Tech accelerator to grow student companies


The Viterbi Startup Garage, a technology accelerator aimed at growing startup companies run by USC students and alumni, is looking for its first crop of companies to assist and advise.

Game time · Google VP of Social Products Bradley Horowitz speaks to students at a event hosted by the Viterbi Student Innovation Institute, which also encourages students to create their own start-ups.  - Ralf Cheung | Daily Trojan

Game time · Google VP of Social Products Bradley Horowitz speaks to students at a event hosted by the Viterbi Student Innovation Institute, which also encourages students to create their own start-ups. — Ralf Cheung | Daily Trojan

The Startup Garage, announced by Viterbi on March 26, is accepting applications through April 22; the 12-week summer program will begin May 28.

Students in the program will receive expert mentoring, access to investors, working space and $20,000 in funding. Ashish Soni, the program’s director and a founding director of the Viterbi Student Innovation Institute, said two primary goals of the program were to help USC achieve its vision of developing the next big technology company and enable students to start successful companies.

“One of the things we realized was that students need time, access to resources [in the form] of financial support systems, mentoring and coaching. It’s hard to get all of that in a semester,” Soni said.

In addition to focusing their attention on the university, the program also seeks to encourage technology startups to stay in the Los Angeles area.

“With the Viterbi Startup Garage, we aim to provide the support needed so that this talent can fully develop its potential and make Los Angeles and Southern Californiaone of the most vibrant technology startup regions in the world,” said Viterbi School of Engineering Dean Yannis C. Yortsos in a statement.

Viterbi is partnering with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a leading venture capital firm, and United Talent Agency, a talent and literary agency, to run the program. As a part of the program, participants have access to the KPCB and UTA networks when they are building their companies.

“Students will have access not just to capital, but to insight into building companies, insight into the market, into how you build successful companies,” Soni said. “[The combination of] a top engineering school, a top venture capital firm and a top business development talent agency is a unique combination that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the country.”

Though other technology accelerators exist in Los Angeles, the Viterbi Startup Garage is unique in its focus on students and its link to a major university.

“We’ll leverage our partners, our faculty and our alumni to help make these companies successful,” Soni said.

This year the Viterbi Startup Garage will look at digital andsoftware-based companies, as well as hardward companies. Soni said the directors of the program are looking to increase the size of the program in the coming years.

“The goal is to increase the number [of accepted companies], but this is the first year, so we want to start small, have some early success and grow from there,” Soni said.

Founders of AIO Robotics Kai Chang and Jens Windau, both Ph.D. students in computer science who applied to the program, hope that their company is one of the few companies accepted into the program.

Chang and Windau said the Viterbi Startup Garage’s association with USC and dedication to supporting students makes it very appealing to them.

“We can trust the entire Viterbi community. The Trojan Family seems more comfortable to approach than someone who is not ‘related’ to you, necessarily,” Chang said.

Jason Wei, the co-founder of Taggle and a junior majoring in business administration who applied to the program, said he hopes his company, which helps people find the best price for printing custom T-shirts, is accepted into the program because of the technology accelerator’s extensive networks.

Wei and his partners said the Viterbi Startup Garage’s resources could help their business grow rapidly, and that they would use the $20,000 funding to reach college campuses beyond USC and UCLA.

“[We are] trying to scale aggressively this summer. In order to do that, we’re going to need office space, we’re going to need financial resources and moving onto the next stage is also much easier with great mentors, which this program offers,” Wei said.

Any current USC students or alumni who graduated from USC within the past five years may apply, as long as at least one co-founder or CEO is a Viterbi student or alumnus.

  • Really love the driving force behind this project. Los Angeles has so much potential for its tech enterprises, but we need to keep these bright entrepreneurs and developers in Southern Caifornia in order for Silicon Beach to really get going. Great article.