On Nov. 17, 2021, the USC Stevens Center for Innovation hosted its 14th Annual USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase, where USC student entrepreneurs pitched their startup and business ideas to compete for over $30,000 in cash prizes and additional in-kind awards (valued at over $30,000).
Due to the pandemic, the annual student business competition was held on Zoom, with ten finalist teams pitching live to an online audience of over 100 attendees. The ten teams, each identified by their business concept or startup name, were led by students from five different USC schools.
Six teams won awards, which included two cash prizes of $10,000. They represented a range of creative business ideas, including a medical device for cancer patients, a platform for college athletes to monetize their media, an app to help the visually impaired, and more.
Read about all 10 finalists teams that presented on the Stevens Center website. At the Nov. 17 event each team gave a three-minute pitch about their businesses and answered questions from a panel of judges, who were experts from the business and venture community. The pitches were then scored by the judges to select the award winners. A recording of the Nov. 17 event will be posted on our YouTube channel in the near future.
WaterShield and DYME win $10,000 Awards
The winner of the $10,000 USC Stevens Transformational Innovation Award was WaterShield, a team lead by Farbod Amirghasemi, a second-year Ph.D. student in the department of biomedical engineering at USC Viterbi School of Engineering. WaterShield’s business concept is a moisture barrier medical device that offers cancer patients with a central venous catheter a more comfortable infection-proof experience when they shower. WaterShield also won the in-kind Pillsbury Mentorship Award. Valued at over $15,000, this award gives the team strategic counseling and a complete patent application drafted by John Wetherell, Ph.D. of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, an international law firm which sponsored the award.
Winning the two awards was “an incredible experience as well as a huge vote of confidence for the team” said the WaterShield team members after the Showcase. “We find ourselves very lucky to have had the opportunity to compete with some very innovative and talented teams at USC. Learning from our fellow Trojans has been a key component of our growth at this early-stage.”
The WaterShield team said the prize funds will go towards the optimization of the patch’s fabrication process and scaling up of the product and that the Pillsbury Mentorship Award “will be essential in WaterShield’s navigation of the patent journey.”
“We’re in the hard-tech industry, so success doesn’t happen overnight, however our team at WaterShield is determined to make a positive impact on the world and help fellow cancer patients,” said teammate Weston Lord, a recent Marshall School of Business graduate and a cancer survivor himself.
Marshall graduate student George Pappas won the $10,000 Best Business Concept Award for his startup, DYME. This prize was sponsored by the Diem Shotwell Metcalfe Family Fund of the USC Marshall School of Business.
“It is an incredible feeling to have your work validated. Any win along the difficult journey is celebrated, and this is certainly one of them. I feel special, honored and privileged to receive the best business concept award at the showcase,” said Pappas, who is in the Marshall MSEI program (Master of Science in Entrepreneurship and Innovation).
DYME is a platform for college athletes to monetize their media through experiential media content for paying sports fans. As founder, Pappas brings his experience as a former student athlete himself to his business innovation.
“Our market of college athlete compensation is new and explosive. We hope to be at the forefront of making an impact for student-athletes all over the country,” Pappas added.
Veever won the $4,000 Global Impact Award, which recognizes the project with the most innovative idea to solve global social or environmental issues. The award is sponsored through a donation from the Daniel Floersheimer Family via USC Marshall. Lead by João Pedro Novochadlo, a Master of Science in Social Entrepreneurship student at USC Marshall, Veever is an app that uses microlocation devices and artificial intelligence to facilitate the interaction of visually impaired people in physical environments.
The recognition is motivation for the Veever team to continue their work, which they believe has global potential, said Novochadlo. The prize money will be used to enhance their technology and bring more features to their solution. “More important than the financial award, we think the visibility and the opportunity to talk about inclusion and accessibility are even more impactful,” he stated.
SoundToy won the $4,000 Allen Clair Nelson Innovation Award, which was sponsored by a donation by Allen Clair Nelson through the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. SoundToy provides an innovative solution for auditory training of hard-of-hearing children with proprietary hardware and exciting game modules. The team of all USC School of Cinematic Arts students was lead by Juri Hwang, a Ph.D. candidate in the Media Arts and Practice program in the School of Cinematic Arts and a research associate in the Bionic Ear Lab in the Keck School of Medicine at USC.
“Our team consists of doctorate, master, and undergraduate students across the School of Cinematic Arts who worked hard to develop fun and innovative games to help hard-of-hearing children to train their hearing. So, we feel very happy and are proud to receive this prize. It is a tremendous validation to our effort and gives us courage and means to continue to development,” said Hwang.
MeetSee won the $2,500 Lloyd Greif Center Venture Validation Award, which is earned by the project with the most progress gaining market traction. MeetSee was founded by Daniel Hanasab, USC Marshall School of Business student and his best friend Sean Toobi, a Stanford student. MeetSee offers a tool that helps with networking and social connections: it’s a hyper-localized matching platform that notifies users when they walk into a room with someone that shares a core background or interest.
Hanasab said the goal is to deploy it in MBA communities, where networking is an essential part of the student experience.
“Our focus at MeetSee is to spark moments of human connections in-person and create a more conducive environment for laughs, hugs, smiles, and high-fives. Right now we see that communities are becoming more isolated from our dependency and reliance on technology. Our goal is to introduce MeetSee as a social tool to help spark moments of connections and to bring people together based on common interests and backgrounds,” Hanasab said.
Recordless, led by Dornsife Psychology graduate student Roshni Lulla, won an in-kind award valued at $15,000 for legal and patent services provided by Brooks Kushman law firm. Recordless is a sandbox for the future of music. It contains a music format and marketplace, with the goal of providing interactive music to users.
“We know the technology we’ve created is innovative, unique, and definitely gives our team a leg up. Patenting this work is a must as we continue to grind and develop our platform,” said the Recordless team after the event.
About the Showcase
The USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase is hosted annually by the USC Stevens Center for Innovation to provide USC student entrepreneurs the opportunity to showcase their inventions and startup ideas from various disciplines to business leaders and experts in the world of investment and venture capital.
The 2021 cash awards were sponsored by the USC Stevens Center for Innovation, the Diem Shotwell Metcalfe Family Fund at the USC Marshall School of Business, donor Daniel Floersheimer (via USC Marshall), donor Allen Clair Nelson (via USC Viterbi), and the USC Marshall Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.
In addition, there were two in-kind awards this year. The Pillsbury Mentorship Award was sponsored by Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, an international law firm. John Wetherell, Ph.D., will provide strategic counseling and draft a complete patent application for the selected team. The Brooks Kushman Patentability Award was sponsored by Brooks Kushman P.C., a leading intellectual property and technology law firm. Brooks Kushman will draft a complete patent application for the project that is deemed ready for intellectual property protection and file it with the U.S. Patent Office.
The Showcase has distributed over $238,500 in USC-sponsored cash awards since the Stevens Center started hosting the student business competition in 2007. Winning teams in the past have used the prize funding – and the lessons and experience of participating in the Showcase – to propel their businesses forward.
The competition’s ten finalist teams were selected from the Stevens Center’s annual open call for applications for all USC undergraduate and graduate students. The students in the admitted teams represented 5 different USC schools: School of Cinema; Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences; Iovine and Young Academy; Marshall School of Business; and Viterbi School of Engineering.
The call for applications for the 2022 will be announced in the late Spring/early Summer 2022. The Showcase plans to return to its regular in-person format in the Fall 2022 semester during Trojan Family Weekend.