ZBoard: a USC Startup Story – How USC Stevens Legal Office Hours Helped the Skateboard Company Move Forward

ZBoard: a USC Startup Story
How USC Stevens Legal Office Hours Helped the Skateboard Company Move Forward

By Peijean Tsai, USC Stevens Center for Innovation

When Ben Forman and Geoff Larson were USC students, they wanted a better way to get around campus, where distances often are too long to walk but too short to drive. Biking to class was an ideal solution but both of them had issues with bicycle theft.

They came up with an idea for a weight-sensing electric skateboard, where users could control speed by leaning forward and backward, and turn by leaning left or right — all without a remote control.

“We wanted to design something as fast and easy to use as a bike but compact and convenient like a skateboard,” said Forman, a 2009 graduate of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, who started the company ZBoard with Larson. “Some people have called it the Segway of skateboards. It’s a fast, easy and fun way to complete short trips.”

Initially an idea for their USC senior year project, the pair developed their invention by competing in the USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase and winning 2nd place at the New Venture Seed Competition (USC Marshall’s Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies). They also got help from resources within USC Viterbi and the USC Gould School of Law, and ran a successful Kickstarter fundraising campaign.

When it was time to turn their idea into a business, the then-USC students looked to the USC Stevens Legal Office Hours program, where they met with an attorney to advise them on building their company.

“Years later we continue to work with the same attorney,” said Forman, who added that the attorney has helped ZBoard with trademarks, copyrights and the patent for the skateboard. “The Legal Office Hours consultation led to an ongoing relationship that is now seven years strong.”

The USC Stevens Legal Office Hours Program provides complimentary legal assistance, counseling and information materials to all USC innovators (faculty, staff, students and alumni) and start-up companies. Services are on-campus and are provided by qualified outside corporate and intellectual property attorneys. Topics for legal counseling include, but are not limited to: patent searches and provisional/non-provisional patent applications, trademark and copyright applications, creating limited liability companies and corporations, and reviewing business plans.

Since the company sold its first product in 2012, ZBoard has sold thousands of skateboards to all 50 U.S. states and 60 countries, according to Forman. ZBoard is based out of Modesto and Los Angeles. Pricing for the electric boards start at $1,299. They can travel at speeds up to 20 miles per hour.

“Legal is a critical part of business,” said Forman, who recommends USC startup founders consider USC Stevens Legal Office Hours. “It gets very expensive down the line so if you’re able to take advantage and have your first experience with a business or patent lawyer for free, then you should check that out.”

Attorneys for USC Stevens Legal Office Hours are available by appointment. Interested parties should complete an intake form available online: http://stevens.usc.edu/about-us/programs/legal-office-hours. To learn more about the program, individuals may also e-mail USC Stevens Center for Innovation at legalofficehours@stevens.usc.edu.

–published July 10, 2017

A user riding the ZBoard electric skateboard at the beach (photo courtesy of ZBoard).