

Imagine I’m a customer

Th first step is to go online to the website and choosing a card theme. You would the type your message to be handwritten by company employees. “Some people have problems coming up with content.” Says Quinn. “We’d love to help ideate and come up with a meaningful message.” We have some recommendations on the content. We would love to help you ideate and come up with a meaningful message.

Compared to other greeting card companies, With Love shaves off the inconvenience of buying postage or going to the mailbox, making it faster, easier and more streamlined. 


“Now that were graduating, were just getting started.” Says Quinn. “We’re all in and so are my teammates.” Our future plans include stepping up in sustainability and transitioning to recyclable paper and partnering to sell with retail stores. 

If you want to learn more head over to\