Student Entrepreneurs Win Over $32,000 at USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase

The five USC teams who won $32,100 in awards at the 2018 USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase are pictured here with Jennifer Dyer (Executive Director, USC Stevens Center for Innovation) and Keynote Speaker Michael E. Meyers (President and Head of Investment Banking, T.R. Winston & Company).

Student Entrepreneurs Win Over $32,000 at USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase
Story by Peijean Tsai | Photos by Nikolaus Traitler

The USC Stevens Center for Innovation recently hosted its 12th Annual USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase, where USC student entrepreneurs competed for awards to further their business ideas.

Held at the University of Southern California on October 12, 2018, during Trojan Family Weekend, 24 teams led by students from 10 different USC schools pitched their ideas to judges and event attendees. Five teams won awards, which included two prizes worth $10,000.

The 24 student teams spent the morning presenting their startup ideas and prototypes to invited judges from the business and venture community and to Trojan Family Weekend attendees. The 10 top-scoring teams advanced to an afternoon finalist round where each gave a three minute pitch about their businesses. Read about all 24 teams in the program booklet. The pitches were then scored by the judges to select the final awards.

“USC Stevens is proud to host the annual Student Innovator Showcase,” said Jennifer Dyer, executive director of the USC Stevens Center for Innovation. “The teams exemplify the strong innovation and entrepreneurial culture at USC, and we applaud all of the students who competed in this year’s Showcase.”

Saving animal lives

The winner of the $10,000 USC Stevens Breakthrough Innovation Award was Adoptimize, a startup led by Jessica Schleder, an MBA candidate at the USC Marshall School of Business. Her innovation is an animal shelter optimization technology that could potentially save thousands of animal lives while reducing costs for city shelters. Her startup renders the manual process of shelter intake obsolete, using artificial intelligence and automating photography of animals to accelerate animal adoption rates and improve people-to-pet adoption matches. Shelters typically euthanize animals due to lack of space and overcrowding, so better adoption rates means saving lives.

Schleder said she plans to use the award funds to improve the product she is developing, to attend shelter animal welfare conferences, and to conduct a pilot of Adoptimize with the City of Amarillo, Texas.

“I am honored that Adoptimize was recognized as a breakthrough innovation,” said Schleder. “The feedback (from presenting at the Showcase) also revealed to me that people saw applications of Adoptimize in product photography and child adoptions, which are growth opportunities that I could pursue…after we improve adoption rates for shelter pets.”

Additional awards

PostScript, a text messaging platform for small e-commerce businesses, earned the $10,000 Best Business Concept Award, a prize sponsored by the Diem Shotwell Metcalfe Family Fund of the USC Marshall School of  Business.

PostScript is led by Alexander Beller, who is majoring in music industry at the USC Thornton School of Music.

“I learned quite a bit about how essential storytelling is to making any kind of business pitch more compelling,” said Beller, regarding his experience pitching to judges at the Showcase.

The team IUSA won the $4,000 Daniel Floersheimer Global Impact Award, which recognizes the project with the most innovative idea to solve global social or environmental issues. IUSA is creating a business-to-business technology-based labor management tool for the agricultural industry to facilitate the process of doing business with independent contractors.

The team’s leader, Alexander Rincon, a master’s student in social entrepreneurship at USC Marshall, said the funds will help his team further develop their business idea in a variety of ways, including building a prototype that incorporates feedback from the judges and market validation studies. IUSA also won $1,600 for the Trojan Family Choice Award, the one prize at the competition selected by popular vote of event attendees.

Top won the $4,000 Allen Clair Nelson Innovation Award, a new prize at this year’s Showcase. Top’s innovation is a student planner that automatically schedules, prioritizes, and tracks assignments and exams. The team is led by Seun Deleawe, a computer science student at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. His team included other students from Viterbi computer science and electrical engineering and the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. The prize honors the project most likely to have a transformative impact by making previous solutions obsolete.

Yobs won the $2,500 Lloyd Greif Center Venture Validation Award, which is earned by the project with the most progress gaining market traction, including securing investors, funding, and marketing. Yobs offers a people analytics platform that uses artificial intelligence to help large companies with the hiring process.

This year’s event honored the memory of Robert Shotwell, longtime benefactor of the Showcase, who passed away on September 6, 2018. Shotwell was instrumental in helping to establish the Showcase, which has been supported by the Diem Shotwell Metcalfe Family Fund over the years.

Keynote Address: “Find that balance between confidence, competence, and humility”

As part of the Showcase’s celebration of innovation and entrepreneurship, the event schedule included a keynote address by Michael E. Meyers, President and Head of Investment Banking at T.R. Winston and Company.

Meyers’ remarks were geared toward the student innovators but had applications to everyone in the audience. He spoke on four key aspects he believes are vital to establishing a successful career: professionalism, competence, personability, and perserverence.

Meyers urged students to focus on their strengths and own an area of specialization. “Knowing deeply a specific area or discipline is critical, and it’s critical to your future as entrepreneurs,” he said. “Being thought of as highly competent is crucial to esbalishing a successful career in business.”

He added, “Focus on your strengths for the benefits of your stakeholders and yourselves, and seek others who complement your strengths.”

Meyers also reminded students to be humble and to be good listeners. “Find that balance between confidence, competence, and humility. As capable as you are to be here on this university campus presenting these brilliant ideas of products and services for social good and economic gain, maintain that humility throughout your career. You will attract so many more collaborators and stakeholders by doing that,” he said.

About the Showcase

The USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase is hosted by the USC Stevens Center for Innovation. USC Stevens works to maximize the translation of USC research into products for public benefit through licensing, collaborations, and the promotion of entrepreneurship and innovation. USC Stevens hosts and sponsors this annual showcase to provide USC student entrepreneurs the opportunity to showcase their inventions and startup ideas from all disciplines.

The 2018 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 the USC Marshall School of Business), donor Allen Clair Nelson (via the USC Viterbi School of Engineering), and the USC Marshall Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

The Showcase has distributed over $181,000 in USC-sponsored awards since the USC Stevens started hosting the student business competition in 2007. Winning teams in the past have used the prize funding – and the experience of participating in the Showcase – to propel their businesses forward.

The competition’s 24 teams were selected from a large pool of applicants, as USC Stevens held an open call for applications for all USC undergraduate and graduate students starting last spring. Students who earned a spot in the Showcase represent 10 different USC schools: School of Cinematic Arts, Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, Iovine and Young Academy, Keck School of Medicine, Marshall School of Business, Price School of Public Policy, Thornton School of Music, Viterbi School of Engineering.

Complete List of Winners

USC Stevens Breakthrough Innovation Award $10,000
Adoptimize, an animal shelter optimization technology that saves thousands of animal lives while reducing costs for city shelters.
Team leader: Jessica Schleder, USC Marshall School of Business

Diem Shotwell Metcalfe Family Fund Best Business Concept Award $10,000
PostScript, an easy-to-use text messaging platform for small ecommerce businesses to send campaigns, create automations, and drive new revenue.
Team leader: Alexander Beller, USC Thornton School of Music

Daniel Floersheimer Global Impact Award $4,000
IUSA, a business-to-business technology based labor management tool that facilitates the process of doing business with independent contractors.
Team leader: Alexander Rincon, USC Marshall School of Business (Social Entrepreneurship)

Allen Clair Nelson Innovation Award $4,000 (new this year)
Top, the first student planner that can automatically schedule, prioritize, and track assignments and exams.
Team leader: Seun Deleawe, USC Viterbi School of Engineering

Lloyd Greif Center Venture Validation Award $2,500
Yobs, which leverages BSP to build intelligence over HR unstructured data. We assist HR with building diversity, predicting performance and culture fit.
Team leader: Federico Dubini, USC Marshall School of Business

Trojan Family Choice Award $1,600
IUSA, a business-to-business technology based labor management tool that facilitates the process of doing business with independent contractors.
Team leader: Alexander Rincon, USC Marshall School of Business (Social Entrepreneurship)

 

USC Marshall MBA student Jessica Schleder (left) won the $10,000 USC Stevens Breakthrough Innovation Award for her startup Adoptimize. She is pictured here with Jennifer Dyer (Executive Director, USC Stevens Center for Innovation) and Showcase emcees Professors Renee Smith-Maddox and Anthony Maddox.

Alexander Beller (center), a music industry student at the USC Thornton School of Music, won the $10,000 Best Business Concept Award for PostScript. The award is sponsored by the Diem Shotwell Metcalfe Family Fund and was presented by Julia Metcalfe and Robert Metcalfe (at left). Beller is pictured with Showcase emcees Professors Renee Smith-Maddox and Anthony Maddox (at right).

The team IUSA won the $4,000 Global Impact Award and $1,600 Trojan Family Choice Award (the latter which was determined by popular vote).

During the morning portion of the event, the 24 teams competing in the Showcase presented their innovations and business ideas from their exhibition tables to judges and event attendees.

The team, Top, won the $4,000 Allen Clair Nelson Innovation Award, a new award this year at the Showcase.

Event emcees USC Professors Renée Smith-Maddox and Anthony Maddox introduced the Keynote Speaker and announced the finalists and winners of the Showcase.

Michael Meyers, President and Head of Investment Banking at T.R. Winston and Company, delivered the Showcase’s Keynote Address.

Michael Meyers, President and Head of Investment Banking at T.R. Winston and Company, delivered the Showcase’s Keynote Address.

Yobs (represented by co-founders Raphael Danilo and Federico Dubini, students at the USC Marshall School of Business) won the $2,500 Venture Validation Award.