USC has a new varsity team: The Trojans of esports

USC has a new varsity team: The Trojans of esports
Members of the USC varsity esports team are reflected in the screens of their monitors during practice in a basement lab. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The players on USC’s newest varsity team wear the familiar cardinal and gold, with Tommy Trojan splashed across the front of their jerseys. But on their backs, fans will find names that have never graced a playing field: TankNStein, Kamdono, Loopy, bestty, and Study Meta.

As they scrimmaged in a windowless campus basement Monday night, eyes glued to the popular online battle game League of Legends, the team’s student analyst, Michael Ahn, took note of how players could improve their form. Coach Peter Zhang, recruited from the pro leagues, tracked from his own screen how well the squad followed his strategies.

They were prepping for their game on Thursday night, when the team will battle UCLA in an exhibition match at USC’s Conquest pep rally. The teams will face off onstage in front of an array of gaming computers. Spectators will be able to follow the action on giant screens displaying the players’ monitors.

The varsity League of Legends team is the most public face of a larger organization launching Thursday, the school’s new Esports Union, or ESU.

Unlike most college esports leagues, which are overseen by athletic or campus life departments, USC’s initiative is an offshoot of its game design program, which draws on resources from the film and engineering schools.

Michael Ahn, center, goes over a replay of his team's last match, while team members Duc Minh Nguyen, Ulysses Quesada, William Huang, Jonathan Chai and Jack Johnson look on.
Michael Ahn, center, goes over a replay of his team’s last match, while team members Duc Minh Nguyen, Ulysses Quesada, William Huang, Jonathan Chai and Jack Johnson look on. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Along with of the official team, the ESU will support student clubs across a number of games, and run programs such as League of Legends clinics, where more casual players can pick up pro-level pointers from the varsity squad.

In coming years, the ESU will also support classes dedicated to the event-management and business side of esports, add more varsity teams in popular games such as the team shooter Overwatch and Nintendo’s brawler Super Smash Bros., and help set up scholarship programs for e-athletes.

The creation of the program was spearheaded by current USC senior Keanu Concepcion, who pitched the idea in the fall of 2017 as a way for the school — which is already home to a top-ranked game design program — to remain competitive in all aspects of the growing field.

“My argument for the administration was: If we start the process to make a varsity esports program now, by the time it matters in terms of rankings, USC will be excellently positioned to maintain our top spot,” Concepcion said.

“We always have to be where the industry is and where the art form is,” said Danny Bilson, chairman of the Interactive Media & Games Division of USC’s film school. “It was already on our radar, but once the enthusiasm of the students became clear, we started talking about how we start from zero as USC — one of the better game design schools around, with a well-renowned athletic department.”

With students taking the lead on running the Esports Union and faculty advisors clocking long hours to get the program off the ground, the program is running lean to start, but corporate sponsors such as Red Bull and Logitech are helping fund the initial push.

“We have to bootstrap everything; we’re a school,” Bilson said. “We’re not saying, ‘Let’s throw off a bunch of budget,’ like we’re a game company,’ it’s all homegrown.”

USC's esports team includes, from left, in front: Duc Minh Nguyen, Jonathan Chai, Ulysses Quesada, Michael Yuan. In back are Brandon Gunning, Jack Johnson, Hoang Phan, William Huang, and Damian Dorrance-Steiner
USC’s esports team includes, from left, in front: Duc Minh Nguyen, Jonathan Chai, Ulysses Quesada, Michael Yuan. In back are Brandon Gunning, Jack Johnson, Hoang Phan, William Huang, and Damian Dorrance-Steiner (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

In spring, posters across campus announced open tryouts and the team began taking shape. The program settled on League of Legends as its first focus, both because the game has a well-developed collegiate league with more than 80 schools split among regional divisions and because its founders, Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill, are both USC alumni.

USC also looked to nearby schools for models. UC Irvine has the best-developed esports program in the region, with a campus esports arena and about $80,000 in scholarships for students who make the cut for competitive League of Legends and Overwatch teams.

Zhang, the USC coach, has worked with UC Irvine in the past, and has also served as the head coach for the L.A.-based professional squad Team Liquid.

Michael Sherman, head of Riot Games’ college esports in North America, said school teams help teach players the responsibility and social skills needed to compete at the highest levels of the sport.

“The average pro player is 21.5 years old — trending older as opposed to younger,” Sherman said. “That’s because we’re looking for a lot more of the soft skills. The path of a 17-year-old moving out of his parents’ house and into a team environment with no experience completely on their own was not creating the best team players.”

It’s a boom time for college esports, with Sherman saying that Riot’s program has more than doubled year over year since starting in 2014. It follows the success of the esports industry itself, which has seen dedicated arenas opening up across the country, prize money for major competitions in the tens of millions of dollars, and a global revenue estimated to hit $1.4 billion by 2020, according to market research company Newzoo.

With esports currently falling outside of the NCAA’s jurisdiction, student competitors are allowed to take home cash prizes.

But Neal Robison, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy who researches esports, said cash is beside the point for most collegiate esports programs.

“It’s more about recruitment,” Robison said. “Especially for the smaller schools, this is a way of attracting computer science talent to their university, and specifically attracting female STEM students.”

USC’s varsity program is coed, though its inaugural team has only one female player out of 16.

Concepcion, who has become the program’s director for his final year at USC, said it also serves as another connection to the growing industry.

“Varsity esports is a pathway to build a community on campus, but I think most importantly it’s a pathway to working in the space,” Concepcion said.

And on Thursday night, he’ll be cheering for the team along with the rest of the crowd. Despite running the program, he isn’t on the team. He said getting the ESU off the ground is plenty of work on its own.

Plus, he didn’t make the cut. “I am nowhere near the level of our frontline team,” Concepcion said. “They’re on a whole other level.”

Source: LA Times

The Modern Era Of Skiwear: 686’s Hydrastash System Is Taking Over The Slopes This 2018/19 Ski Season

Nov 5, 2018, 02:59pm

686 on the slopes686

Every revolution has its landmarks and every revolution has its heroes, who invariably wind up with a chestful of medals. Today, the rise of connected consumers has resulted in a sharp uptick in brand expectations. The fresh consumer audiences hold strong opinions that are derived from knowledge acquired through online communities.  This naturally imposes new standards and expectations for both brands and retailers alike.  In a word, consumers today wish to be viewed as loyal patrons instead of ordinary supporters.  Society’s acceptance of social media culture has united people around the world in a manner never seen before in history. But back in time, about 25 years ago, for the first time in it’s history, skiwear apparel and it’s influence was starting at the bottom of the fashion ladder and working its way upward rather than the reverse. Don’t get me wrong, much success has been gained from taking the alternate route.  For example, take the great French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon was known for having placed a few of his calvary behind the enemy – blowing on their bugles so that the enemy would think they were being charged at from both ends. Now back to skiwear, at this time, skiwear was generating more excitement and attracting more press coverage than ever before. By the 21st century however, the smoke had cleared away and after several decades of frenetic change and technical advancements, skiwear was not only to be worn on the slopes but rather in cosmopolitan settings. And it was out of this frenzy and fury that today”s skiwear evolved full of spirit and imagination. I can almost guarantee you that skiwear will never be dull again. On the contrary, this season brings forth technically spectacular new product offerings with a story to tell. Real clothing today must not only be known for its visual image but rather for its advanced intricacies. I can only emphasize that learning and understanding the multiple attributes played by cloth and fabric is pivotal in how you will move forward with your product in a volatile activewear marketplace. Current selections hold a group of variants whose function is to make certain states of the material signify its suppleness, the relief of its surface and its transparency. The transposition of a garments attributes and the feelings that it invokes is not simply the effect of the overall garment as a casing, but more so, of the body itself. We learn today as consumers that there is now an intimate relationship between the body and the garment as one that positions clothing as a type of body surrogate if I may.
I often reflect back to a time of superhero images and their associations with law, power and even patriotism. Superhero garments and its matchmaking accessories make explicit reference to the symbolism of authority and confidence. With its emphasis on functionality and uberfashion skiwear currently reflects and acts as an insulating coat of armor the is well suited for performance enhancing qualities that are necessary for heroic deeds. Welcome to the era of conscious design. The modern era of outerwear. The impact of technology is also breeding a generation of apparel with remote control systems, signal transmitters and power grids with military techno augmentation developments. In plain English, your skiwear now can stretch as far as you can without injuring yourself and still retain its shape virtually indestructible yet its breathes like the finest cotton you can find around the globe. These new age fabrics offer thermal control through quick absorbing fabric enhancement by pulling perspiration away from the body drying it quickly and keeping the body cool and comfortable.

Cool Down686

 I recently came back to review a skiwear brand that has successfully evolved with time. 686 celebrated their 25th anniversary last winter (winter 17/18 snow season) year, but few realize that the little outerwear brand from the edge of Compton remains one of the oldest, independent, technical outerwear specific brand in the U.S. Founded and still owned by Michael Akira West, who remains at the helm as creative director. The brand has evolved a lot since its early days as a pure snowboard brand. It’s gone on to collaborate with everyone from Toyota’s Scion division to creating the first snow fat tire mountain bike line of apparel with specialized and licensed products with the likes of the iconic Motorhead. Their line has been refined recently into two categories GLCR (appealing to a more technical user, interested in back/side-country and resort riding) and 686 (aimed at the fashion forward park and freeride crowd). Two years ago they broke away from the snowboard apparel moniker and started sponsoring skiers, including Parker White, which is a huge step for any brand that until recently, was known as just being for snowboarders.

686 Motorhead Jacket686


In the Spring of ’17 they launched their first 3-season jacket (a real 3-season jacket that you could be on snow in when conditions are rough… not just one that “kind of works” on snow – and this year introduced a capsule collection of gear that includes more multi-season apparel, as well as an innovative travel pant for men that has 10 pockets, packs up into itself and has an RFID protection pocket for the ultimate in security. This year their history of innovation continues with the Hydrastash system, incorporated into their men’s and women’s reservoir jackets. These jackets provide seamless access to hydration that skiers and snowboarders can access as they move down the mountain or rest on the lift.  Quite frankly, there’s never been anything like this techno-advanced product to have hit the sloped before.

686 Core Down Insulator686

Core Down Insulator: A very unique insulation piece that works under your shell or on its own. Heavy insulation where you need it, light insulation where you don’t. This hybrid insulator has slick, poly bonded DWR sleeves that slide easily into the sleeves of your technical shell. The vest’s core has 600 Powerfill 100% Responsible grey goose down insulation to keep you warm. The jackets center front zipper is also compatible with 686’s SMARTY 3-in-1 system jackets.

686 Cross Multi Shell Jacket686

Cross Multi Shell Jacket: Most 3-season jackets fall short when real winter weather takes hold. 686 changed the game through the release of a quiver-killer GORE-TEX jacket last year that worked on snow and off. This fall they’ve redesigned it using their infiDRY® 20K Stretch Fabric to bring the price down to a more affordable $200. The Multi is truly a jacket you can ski/snowboard in but is designed and tailored to be appropriate for other adventures the rest of the season as well. One of its highlights is the removable Cross Strap System, which is similar to the straps of a backpack, so you can temporarily remove the jacket, without actually taking it off, to cool down while hiking the mountain or riding in an overheated subway car. Lightweight, durable and packable, the Multi can be your go-to for traversing through traffic or the trees, lift line or airport.

686 Air Tank Reservoir jacket686

686 Reservoir hydration jacket: This is the first and only jacket on the market to have their patent-pending Hydrastash system. It won six major ski/outdoor industry awards when it was previewed at the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show and it’ll make its retail debut this winter (late September is when shops will start having it in stock).

686 Motorhead jacket686

Motörhead Collaboration: 686 continues its two-decade history of collaborating with artists and musicians through a new capsule with one of England’s loudest exports, Motörhead. The cornerstone of the collaboration is a mid-weight technical winter jacket, featuring the iconic Snaggletooth logo, complimented by a technical fleece hoody, hat, neck gaiter and premium mittens that round out the harmonious partnership. Of course, the jacket and hoody have easy access audio pockets, because tunes are mandatory when this is a part of your kit.

Gore Tex Stretch Zone Jacket686

GORE-TEX® Stretch Zone jacket: Part of the progressive technical GLCR collection, the Zone combines 4-Way stretch GORE-TEX zones and 686’s Thermagraph body mapping insulation with stretch panels into a jacket that stretches where you need it, but also keeps the price tag affordable. The Thermagraph Insulation System is designed to give you extra warmth in strategic areas where you need it most (vital organs and heat loss centers), incorporating ventilation zones in other areas that reduce bulk. This jacket is the ultimate in lightweight warmth and flexibility, backed by the GORE-TEX technology some don’t want to head to the mountains without.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Michael Akira West 686’s founder about what makes the brand unique, how licenses have helped launch the growth strategy and the recently developed hydration jacket that is will be defiantly taking over the slopes this season!
Joseph DeAcetis: Talk to us about your launch 25 years ago. Give specific examples. 

Michael Akira West: I founded the company as a student at USC and combined my passion and innocence with the main goal to innovate apparel from a rider perspective. I worked at the local mountain in Big Bear (outside Los Angeles) as an instructor so I had a direct relationship with the customer and just as importantly, I was the customer. I felt that I knew what others had no idea of. Being on the inside of the growing freestyle snowboard scene, having my finger on the pulse and channeling its raw, youthful energy was an intangible that I believe helped create the authenticity within 686.  My on-mountain experience combined with my college business plan laid the foundation for our launch. The DIY ethos I learned in my youth through skateboarding helped me explore the things I didn’t know and eventually grow the brand. Mix all of that plus the perfect timing of where the industry was about to go, and that made all the difference for success. My own personal growth experiences also directly affected the products and the brand in those early years. For example, early on I still had really no clue what people outside of Southern California needed. During my first trip outside the sunny snowboard parks of Big Bear to Banff Canada, my life, and subsequently the future brand, changed. It was unbelievably cold and I was completely ill prepared. I realized right then that I didn’t know how to layer correctly and there were probably a lot of people out there just like me. This is where I invented the “IT” product that’s still a leading product industry wide –The Smarty Cargo 3-in-1 Pant that has interchangeable pant liners for warmth and après. Twenty-two years later and while materials, design and construction have changed; our current SMARTY Cargo Pant is still very similar in scope to the original.

JD: What has been the brands greatest challenge and how have you dealt with these challenges 

MAW: The greatest challenge is to operate as an independently owned and operated brand with a single seasonal business. It’s been a blessing and a curse as we do it on our own unique terms with the limited by the resources we have. We are one of the last brands to do it for this long and we’ve done it by choice. Each year we try to make the smartest decisions that we can that insulate us from a bad season, bad weather or anything else that may be out of our control. With more seasons, each little thing that goes wrong theoretically would hurt us less, but then we would also be making decisions that may not be as profitable as the ones we can make for our single season. Yes, we take risks, but we also provide stories that are totally unique. We like to build our own “moat around our castle” and try to insulate ourselves and our success from invaders. We do this primarily through unique products. Examples of these would be our product collaborations and licenses we do seasonally that are in high demand, our proprietary technologies and features like our new patent-pending Hydrastash system, or our current trademarked features that set ups apart from competitors. We have found that focusing on leading through products that we believe in and not chasing other brands successes seems to be a great road to seasonal success. Another challenge is our size. From the outside looking in, we get compared to many others who in reality are 10x bigger than us. It’s flattering when people think we are as big as some of our competitors, but we simply are not. We have to be smart and witty to compete. We’ve managed to lead and be relevant because we make our own path and don’t chase what others are doing.

JD: How have your licenses help develop the brand 

MAW: We license some properties, but for the most part the bulk of our collaborations are actual collaborations where we work hand in hand with the collaborator (brand, artist or property) to develop the product. The partnerships that happen organically are always the most successful. These collaborations begin a connection to myself, the brand or the lifestyle that will compliments the product or capsule and end with everyone working towards the same goal of putting out something very unique into the world. We started collaborations back when almost no one was doing it. Around 2000, we launched our first collaboration with artists. Back then no one was giving artists credit, they were most background and we wanted to change that. Shepard Fairey (now famous from the Obey and Obama HOPE visual campaigns) was a mutual friend and we started ACE (Artist Collaboration Effort) with his collaborative jacket. At this time showcasing visual artists in technical apparel was completely new. We then collaborated with eyewear, watches, denim, footwear, music, automobiles, work wear and more. We always wanted to surprise people with our collaborations. We teamed up with brand leaders and icons that were equally passionate to create something entirely different. A few of the ones that come to mind are Levis, New Balance, Dickies and Toyota.

Levis, we created some of the first waterproof and breathable denim for the mountains. Levis sticks out because not only was the product amazing and coveted, but the actual innovation was a small part of what later became the Levis commuter series. For Dickies we created weatherized versions of their work wear for three seasons. This collaboration was super fun and successful and we only ended it for the simple fact of keeping it quarantined to a concrete place and time and limited in nature.

New Balance started out as a collaboration capsule with a shoe, jacket and snowboard boot (something very unique for New Balance) led to us licensing the New Balance name and technologies for 5 seasons of a full snowboard boot collection. The relationship also led us to developing New Balance’s first weatherproof running collections, the Olympic Opening Ceremony jackets for Ireland through New Balance and being a part of founding New Balance’s skateboard shoe line “numeric” in conjunction with Black box and New Balance.

Lastly, Toyota was an interesting one because it really was outside of winter apparel. We first created a concept Scion xB for Scion’s booth at SEMA. Then a few years later we were invited to create a limited edition production xB with Scion. Scion fittingly limited the number of cars available in North America and Japan to 686. It was a dream come true to design the aesthetics of a production car with Scion. These are just a few highlights and we are grateful to every brand, artist, athlete, musician and anyone else who has shared in collaboration with us.

JD: You recently developed a hydration jacket; talk to us about how this caters to consumer’s needs
 in today’s market. 

MAW: We are very excited to introduce our new Hydrastash system this winter. About 4 years ago, I was on a snowboard trip and while on a chairlift we started discussing “what if’s” about outerwear. One of the ideas that came up was, “What if you had water on you and could constantly be drinking?” We all probably realize that we don’t drink enough water while skiing and snowboarding on a resort. Yes, everyone does a water break or a lunch, but with the amount you are exerting, you probably need more water than you are drinking. The only reason you don’t drink more water is because it is not really the standard currently. Water bottle cages on bikes, hydration bladders in backpacks and runner’s hydration vests were also not the norm at one point. Someone had to come along and invent them out of necessity. We feel that is what we are doing for winter sports. The beauty of Hydrastash, and the reason it took so long to develop, is that we had to find a way for you to carry 25 oz. of water with you without negatively impacting your experience on the mountain. The trend in hydration packs is to move the water lower towards your true center of mass. We take this one step further and actually wrap and suspend the fluid weight around your waist, effectively reducing the sensation of weight to almost nothing. The reaction by our team of professional athletes and testers last winter was overwhelming. We expected people to have positive experiences, but to actually have athletes tell us that they felt fresher and stronger for longer than a normal day of riding was amazing to hear. That is the physiological response we hoped would happen, but hearing that from professional athletes really put a smile on our faces.

JD: How has technology been implemented in product development. 

MAW: We utilize technology to our advantage in a few ways. First, we implement the most advanced technology in all of our products. Each season we search out the newest technologies in fabrics, zippers, insulation and waterproofing. In this manner we usually work collaboratively with our suppliers to develop, test and implement the newest technology. Staying on the forefront of technical apparel is very important for us. Take our newest “Everywhere Pant” for example. The 4-way stretch poly fabric we use is one of the longest lead-time and developing fabrics we ever have. Most consumers will take the insane amount of stretch for granted, but they will never realize the hours that went into making sure this pant not only had the stretch, but the rebound and durability not often associated with the amount of stretch we put into the fabric. The result is a long lasting pant that retains it shape even though it has a massive amount of stretch and comfort. We expect consumers not to notice most of the technology we employ. That’s the goal – to seamlessly improve the user’s experience. We also use technology during the development cycle of all of our proprietary products and features. On any given day our 3D printer will be printing a prototype of some small part that may go into our Tool belts, Hydrastash or other products. We also use technology to visualize our 2D drawings for apparel into 3D as early in the process as possible. Apparel is traditionally a 2D design world, but we are working as fast as possible to visualize our designs in 3D to cut down on development and sample time and costs. We also are employing tech to help speed up our workflows in color merchandising and with our sales force. Becoming faster and more accurate in all aspects of our business is very important for a brand of our size.

JD: What makes 686 unique. What is your comparative advantage

 MAW: For years, I have believed our advantage has been a combination of the people we hire, the products we create and the risks we are (and aren’t) willing to take. The people are paramount. Since day one, we have been our own customers. We use the products, we participate in the lifestyles and we take pride in our daily work. We constantly strive to stay connected to our core customer through interaction, both in person or online and their is nothing like a trip to the mountains with co-workers to recharge the mind and body. Most of our true innovative ideas have come during trips together. We think of ourselves as an innovation company, not just another apparel company and we continue to push boundaries and create innovations – big or small that we can add to our stable of products. I am a true tinkerer and not a day goes by that I’m not putting some challenge or idea out to our design crew. We also have the advantage of being a smaller, independent company and can pivot much faster than big companies. Over the years, being able to quickly shift our path, products and business has definitely been an advantage.

Joseph DeAcetis: What is the greatest achievement at 686 

MAW: Our greatest achievement isn’t our products, but the community of incredible people, riders and retailers we have created over the last 26 years. To us, the people and the experiences far outweigh the innovations and products. We are most proud of lasting 25 years independently in a tough seasonal business and feeling like we are setup for 25 more productive years. There are a few products that come to mind as great achievements, but they pale in comparison to the community and culture built and all the people who have been a part of our little family over the past 26 years.

JD: What are your day-to-day job duties

MAWOver the last year I have actually shifted my day job duties quite a bit. Up until last year, I used to really be heavily involved in everything. My title was CEO and President, but in addition to that I was creative directing the brand and product, leading all innovation and product design and development and trying to aid in marketing and sales. Last year I made the decision that business could be more positively affected and I could be a stronger part of the brand, and ultimately happier, by focusing where I felt most effective and into the tasks that gave me the most joy – innovation, creative direction and design. I promoted our CFO to president and he has taken a lot of the business analysis and strategy work off my plate. I have always heavily trusted my marketing and sales teams, but now having a business team I trust has freed up a lot of my time to be creative and ultimately drive the brand forward through product. I still am involved in every department at a high level in some form of another to ensure that every department is cohesive with the brand vision and engage with every person in the building daily – keeping them on their toes and driving them forward. My motto is “today, not tomorrow” because tomorrow is never guaranteed and I continue to push everyone with the motivation like its our first year in business.

JD: If you had the choice of one famous person wearing 686, who would that be and why. 

 MAW:  Warren Buffett – He would bring some sort of Wisdom to our story and make it last a lifetime, the Warren Buffett way.

JD: Where do you see the brand in the next 5 years?

 MAW: We continue to keep our eyes on the horizon and we see big things. Of course I can’t give everything away but I see Hydrastash being adopted by more people and growing into something much larger and with a wider breadth than most people may see right now. We are starting to tackle other seasons with new innovative product and a fresh perspective and I hope in 5 years to have a much stronger year-round offering than we currently have. In five years we will be much closer to the end user in terms of physical contact, speed to market and customization. Most importantly I see an even happier and healthier internal team that continues to get outside, explore the mountains, valleys and oceans that we have been gifted and a professional team of athletes and advocates that continue to push the boundaries of what can be done on snowboards, skis and in nature in general while taking advantage of our apparel and innovations.

I am the former Creative Style Director for Forbes Media. My interest lies in the ever-evolving industry of fashion and lifestyle and how as both a consumer and authority I perceive these changes. The focus being, power dressing to compliment one’s corporate ascension.

Joseph DeAcetis

Source: Forbes

What VC Firms Want You To Know!

In the basement of Bridge Hall, future entrepreneurs of USC, graduate and undergraduate alike, learned tips and tricks from Manan Mehta, the founder of Unshackled and Netanel Bar Ilan, the CTO of Yobs.

1.“Brag about yourself, Don’t Be Humble”

VCs are in the business of buying businesses, so walk in with swagger because you are the customer as well. Mehta stressed the importance of knowing holding on to your superpower. Netanel Bar Ilan pointed out how most people often don’t even realize their potential and that they are eligible for the O1 visa.

2. “Your Advisors Shouldn’t Be The Reason Why I Invest In You”

Mentors and coaches are necessary and they will give you a head start, however, they are for you not for the company. Having big names as your advisors is not a sign of success as they probably won’t have real time for you. Find people who will invest time and effort into you. Additionally, giving the analogy of tennis coaches, Mehta, suggests that you shouldn’t be afraid to switch coaches because they need to evolve.

3.  “Three of My Investments have Changed Their Ideas”

VCs are investing in people. It’s easy to find good ideas but difficult to find good people to work with. Mehta suggests that you should start early and that when he invests, he does not necessarily need business progress.

 4. The 3 Questions

Manan Mehta says it takes him 3 Key Questions to decide whether he is going to invest in someone.

“How much Is your customer willing to pay you?”

“What is the most are they willing to pay you?”

“At what point do they tell you to fuck off?”

5. Customer knowledge: “It’s a motion picture, not a photograph”

Don’t think about the product, think about the problem. Customers buy you solving their top pain point. Follow the shortest pathway until you hit a set of customers who start asking for the same.

6. Learn the Language of VCs

Mehta says that something that takes about five hours to learn is what can set you apart from what most Entrepreneurs forget about. Also, it will prevent people from taking advantage of you.

7. “Fight yourself and take the opportunities”

From his personal startup experience, Ilan encourages the entrepreneurs to not freak out if things don’t work. He recommends having more than one solution always. “Don’t think too much into the future”, he says, “focus on what you need right now, prioritize your tasks. “Scalability – you need to be accessible – that product is running 99% of times”

8. Stay in LA, Everything is still New, Companies Are Being Founded

Both Mehta and Ilan recommend that it is more important to build one’s name in Los Angeles rather than Silicon Valley or San Francisco.

9. Unknowns are Going To Hit You- like Hoodie and Piper from Silicon Valley

Watch the full event live on Troy Labs’ Facebook Page

Unshackled, a Silicon Valley-based pre-seed fund for immigrant founders and international students. Unshackled Ventures uses capital, a hands-on approach, a large engaged network, and an innovative funding model to help founders turn their ideas into reality. Unshackled Ventures was profiled in the 2016 Forbes 400 issue.

Since Unshackled Ventures began investing in 2015, it has helped its portfolio company founders, who hail from 16 countries, obtain seven different types of visas. Investors in

Unshackled’s first fund include First Round Capital, Emerson Collective, TYLT Ventures, Jerry Yang’s AME Cloud Ventures, Naval Ravikant, Brad Feld, and Joe Lonsdale, among others.

 Unshackled’s portfolio includes Starsky Robotics, Lily, and Pluto AI. Manan is the Founding Partner of Unshackled Ventures.

Netanel Ilan Bar – he’s an entrepreneur, ninja coder, and currently works at Yobs Technologies as their CTO. Yobs Technologies utilizes AI to assist hiring recruiters to narrow down their pool to only the best applicants for the job

Relativity Space Raises $35M Series B Funding Led by Playground Global as It Extends Full-Stack Rocket Production Leadership and Reinvents Satellite Launch and Deployment

New Round of Funding Includes Full Participation From Existing Investors Social Capital, Y Combinator Continuity and Mark Cuban; Relativity Has Over $1B in MOUs and LOIs Committed

LOS ANGELES–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Relativity today announced the close of its $35 million Series B financing, led by Playground Global with full participation from existing Series A investors Social Capital, Y Combinator Continuity and Mark Cuban. The funding will be used to grow the company’s scalable, automated process for manufacturing and launching entire rockets from conception to production. The company has proven itself as an emerging disruptor in the $7 billion satellite constellation launch market and is working with leading commercial and government entities around the world. This new round brings Relativity’s total venture funding raised to over $45 million.

“The future of space requires faster, cheaper, more flexible rocket production and launch that is simply not possible with traditional approaches”

The 3D printing and automation of rocket production was inevitable. The aerospace industry has relied on heavy, inflexible tooling and high-touch labor since its inception. As the demand for space access increases, new approaches must be developed to accelerate the pace of progress. Relativity has fundamentally rethought the entire process to build and fly rockets and is disrupting 60 years of aerospace tradition.

Since forming in 2015, Relativity has built the world’s largest metal 3D printer and completed over 100 rocket engine test fires on their quest to build their own rocket constructed almost entirely of 3D printed parts. This goes beyond just cubesats. The custom-built rockets launch Earth-orbiting satellites with large payloads (i.e. a satellite the size of a small car), six times the size of its competitors’ abilities. Relativity stands apart from other launchers in the space by not just employing 3D printing as a supplemental technique, but for over 95% of major components. Using machine learning in combination with their custom software, hardware and proprietary metal alloys, Relativity has cut rocket part count from 100,000 to 1,000 and dramatically reduced labor and timelines by orders of magnitude. Relativity’s process disrupts the entire tech stack from design algorithms, supply chain, inventory management, quality control, and the very way raw materials form themselves into complex aerospace products. It is this ingenuity that will save millions of dollars for each of Relativity’s customers at every launch.

“The future of space requires faster, cheaper, more flexible rocket production and launch that is simply not possible with traditional approaches,” said Tim Ellis, CEO and Co-founder of Relativity. “By leveraging an all-in approach to 3D printing, we will fully automate the production of rockets. This will change the way the launch industry views lead times, product iteration rates, and costs. Our technology development is also on-path toward scaling and sustaining an interplanetary society. We will build toward this amazing future far faster with our new capabilities.”

“Relativity is shaking up an industry that hasn’t experienced this level of innovation in decades,” said Jory Bell, Investment Partner at Playground Global and Relativity Board Member. “We are excited to be a part of a company that is taking a radical approach and we believe Relativity brings significant value to the aerospace ecosystem.”

The new funding serves as a catalyst for Relativity to continue its growth in the satellite constellation market and expand its partnerships. Relativity stands apart from others in the launcher space who’ve focused on small payloads at the expense of margins; the company is concentrating on larger payloads with unprecedented flexibility, lead time and low cost — one of the most difficult problems in aerospace but also one of the most lucrative.

The new funding will also further Relativity’s already strong partnerships; the company has over $1 billion worth of MOUs and LOIs committed from leading commercial and government entities around the world. Relativity is the only venture-backed startup selected for the National Space Council Users Advisory Group through which Relativity CEO and Co-founder Tim Ellis serves as an advisor to the White House. The company was recently awarded a first of its kind, 20-year test site partnership with NASA Stennis valued at over $30 million for exclusive lease and use of the 25 acre E4 Test Complex. This is Stennis’ first CSLA agreement and enables Relativity to develop, qualify, and acceptance test up to 36 complete rockets per year and includes an option to expand up to 250 acres. Since January 2018, Relativity has quadrupled their infrastructure footprint size going from 10,000 square feet of manufacturing and office space to over 40,000.

By creating a fundamental shift in how quickly and inexpensively rockets are designed, constructed and launched, Relativity is forever changing the aerospace industry and paving the way for the future of humanity in space.

About Relativity

Relativity is disrupting 60 years of aerospace tradition by creating an entirely new process to build and fly rockets. Led by co-founders Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone, the company has created the world’s largest metal 3D printer to 3D print their own rockets and launch satellites into space. Relativity’s process cuts rocket part count by 100x and enables rockets to be built in days instead of years. Based in Los Angeles, CA, Relativity is privately funded by Playground Global, Social Capital, Y Combinator Continuity and Mark Cuban. For more information, please visit

Credit: BusinessWire

Announcement: Rossier EdVentures

USC’s Rossier School of Education and its Center for Engineering in Education (CEE), along with the Michelson 20MM Foundation, Bisk Ventures, and Blackstone LaunchPad USC mutually announce the creation of the USC Rossier EdVentures; the first edtech innovation hub in Southern California. To begin, the USC Rossier EdVentures is inviting innovative learning companies worldwide to apply for its inaugural cohort in which it will support startups with a significant technology component.

Los Angeles (September 7, 2018) – USC’s Rossier School of Education and its Center for Engineering in Education (, in combination with the Michelson 20MM Foundation (, Bisk Ventures ( , and Blackstone LaunchPad USC ( have initiated USC Rossier EdVentures for tech-enabled education solutions with high potential to improve the quality and equity of education, particularly from K-12 through adult learning.

The education innovation ecosystem being developed by USC Rossier EdVentures will include services for competitively selected early-stage companies; a business plan competition in conjunction with USC Demo Day on February 8; communities of practice for innovation in education; proprietary learning and entrepreneurship blended courses; workshops and speakers; a learning innovation festival; and global partnerships (particularly in the Pacific Rim, Africa, and Latin America) to multiply USC’s endeavors in education innovation.

To kick-off the education ecosystem, USC Rossier EdVentures will begin accepting applications worldwide from companies with a minimum viable product for its startup cohort as of today, with the four-month program kicking-off on November 5, 2018 at the USC campus. The Rossier EdVentures will provide its first cohort of up to ten companies with office space, legal and financial services, mentorship from the USC and Rossier network, proof of concept and product refinement, interaction with relevant educational institutions and businesses, and potential for grant capital via automatic inclusion in our February 8, 2019 Demo Day business plan

The companies chosen for the cohort will reflect the mission of Rossier with regard to its focus “to improve learning opportunities and outcomes” for all ages and “to address disparities that affect historically marginalized groups.” The Accelerator will particularly nurture women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color. USC students will be eligible for apprenticeships with USC Rossier EdVentures, the companies, and the ecosystem’s programs. In addition, associations will be developed with the local community, regional public sector and non-profit organizations, corporations, and venture investors.

To apply, please go to
For additional information see

Marc Benioff of Salesforce: ‘Are We Not All Connected?’

A billionaire tech mogul with a spiritual side, Mr. Benioff riffs on his early days at Apple and Oracle, and what’s wrong with Facebook.

By David Gelles – June 15, 2018

Salesforce may not be a household name like Facebook or Twitter, but the software company and its chief executive, Marc Benioff, are hugely influential forces in the technology industry.

Salesforce is a cloud computing pioneer that helped popularize the software-as-a-service business model. And Mr. Benioff has fashioned himself as a benevolent chieftain who can make the world a better place while making hefty profits, too.

An entrepreneur at an early age, Mr. Benioff became a star executive at Oracle before leaving to co-found Salesforce nearly 20 years ago. Today, Salesforce is worth roughly $100 billion, and Mr. Benioff is a billionaire many times over.

Success has emboldened him. A fanof Buddhism, Mr. Benioff has installed meditation rooms throughout Salesforce offices and emerged as an outspoken voice on social issues including L.G.B.T.Q. rights, the gender pay gap and the deleterious effects of social media.

In January, Mr. Benioff made his mark on the San Francisco skyline, moving Salesforce into the tallest office building west of the Mississippi.

This interview, which was condensed and edited for clarity, was conducted at Salesforce headquarters in San Francisco.

What was your childhood like?

Do you want me to lie down?

Yeah. Close your eyes and count backward from 100.

O.K., great. I’m happy to.

I was born an entrepreneur. When I was about 12 years old, I would go around to people’s homes and repair their antennas and their CB radios. Then I got a regular job at a jewelry store, cleaning the cases after school, which I did not really enjoy. But across the street there was a Radio Shack and that’s where I found a computer for the first time. I wrote my first piece of software, and sold it when I was about 15 years old.

In 1984, you interned at Apple. What was that like?

I was at the University of Southern California, putting myself through school with royalties of my software company. And I was writing a bunch of adventure games for the Atari 800, the Apple II, the Commodore 64. Then when the Macintosh was introduced in 1984, I sold my other computers and bought the Macintoshes.

The summer before my junior year, I worked for Apple. There was a pirate flag on the roof. There was a motorcycle in the lobby. Steve Jobs was running between the two Macintosh buildings. It was a big scene.

What did you do there?

No one was really paying attention exactly to what I was doing. I wrote this piece of software which was a game called “Raid on Armonk,” which was where IBM’s headquarters were at the time. And my manager said to me, “No, no. You cannot do this.”

What did you do after college?

I wrote a business plan for a network-type company based on something that Apple was working on called AppleLink. But U.S.C. was like, “No, no. You’re not going to create a company when you graduate from school. We want you to go get a real job in a real company, and we want you to go into sales.” So I asked around, and this person who I was working with at Apple mentioned this company called Oracle.

What did you learn while you were at Oracle?

The professors at U.S.C. said, “When you play with better tennis players, you’re going to get better. You need to go find the best salespeople possible.” And these were phenomenal salespeople at Oracle. They started to work with me and helped me understand how to be a better communicator.

Then Larry [Ellison, Oracle’s co-founder] took notice of me, and I started working directly for him. That was a very powerful moment, when he started to shape how I thought about business. Larry took the long view. He was like, “I want to think about this company over 50 years, not over 10 years or five years.” Now he’s been doing it for 40 years.

Why did you strike out on your own?

As I came into my 10th year at Oracle, I was really burning out, but I couldn’t exactly figure out why. I didn’t have a good feeling when I went in the building. I went into Larry’s office and said, “I need to take some time off.” And right away he said, “Yeah, why don’t you just take a sabbatical. You’ve worked really hard for 10 years.”

First I went to Hawaii for a few months and really, really worked on my meditation practice. Then I went to India for six weeks with a friend of mine who was also going through a similar life transformation. We had these amazing experiences going to all of these different ashrams and meeting all these different spiritual masters. It was almost like a guru tour. I definitely came back from that trip as a different person.

How so?

I came back with a clear vision of what the future of the internet was going to be in regards to software-as-a-service and cloud computing. I also had a much deeper sense of my spiritual self. So I said, “When I start a company, I will integrate culture with service.”

When I started Salesforce, on March 8, 1999, I said we’re going to put one percent of our equity, product and time into a foundation and create a culture of service within our company. We’ll be creating new technology, the cloud; we’ll be creating a new business model, subscription services; and we’ll create a culture built on philanthropy.

     “We need to have a more enlightened view about the role of companies.”

     — Marc Benioff

How do you make sure new Salesforce employees get what the company’s all about?

On their first day of work, we take everyone and we show them the kitchen and the bathroom and their office and their desk. Then we take them out and they do service in the afternoon. They’ll go to a homeless shelter or they’ll go to the hospital or go to a public school. This is a very core part of our culture.

I want a company where people are excited to come to work every day, where they feel good when they get here, where it doesn’t take from them, but it’s giving to them, it’s giving to others. Why do people want to be here? It’s not that we have more amenities than everybody else. We have less. We don’t have a cafeteria. But we have a stronger purpose and a stronger mission.

There’s a shift going on. When I went to U.S.C., it was all about maximizing value for shareholders. But we’re moving into a world of stakeholders. It’s not just about shareholders. Your employees are stakeholders, so are your customers, your partners, the communities that you’re in, the homeless that are nearby, your public schools. A company like ours can’t be successful in an unsuccessful economy or in an unsuccessful environment or where the school system doesn’t work. We have to take responsibility for all of those things.

This idea that somebody put into our heads — that companies are somehow these kind of individuated units that are separate from society and don’t have to be paying attention to the communities they’re in — that is incorrect. We need to have a more enlightened view about the role of companies. This company is not somehow separate from everything else. Are we not all connected? Are we not all one? Isn’t that the point?

So what is Salesforce doing about it?

Salesforce is the biggest tech company in San Francisco. We can unleash a power onto this city. All of these people can go into the public schools and volunteer, and they can work and make the city better. They can improve the state of the city, improve the state of the world. All I have to do is give them permission to do that.

As a C.E.O., if you’re not doing that in today’s world, you’re making a mistake. We are part of an integrated holistic system which is the global economy, and so Salesforce is part of that and we have to participate in that. Salesforce strongly believes that companies and C.E.O.s have to be activists.

You’ve been outspoken on issues like L.G.B.T.Q. rights and tougher gun laws. What issues are you focused on right now?

We’re working on the homeless programs here. We have a plan to get every homeless family off the streets within five years.

That’s a pretty ambitious goal. Are you setting yourself up for failure?

We’ve already moved hundreds of families back into society and into homes. But we cannot delegate these complex problems off to the government and say, “We’re not all part of it.” They’re part of the solution, but I believe that for $150 million, we can get every homeless person in San Francisco into homes.

Now when I say every single person, I actually don’t believe it. There are some people in San Francisco who are intentionally homeless. They just want to be homeless. San Francisco is kind of the Four Seasons of homelessness. They all say this is the best place in the world to be homeless.

You’ve been critical of Facebook lately, especially after the appearance of a memo by Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook vice president, that defended the social network’s growth at any cost.

His memo is very clear. He talks about putting growth above trust, and you can’t do that. Never put growth before trust. If you put growth above trust, then all of a sudden you create a toxic culture. People don’t want to work in that environment or use the product. Then you get these campaigns, #deleteuber, #deletefacebook. It’s a referendum on the culture, not the product.

Has your meditation practice influenced how you lead?

Having a beginner’s mind informs my management style. I’m trying to listen deeply, and the beginner’s mind is informing me to step back, so that I can create what wants to be, not what was. I know that the future does not equal the past. I know that I have to be here in the moment.

David Gelles is the Corner Office columnist and a business reporter. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter. @dgelles


Intellectual Property Guidance for Students


As a student or postdoctoral scholar at USC, you have opportunities to create patentable inventions or copyrightable documents or software that may be commercialized and benefit society. These innovations may result from your classes, from extracurricular activities, or from your participation in research or paid projects in collaboration with USC faculty and researchers. This memo is provided to summarize opportunities available to you for commercialization, along with some of your rights and responsibilities.

How Are Innovations Protected?

Innovations that can be protected by patents include new or improved versions of processes, methods, and compositions of matter (e.g., a new drug or a new material) that are useful, new, and not obvious extensions of existing innovations. One or more inventors may contribute to the conception of an invention.

Works of authorship may also be protected through copyrights. These may include books, articles, audio recordings, computer software, photographs, motion pictures, and musical compositions among others. In some cases, software can also lead to patentable inventions.

Patents and copyrights are examples of intellectual property (IP), both of which have commercial value. IP can be the basis for developing commercialized products and therefore generating income. Under USC’s IP policy, creation of IP provides financial benefits to the creators, including students.


Who Owns Patents and Copyrights?

In most cases, students who are not employed by USC own their original academic work. This means that IP resulting from class assignments, or from activities outside of USC, are normally student owned. In addition, copyrightable artistic works, books and articles are jointly owned by the creators (which may include students, faculty and staff). Students and their co-creators are thus free to commercialize such IP independently of the university.

On the other hand, IP (other than art, books and articles) resulting from employment by USC (such as a research assistant, postdoctoral scholar, student worker or staff) or IP resulting from non-class supervised research (compensated or not) are normally owned by USC. In addition, when university resources or research facilities (e.g., computing facilities or specialized research instruments) are used, USC may also own the resulting IP.

If you are unsure whether the University could have an ownership interest in your IP, please contact USC Stevens Center for Innovation for a definitive answer. Visit to learn more.

Below are general examples to guide you when thinking about your IP rights and obligations:

USC likely has IP rights

You probably own IP rights

I invented a product using special equipment in my professor’s lab

I invented a new product in my garage

I wrote a report for my professor’s federally-funded research project

I wrote a journal article for a class assignment

I created software under a USC-sponsored project

I created a new smartphone app at home

I invented a new therapeutic treatment in a USC lab using cells from a commercial source

I created an improvement to an existing product in my dorm room


How Do I Benefit from USC Owned IP?

USC shares a portion of all income derived from the license of IP with inventors/creators. By disclosing IP to the university through the USC Stevens Center and participating in the protection of the IP via patents or copyrights, USC may be able to commercialize your innovations. If successful, you and your co-inventors/creators will be paid based on the licensing income that is generated. Specifics of how income is divided can be found in the USC IP policy;

One benefit of USC employment is that we do not hire students on a “work for hire” basis, meaning you are always entitled to benefits from the IP that you create or jointly create, whether USC owns the IP or whether you own the IP.


How Do I Work with USC to Commercialize IP?

The USC Stevens Center for Innovation represents USC for the commercialization of all USC owned IP. The commercialization process works in these steps:

1) When you have produced USC-owned IP that has potential for commercialization, you and your co-inventors/co-creators should jointly file an “invention disclosure” with the Sophia portal. Click on the disclose link to get started,

answer the questions describing your innovation, list any funding, and identify all inventive contributors. This process can take as little as 15 minutes.

Because student-created IP often results from collaborations with your faculty mentor, it is important for you to consult your mentor prior to filing your invention.

2) USC Stevens Center will evaluate the commercial potential of the disclosure and, if appropriate, manage the protection, marketing and transfer of the innovation to a commercial partner. USC Stevens Center will also ensure compliance with any funding agreements by reporting the invention and utilization to appropriate sponsors.


What Other USC Resources are Available?

USC provides many resources for student inventors/creators, even for cases where the IP is not university owned. These include legal services, mentoring, incubation space, and competitions for funding. Please consult the resources available at for a complete listing of services.

We look forward to working with you.

— USC Stevens Center for Innovation

USC Dornsife alumna’s pulp-based snacks are transforming waste into healthy taste

Environmental studies major Kaitlin Mogentale launched the startup Pulp Pantry a year ago. Photo by Gus Ruelas.
By Eric Lindberg

Mork Family Scholar is revolutionizing how discarded fruit and vegetable pulp from trendy juiceries is used, turning the formerly trashed waste into healthy, high-fiber foods.

As carrot after carrot disappeared into her friend’s countertop juicer, Kaitlin Mogentale stared with her mouth agape at the growing pile of shredded pulp collecting in the device.

The USC Dornsife environmental studies major had visited trendy Los Angeles juice bars many times, but she never realized how much of the fruit and vegetables needed to create her tasty beverage ended up in the trash.

“As a consumer, you don’t see all that waste,” she said. “What if we could use this pulp to create healthy snacks that are high in fiber and nutritional value?”

That moment of realization led Mogentale to launch Pulp Pantry, a startup that uses discarded pulp to create grain-free, high-fiber foods like granola, seed and veggie crisps and baking flours. Although the 24-year-old alumna created the business only a year ago, her products have already landed in select stores.

It’s not exactly the path Mogentale had envisioned when she came to USC Dornsife as an undergraduate who was passionate about environmental justice. She had her sights set on becoming a marine biologist. But exposure to classes in social entrepreneurship and policy and planning shifted her focus toward having a broader impact on society.

She credits the change to her participation in the USC Mork Family Scholars Program, a highly selective scholarship initiative that covers tuition and provides an annual stipend to promising undergraduates at USC.

Great expectations

“They want you to do something extraordinary,” Mogentale said of USC Trustee John Mork and his wife, Julie, who created the program in 2011 with a $110 million donation. “The reason they are giving these scholarships is because they believe these students are going to do something that pushes them to their limits. It created that mindset of ‘always be pushing the limits’ and that I’m really worth something.”

Push the limits Mogentale did. She carried 20 units nearly every semester at USC, trying out subjects like nonprofit management and interning with the Garden School Foundation, a nonprofit that provides hands-on cooking and gardening classes to children in local L.A. schools.

Social entrepreneurship’s forward-looking nature gave Mogentale much-needed optimism, especially since she had popularized the term “ecodepression” among her peers as a way to describe how disheartened she had become about protecting the environment.

“I’m way more of a positive person and I want to be solutions-oriented; I want to be a dreamer,” she said. “I’m just one person, but one person can change the world.”

Wasted fruit and vegetable pulp is one problem that inspired her vocation. Another is the food insecurity and nutrition issues she witnessed at a local elementary school during her Garden School Foundation internship.

Kids ate chips and snack cakes for breakfast, had fried chicken and French fries for lunch, and bought more junk food from street vendors on their way home, Mogentale said. Every meal featured highly processed food with low nutritional value.

“They weren’t used to eating vegetables,” she said. “They’d come into the garden and they’d never seen a fresh carrot or a fresh tomato.”

Food for thought

Mogentale is hopeful that she can build Pulp Pantry into a sustainable brand and gateway to get kids excited about fruits and vegetables. Less than 20 percent of Americans eat their recommended daily allotment of fresh fruits and veggies, she said, and increasing that figure could save billions in medical costs and thousands of lives every year.

For now, Mogentale is focused on perfecting a handful of core products and building her presence in L.A. She is still the main engine of the operation, spending her weekends in a rented kitchen with 40 dehydrators, testing new recipes and combinations of pulp from beets, carrots, almonds, apples and other healthy staples.

She feels lucky to have graduated with no student debt thanks to the Mork Family Scholarship, a luxury she knows many people don’t have when leaving college.

“I was so blessed to have that peace of mind,” Mogentale said. “Now I can actually focus on building my business and putting money into that effort.”

She is also hoping to give back to USC, returning to campus to participate in panel discussions and sharing the lessons she has learned so far. Mogentale doesn’t view herself as a success story — she admits she is still making mistakes — but the message she stresses when giving advice to students is to build self-confidence and be comfortable with not having all the answers.

“Don’t graduate and think you have to be the expert in anything or know what your dream job is right away,” she said. “Own this time as your period of questioning.”