SPARK SC launches competition for startups

first_imgUSC’s entrepreneurial umbrella organization, SPARK SC, hosted their 1000 Pitches kickoff event last Friday evening.Innovators welcome · Stephen Chen, a junior majoring in computer science, greets students at last Friday’s inaugural 1000 Pitches competition held inside Annenberg’s Innovation Lab. – Zhiliang Zhao | Daily TrojanAn annual competition that began at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, 1000 Pitches encourages students from all academic disciplines to submit their ideas, or “pitches,” in any of 10 categories including mobile apps, consumer products and small businesses, environment, health, university improvements, education, tech and hardware, web and software, sponsor pitches and research. The competition awards $1,000 to the winner in each of the 10 categories.A contestant pitches an idea by recording a video ranging from thirty seconds to three minutes in length that outlines his or her idea. Each contestant can pitch up to three ideas. Students can either submit their videos online or record at SPARK SC “pitch booths” — camera stations  to be set up on Trousdale Parkway on Tuesdays and Thursdays that allow students to pitch on the spot. The judging panel will consist of L.A. industry leaders who also sponsor the event.In order to get sponsors for the new competition, SPARK SC director of events Calvin LeGassick had to do a lot of pitching of his own. He worked with Adena Bauer, director of communications for SPARK SC, to set up the event. Planning started in early spring and lasted throughout the summer.“We felt that the entrepreneurial activities were really lacking and limited at USC,” Bauer said. “We’re trying to get students from all academic interests to put forth their ideas. We’re trying to foster an environment where students are working together to come up with innovative ideas and projects.”Held in Annenberg’s Innovation Lab, the kickoff event drew nearly two hundred attendees, including students, faculty and sponsors. Representatives from two major sponsors, Cornerstone OnDemand and The Michelson 20 Million Minds Foundation, spoke at the event about their unique experiences with entrepreneurship as well as their optimism regarding 1000 Pitches’ potential.Dean Florez, president and CEO of 20 Million Minds, emphasized the need for innovative ideas from young minds.“You know how many millennials are in the United States, right?” he asked. “80 million — 80 million millennials [who have] a better understanding of what the problems are than a lot of guys my age. What’s really interesting about your generation is the fact that you are creating. You’re innovators. In fact, if you’re thinking about Silicon Valley, they have one really big, big problem. And that is [that] most of them are my age. And most of them look to you.”The 20 Million Minds Foundation is a privately funded organization with the goal of developing innovative solutions to improve access, affordability and success for students in higher education. Founded by Dr. Gary K. Michelson — whose $50 million donation funded the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience in early 2014 — 20 Million Minds supports both nonprofit and for-profit entities as well as policy leaders that advance educational technology.Florez also said that entrepreneurship can benefit from knowledge of the social sciences.“It’s not just about business,” he said. “It’s not just about the next start-up in Silicon Valley that takes off. We need your ideas in education. We need ideas in healthcare. We scour around the world for the best. We want solutions. We expect a solution from you. There’s so many problems in higher ed.”Vice President of Business Affairs and General Counsel for Cornerstone OnDemand Adam Weiss also spoke about his experiences in entrepreneurship. Cornerstone OnDemand is a company that offers talent management software to empower members of an organization to maximize skill sets, potential to learn and efficacy to collaborate.“To be an entrepreneur does not necessarily mean you’re starting a company,” Weiss said. “It doesn’t mean you’re recreating the wheel. In fact, at least in my mind, the most successful and interesting innovations are what I call incremental innovations.”He listed ride-sharing company Uber as an example.“Uber uses cars — those existed before,” he said. “Uber uses drivers — those existed before. But incrementally, Uber created almost a whole new area for transportation. At the end of the day, it’s [a] question of responding to the wants that people ask versus solving for needs. It’s sensing what the underlying needs are in society and figuring the solution.”Last year, Cornerstone launched the Cornerstone Innovation Fund as an effort to support promising start-ups that support the company’s vision. Depending the caliber of the pitches, the ideas that come out of 1000 Pitches might warrant the attention of the Cornerstone Innovation Fund.“We’re going to have an incubator in our office where we’re fostering start-ups,” said Josh LeGassick, a solutions architect at Cornerstone and Calvin LeGassick’s father. “I think that we are going to do more as result of the pitches. Depending on how the results end up, we may want to promote some ideas.”After the speeches, four students pitched their individual ideas to the audience as an icebreaker. The pitches included an online internship matching tool, healthy food trucks, an online thrift shopping experience and an alarm that incorporates social media. Following the opening pitches, a camera station was set up to encourage audience members to pitch their ideas immediately if they already had some in their minds.Binh Pham, an undeclared sophomore who attended the kickoff event, said the competition addressed the lack of entrepreneurial opportunities at USC.“I’m glad I found out about this event when I was at the involvement fair,” he said. “The pitches that kicked off the competition were really good. The contest in general is a great addition because I did feel that USC was missing an entrepreneurial aspect. This event has inspired me so that I might even submit a pitch based on some ideas I have.”last_img

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