USC Stevens Center for Innovation recently hosted the USC Innovation Summit, a new event showcasing University of Southern California startups and technologies to the venture, business, and university community.

The event took place March 27, 2019 in Downtown Los Angeles and drew nearly 200 attendees. The day offered panel discussions with experts from venture capital, pharma, and industry — including USC trustee and benefactor Mark Stevens of S-Cubed Capital — offering perspectives on how inventors can best commercialize inventions. Keynote speaker Luke Timmerman, biotech journalist and entrepreneur, used his May 2018 Mount Everest climb to talk about leadership and teamwork lessons.

Researchers represented seven USC schools at the all-day event. Ten USC startups participated in a pitch competition, with two winning prizes of $20,000 and $10,000. Additionally, an e-poster gallery featured 14 new USC technologies, each with a presentation on a TV monitor, for attendees to peruse throughout the day and speak with the inventors.

Advice to USC inventors for commercializing their innovations

The panel talk, “Corporate Perspectives on Sourcing Early-Stage Innovation,” addressed what industry partners look for when considering a collaboration with an academic inventor.

Companies like Pfizer are looking for technologies that go beyond incremental improvements in a disease or research area. “We look for cutting-edge technologies with an eye on patient care, that will make patient lives better…that will move the needle,” said Mary Faris, Director, Emerging Science and Innovation at Pfizer, Inc.

Further advice was given by Hong Pesetski, Direction of Innovation at Northrop Grumman, who mentioned that in the current funding environment, return on investment is emphasized. “But with university partnerships, it’s not just about profit; it’s about capturing future markets,” Pesetski said.

Other speakers were Klaus Damm (AbbVie) and Seth Levy (Nixon Peabody).

In a second panel, experts from the venture capital world gave advice to startup entrepreneurs in a discussion titled “License or Startup: Selecting the Best Path to Commercialize Your Innovation.”

Founders should do their homework on which VC firms to pitch to, including considering what a VC’s network is like and whether it is located close to the startup, said Mark Stevens, who founded S-Cubed Capital after 23 years at Sequoia Capital.

“Knowing your VC community is important,” Stevens said. “I see startups and I ask how many funds they’ve talked to, and they say 40. Out of those 40, there are probably 10 that are the sweet spot that you should be focused on.”

Other speakers were Caleb Smith (Managing Director, Salem Partners), Kirsten Leute (Senior Vice President for University Relations, Osage University Partners), and Bill Thomson (Brooks Kushman).

Stevens added that when figuring out whether to back a team, he is concerned with whether a founder knows what he or she does not know. “If a founder thinks he or she knows everything, about not just the technology they are developing, but also about marketing, sales, and finance, it’s a big red flag.”

Leute of Osage University Partners, said she listens to how team members interact with each other, and the interplay of how members defer questions to each other.

“Sometimes we have thought a company was terrific — until we saw that team pitch, because it wasn’t a team,” said Leute.

Leute emphasized the importance of startups to get deals done, rather than delaying due to small details. The more time that passes, the more your company evolves and changes, she emphasized.

“Know your main points as a startup,” she said. “Don’t get stuck in the nitty gritty.”

Stevens also said he evaluates whether a founder wants to keep tight control of his or her company, which is common for founders who come directly from academia.

“If we had a founder that had come out of academia and really was serious about building a company…and they’re open to the idea of bringing in business types to help build the company, that was a big positive sign,” said Stevens. “But we had situations where very brilliant inventors had a control mentality, and we would back away and not finance them.”

Keynote Address: “Climbing Mt. Everest: Reflections on Leadership and Teamwork”

For the midday keynote address, Seattle-based biotech journalist, author, and entrepreneur Luke Timmerman delivered an engrossing talk detailing his May 2018 journey to the summit of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world. He dedicated his climb to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, raising $340,000 for the Seattle-based cancer research organization.

He spoke about how organizations should set “big audacious goals” because it catalyzes team focus and gets people motivated to work together to accomplish great things.

“There’s a reason why the Kennedy Moon Shot was so successful. It’s a scary, daunting thing to mobilize an organization around a big, inspiring goal. It forces people to work together and push beyond where they otherwise think they might be able to go,” said Timmerman.

Timmerman, who founded the biotech newsletter, Timmerman Reporttold the audience of scientists and those supporting research and innovation that they work on goals – like trying to cure cancer, fight Alzheimer’s, and mental health issues – that are as daunting as climbing Mt. Everest.

“I feel what goes on in scientific enterprise with so much of the work you’re doing and supporting — these are Everest-type goals with huge payoffs for patients,” he said.

This July, Timmerman and his team will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, raising at least $1 million for cancer research.

USC startups compete; USC technologies showcased

Ten USC startups competed for first and second place awards, with prizes of $20,000 and $10,000 awarded by the Stevens Center.

The first-place winner was Catapower, a chemistry startup developing next generation renewable energy and materials. The company has roots at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences and was co-founded by postdoctoral scholar Zhiyao Lu and USC Associate Professor Travis Williams, who delivered the pitch at the event.

The second-place winner was Platinum Group Coatings, a startup with roots at Keck School of Medicine, which provides advanced coating solutions to developers of next-generation biomedical microelectronics. Jack Whalen, an Assistant Professor at the Keck School, gave the winning pitch.

Other USC startup competition participants were:

  • Angeles Therapeutics: Developing next generation CarT therapies (Keck School of Medicine)
  • Embody Digital: Builds interactive AI-based virtual human systems for the military, industry, and research (Institute for Creative Technologies)
  • NeOnc Technologies: Early-stage cancer biotechnology company focused initially on nontraditional delivery of a novel, highly purified form of monoterpenes (oils from fruits and plants) (Keck School of Medicine)
  • Quantum Screening: Developing and marketing cutting-edge saliva-based science to create revolutionary improvements in healthcare (Keck School of Medicine)
  • Cell Biotherapy Inc.: Developing next generation hematologic and solid tumor immunotherapies. (Keck School of Medicine)
  • Medical Mechanica: Developing the world’s most sophisticated and effective virtual standardized patient and interactive training virtual human system (Institute for Creative Technologies)
  • Scionian: Commercializing the Simcoach authoring tool for virtual humans (Institute for Creative Technologies)
  • SprintRay: Makes 3D printers, post-processing systems, software, and materials designed for digital dentistry (Viterbi School of Engineering)

Also, the event featured e-posters in an exhibit hall about technologies developed by USC researchers:

  • Julio Camarero, Stan Louie (School of Pharmacy): Pharmacology of Proteolically Resistant Cyclotides With Angiotensin 1-7-Like Active
  • Yang Chai, Yong Chen, Cindy Li (Ostrow School of Dentistry): Dental Crown Printing of FDA-Approved Materials
  • Shuo-Wei (Mike) Chen, Aoyang Zhang (Viterbi School of Engineering): Next Generation Data Conversion (DAC’s)
  • Laura Davis, Jenn de la Fuente (Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism): Amy the StyleBot
  • Sarah Hamm-Alvarez, Maria Edman-Woolcott, Srikanth Janga (Keck School of Medicine): Tear Biomarkers of Parkinson’s Disease
  • Qiang Huang, Nathan Decker, Chris Henson (Viterbi School of Engineering): Machine Learning for 3D Printing Distortion Control
  • Mark Humayun, Qifa Zhou (Keck School of Medicine): Novel Noninvasive Ultrasound Enabled Drug Delivery to the Posterior Segment of the Eye
  • Andrew Mackay (School of Pharmacy): Preclinical Advancement of FKBP/Rapalogue Drug Carriers
  • Shrikanth Narayanan, Victor Martinez, Krishna Somandepalli (Viterbi School of Engineering): Computational Linguistic Analysis of ScriptS cLASS
  • Steven Nutt, Mark Anders, David Bender, Bill Edwards (Viterbi School of Engineering): Prototype Development, Demonstration, and Optimization of Innovative Out-of -Autoclave Prepregs with High Permeability
  • Wei-Chiang Shen (School of Pharmacy): Proinsulin-Transferrin Fusion Protein for Overcoming Insulin Resistance
  • Bangyan Stiles (School of Pharmacy): NR3B1 Targeting Polyamide for Inhibiting High Fat Diet Induced NASH
  • Huachao Mao, Wei Wu (Viterbi School of Engineering): 3D Printing With Variable Voxel Sizes
  • Tiger Zhang (School of Pharmacy): Pharmacology of Immunotherapeutic Exosomes

The USC Innovation Summit was generously sponsored by:

  • Brooks Kushman
  • Nixon Peabody
  • Pellegrino and Associates
  • Snell & Willmer
  • Gavrilovich, Dodd & Lindsey
  • Foley & Lardner LLP

Thanks to positive feedback from attendees, a second USC Innovation Summit is already being planned for next year. To receive email updates about the upcoming Innovation Summit and other USC Stevens Center news, sign up for our email list.

USC Stevens Center for Innovation hosted the USC Innovation Summit, a new event showcasing University of Southern California startups and technologies, on the 30th floor of the USC City Center in Downtown Los Angeles.

In his keynote address detailing his 2018 climb to the summit of Mt. Everest, biotech journalist and entrepreneur Luke Timmerman spoke about how organizations should set “big audacious goals” because it catalyzes team focus and gets people motivated to work together to accomplish great things.

Biotech journalist and entrepreneur Luke Timmerman spoke to a crowd of 185 attendees, giving a detailed account of his 2018 climb of Mt. Everest, the highest mountain in the world, and drawing inspiration from dedicating his climb to raising $340,000 for cancer research.

Hong Pesetski (Northrop Grumman) offered advice to academic inventors on a panel titled, “Corporate Perspectives on Sourcing Early-Stage Innovation,” that addressed what industry partners look for when considering a collaboration.

Stevens Center leadership presented USC Dornsife professor Travis Williams (center) the first-place award for the USC startup competition, which awarded $30,000 total at the summit. Williams’ startup, Catapower, was one of ten USC startups to do pitches at the event. Williams is pictured above with Jennifer Dyer (Stevens Center Executive Director) and Michael Arciero (Stevens Center Director of Technology Licensing and New Ventures).

In addition to the USC startups in the pitch competition, 14 technologies developed by USC researchers were featured as e-posters in an exhibit hall. Pictured above are mechanical engineering doctoral researchers Bill Edwards and Mark Anders of the M.C. Gill Composites Center at USC Viterbi School of Engineering demonstrating their prepreg technology.