New Southern California Ed-Tech Accelerator Seeks Diverse, Global Reach

Senior Editor
A new program at the University of Southern California will bring together education and engineering faculty to support startup ed-tech companies–with a big focus on helping minority- and female-owned businesses.

The program, called USC Rossier EdVentures, bills itself as the “first ed-tech innovation hub in Southern California.”

The program has already announced the first cohort of companies it will support–see the full list below–which includes a mix of startup and early-stage businesses serving the K-12, postsecondary, and adult education markets.

The first cohort has a global makeup. It includes ed-tech providers and programs from not only the United States, but also Mexico, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Rwanda.

While the business focus of those ed-tech companies is all over the map, there’s a big focus on artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality, said Doug Lynch, a senior fellow at USC’s Rossier School of Education, in an interview.

The program will provide the companies with mentoring and support from both USC’s Rossier School of Education and its Center for Engineering in Education. The engineering center focuses on applying “engineering thinking and learning” from pre-K through college. EdVentures is also backed by USC’s Marshall School of Business.

The program is being supported by a number of foundations and private entities, including the Michelson 20MM FoundationBisk Ventures; and Blackstone LaunchPad USC. The EdVentures program will also engage in “match-making,” or trying to connect the ed-tech startups with potential funders, said Lynch.

The program will not take an equity stake in the companies, he added.

In creating the EdVentures program, USC officials were well aware of the incubator and accelerator programs that dot the U.S. ed-tech landscape, said Lynch.

One way the USC program will distinguish itself is by offering “customized” mentoring and support, akin to what school aspire to offer students through personalized learning, he explained.

The program’s interest in supporting ed-tech companies run by minorities and women stems partly from the belief that doing so will bring new strategies into classrooms and product development.

EdVentures officials have sought to get the word out that they’re keen on supporting under-represented businesses, Lynch said, and the first cohort reflects that work.

“We need more, better ideas from everywhere,” Lynch said. “You come up with better solutions to problems when you have many people from different backgrounds noodling at the problem.”

The companies supported in EdVentures’ first cohort are:

  • Akilah, a Rwandan women’s college;
  • Ampligence, a 4G communication technology for math that aims to  help people do math with much more efficiency;
  • Class Calc, an AI-supported calculator meant to help students learn math;
  • Easy Teach, a customizable WordPress plug-in for creating & providing online courses;
  • Equally, an augmented reality social learning network designed to help students with math and science;
  • Giblib, a subscription service of videos of medical procedures for medical students;
  • Intervene, a data-driven adaptive intervention software to help close skill gaps among low performing students;
  • LoanBuddy, a student loan analysis software for financial advisers.
  • MandarinX, a Taiwanese-based organization offering MOOCs in Mandarin;
  • OctagonEDU, an Indonesian organization offering a visual science Wikipedia that uses augmented reality;
  • Reto, a Mexican-Based adaptive test preparation company focusing on Latin American Medical Education;
  • Studioso, a music education application for music teachers and students;
  • Ucroo, a web and mobile platform that integrates with existing college systems to provide a digital campus where students are better connected, supported and engaged.

Source: EdWeek MarketBrief

Startup Feature: Fulfilling Catering

WHAT THEY DO

“Fulfilling is revolutionizing how food is consumed in America—for every meal purchased, we donate one meal to someone in need. Operating in every major US Market, Fulfilling books food trucks for private events and schedules trucks at corporate office parks that lack food amenities.”

HOW FULFILLING WAS BORN  

“After studying entrepreneurship at USC, I spent several years in the food truck industry managing events, attending food truck festivals and sampling various cuisines. While the food truck industry temporarily satisfied my palate for an exciting, innovative career, I again grew hungry. Looking to fill this void, I sought to develop a business built on a sense of purpose.

It was during this time that I met the founder of ‘Mary’s Meals’ and learned about their mission to solve world hunger as documented in Child 31. I was struck by the staggering problem of childhood hunger against the backdrop of plenty that surrounded me. Inspired by the vision, I devised the foundation for a new business venture: one meal donated for each meal sold.”

RECENT SUCCESSES

“Fulfilling recently donated our 75,000th meal, and reached a milestone of managing 50 events per week.”

MOST REWARDING PART OF BUILDING A STARTUP  Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 2.36.20 PM

“Creating a culture.

Having experienced the confinement of working for organizations that lack a clearly defined purpose or direction, I have a thorough understanding of the importance of company culture.

Combining this passion with my natural disposition as big picture thinker has made engineering the culture, vision and purpose of Fulfilling very enjoyable.”

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES 

“Our website application took much longer to build than expected.

About 1 year after launching the business, we were growing quickly and didn’t have the infrastructure to handle the amount of events we were managing. I mapped out an application that organizes the data and automates the processes involved in scheduling events. I was anxious to get the application built and jumped the gun on hiring a development team. Unfortunately, “It takes twice as long as costs twice as much” held true. The company I hired overpromised and under delivered, and 4 months after the expected delivery date, we were still without a functional product.

We ended up hiring a new developer to pick up where to old one left. In the meanwhile I improvised, hiring an admin assistant to help with the overload in work.”

ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS

“Build a team of people who share your vision and start window-shopping immediately. Anticipate potential needs and start talking with potential partners—marketing companies, web development companies, business partners, etc—long before you’re ready to bring them aboard. Finding the right people to work with takes longer than expected. Get the conversations going early so that when the time comes to utilize their services, the research phase is already handled and you just need to pull the trigger. startupsecrets_share

Careers are too short to learn everything through trial and error, which is why it’s important to surround yourself with a team of mentors. This is as true for business as it is for life. In terms of business, develop a network of advisors with diverse backgrounds. Ideally, have a separate mentor for each of the following areas—marketing strategy, technology/logistics management, tax/accounting, law, fundraising, and management. Obviously that won’t be possible when you’re first starting off, but as your network grows, the variety of industries you’re tied to will follow.”

 

 

 

 

Startup Feature: 121C Boards

WHAT THEY DO

“121C collects waste carbon fiber from companies in the aerospace industry and upcycles the material to make the highest quality skateboards on the market. Our boards are light, incredibly strong and a blast to  ride.”

HOW 121C WAS BORN

“At first I wanted to make carbon fiber skateboards with the scrap that the rocket lab was generating, and when I realized how big of a problem carbon waste was for the industry, I knew I had to start a business.”

MOST REWARDING STARTUP EXPERIENCE

“We recently had a successful Kickstarter campaign for $44,000 and have been signing on new companies to collect material from. We’ve also been featured in articles on USC’s website.”

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

“Half way through our kickstarter campaign, our manufacturer bailed on us and we had to lease a facility and bring everything in house. At first, this was a challenge, but it ended up being a blessing. “

ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS

“Be prepared to work a ton.”

Download a PDF version of this page

2016 Innovation Coast Competition

USC Marshall’s Innovation Coast Competition is seeking applicants to present their product or service innovations in consumer products, media, software and medical devices. Up to $45,000 in cash awards will be presented to the winners at this year’s competition, which will take place on May 17th on USC’s campus. Applications will be accepted through March 31st.

This is not an angel or venture capital pitch competition, so typical questions regarding financial forecasts and cash needs will not be asked. Judges will have deep product and service innovation track records from companies of all sizes.

Learn more about the competition: http://usccompetition2016.startupcompete.co/

USCM_Innov_Conf_Flyer

Startup Feature: Cropsticks


Cropsticks

Interview with co-founder Jay Chang


WHAT THEY DO

“Cropsticks are eco-friendly, “mind-blowing” disposable chopsticks. It’s the utensil you’ve always known, made better.”

CROP PRIMARY

c2HOW CROPSTICKS WAS BORN

“Chopsticks were invented in ancient China as early as the Shang dynasty (1766-1122 BCE) and possibly even earlier during the Xia dynasty. In nearly 4000 years, no one has truly innovated the way we use chopsticks. The idea for Cropsticks first came to inventor Mylen Fe Yamamoto as she was on a flight to Asia in April 2015 and her chopsticks kept rolling off the dirty tray table. She thought that there must be an easier way to keep her chopsticks in place.

Then the horizontal breakaway holder was born! After doing more research, she found out that over 20 millions trees go into production to create the wooden disposable utensil. So it became a goal to produce it sustainably from fast growing bamboo. Mylen and Jay met in 2013 when Jay was producing the DiscoverMe conference. Jay’s family background has been in manufacturing bamboo housewares for the past 15+ years through TotallyBamboo.”

MOST REWARDING STARTUP EXPERIENCE

“Seeing thoughts become reality and it helps when you like the people you work with.”

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

“We’ve been working on Cropsticks since April last year. So when the chopstick meme of our similar idea went viral last month and challenged our product, we knew it was important to launch fast.”

ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS

“Don’t be afraid! Don’t be afraid to get out there and talk to your first customers. Don’t be afraid that people will steal your idea. Don’t be afraid someone else is better than you or will beat you to market. Be cognizant of all of those things and use them to your advantage to clearly articulate your unique value proposition, and build the best product you can to solve your customer’s pain.”

c1SUCCESS STORIES

 

 

– Kickstarter at 40% in 5 days

– Interest from angel investors potential distribution partners and major restaurant chains

– Featured on NBC, NextShark, Hawaii Magazine, KITV4 ABC, Hawaii News Now and Folic Hawaii 

Download a PDF Version of this Feature

Global Recon Lecture 1: Swim in the Deep Water

If you didn’t surf today, you’re not the best surfer. Global Recon, Machine Shop Ventures’ 5-week lecture series at USC, kicked off with this wisdom from brand strategist Josh Madden. Madden has colored the brand histories of some of the biggest names in business and media, and on Tuesday night he offered students a one-of-a-kind crash course in the craft of building big ideas.

Here were Madden’s pro tips:

Tip #1: “If you Didn’t Surf Today, you’re Not the Best Surfer”

Madden made it clear: if you’re not working diligently at your craft every day, you’re not the best in the business today. He said, “If you do business every day, you know what business is.” The key to success in any venture is to actively pursue success and practice your craft daily. There are competitors around every corner, and the best barrier to their entry is competitive diligence. Madden says, “swim in the deep water.”

Business diligence also sustains the heartbeat of your network. “All the time you spend working on your company is how you become the person who knows everyone. That’s how you become linked. Because you’re surfing.” Persistence and repetition are key.

pro

Tip #2: Support the Newcomers

You should network with creators before they get big. Madden said, “if you like something and you think it’s going to be huge, invest yourself in it.” This applies to your own venture, but also to the ideas of others in the startup ecosystem. It’s important to “support people that are new in business,” Madden said. You never know whose idea will take off; make connections early and invest in your long-term network.

Tip #3: “Apathy is Bad for Business”

There’s no value in working without passion. Madden talked about today’s bummer of business: “It’s a hand-me-down of bum-outs in business right now.” He called out the sunken disinterest of creators who’ve grown too comfortable and detached from the energy of creativity.

Tip #4: Curiosity is Key

Be a curious entrepreneur. Madden said, “It’s usually free to discover stuff. Go out there and meet people. Network, get in early and make friendships with people who are successful.” There’s value in expanding your friendships and channeling new perspectives. The experiences of those around you will only broaden your own. “Find something you like and do it all the time. Do something a lot and do it well. Do it often and build a job for yourself.”

Tip #5: Understand Social Media  

Your social media use must have purpose and context. Madden commented, “social media: if it’s not social, and it’s not media… what are you doing?” It’s important to understand the dynamics of social networks in order to post relevant and meaningful content. There’s a desperate attempt by brands to break through the noise, and posting memes isn’t an end-all social strategy. Madden asks an important question: “what are memes even for?”

Tip #6: Insights, Insights, Insights

Every idea should be rooted in insight. Madden said, “strategies come from insights. If you can present a strategy built on insights, you can convince anyone of anything. Giving insights is the way you get to where you want to go.” You can’t force an idea if it’s not intuitive. Find reasons for why you want to build your idea, and “make sure your idea satisfies those reasons.”

Startup Feature: Stunt Players


Stunt Players

Interview with CEO Hunter Crowder


WHAT THEY DO

“Stunt Players allows stunt performers to promote themselves to coordinators, directors, and producers to be hired for work in the film and television industry.  By signing up for the service, members are placed in an online database made easily accessible and searchable by industry professionals.  Many of the stunt performers seen in films like Fast and the Furious and Pirates of the Caribbean have been hired through Stunt Players.”INC

HOW STUNT PLAYERS WAS BORN

“My father, Wally Crowder, a stunt coordinator and director, originally founded the company two decades ago.  He helped advance the stunt industry by providing coordinators with a hardcopy directory allowing them to browse through stunt performers and hire them based on stats and abilities.

This altered the way stunt people would go about getting work – typically crashing sets and hustling coordinators with their headshots and resumes.  However, due to the work my father was taking on as a coordinator, he decided to shut down the business.  As an actor, I was lucky enough to score a national commercial campaign and purchase the company from him.  I took over as CEO to revitalize Stunt Players as a contemporary web platform.”

MOST REWARDING STARTUP EXPERIENCESPD_STICKER

“Contributing to an industry that has become my life.  I am obsessed with the film industry and find it my duty to give back in any way I can.  I grew up around stunt people and it only made sense that I help build something useful for those I believe to be the hardest working, most under-appreciated heroes in entertainment.”

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

“I am a film-lover and cinephile more so than I am an entrepreneur.  While I have a sharp focus on what Stunt Players must innovate and execute, the biggest obstacles are technical ones.  Fortunately, I work with an incredible development team that has become my “pit crew.”  No production succeeds without a reliable cast and crew, even behind the scenes.”

ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS

Build something that you are passionate about, something that you are obsessed with.  If you aren’t obsessed, don’t waste the time.  And then you must love it more than anything else.  I get to work with performers who crash cars, light themselves on fire, and jump from buildings.  It’s full throttle… but I love it.

stunt_players_shareSTARTUP VICTORIES

“The launch of our new website: stuntplayers.com
I won 1st Place in the Regional Los Angeles GSEA (Global Student Entrepreneur Awards) Competition.  We are also proud to have hosted two events in the past year that have brought together a total of over one-thousand stunt performers to mix, mingle, and make connections with working coordinators.  Many of which have gone on to book work on movies and television shows.”

Startup Feature: ElemenTerra


ElemenTerra

Interview with CEO Max Pittsley and CCO Camille Kanengiser


What they do: 

“ElemenTerra is a virtual reality game that empowers the imagination. Using the Oculus Rift, users are immersed into a universe
where they play as nature spirits who create matter and fly through a planet of their own.” ElemenTerra

How ElemenTerra was born: 

Pittsley: “It definitely was a long process, and it evolved very slowly over time. It really started out with a client of mine that I did web development for. He was sort of an eccentric guy, so he bought himself an Oculus DK1 just to check it out and said, “hey, you know how to program. You should do something with this.”

I was super skeptical about VR. I thought it was a gimmick, but I all of a sudden had this kit that was super hard to come by. We started brainstorming what could be done in VR that could not have been done without VR. We realized that feeling like you’re somewhere else is really significant, so how do we take advantage of that?”

SOGAL2

Best Advice to Entrepreneurs: 
Pittsley: “I think it comes down to life advice and maintaining relationships in general, which is to be honest and to be able to accept criticism.”

Kanengiser: “Yes, being able to take critique about what you’ve done or an idea that you have objectively. You have to be able to logically justify it’s not just about feelings. I know a lot of business is about the feeling, be it with title, or with the direction of the product, or the direction of the company, but being able to take a step back and cool down and really look at where it’s going is super important.”

ElemenTerra_share

Download a PDF version of this page

Startup Feature: AIO Robotics


AIO Robotics

Interview with CEO Jens Windau


WHAT THEY DO

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

HOW AIO ROBOTICS WAS BORNhqdefault

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

MOST REWARDING EXPERIENCE

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

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

aiorobotics_share

BEST ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS

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

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

Click here for a PDF version of this feature.