Viterbi’s Incubation Program kickstarts businesses

Viterbi’s Venture Incubation Program, created to help USC students develop their ideas from startups into innovative companies, has recently announced this year’s 11 teams. These entrepreneurs will be given tools to build prototypes, receive funding and effectively grow their businesses.

Founded last year, VIP is a student-run incubator for tech startups that is open to all current USC students. It provides its teams with technical support, mentors and a co-working space, in addition to industry guest speakers. Participants need to be committed to their startups, which at the outset of the program varies from early-stage business plans to fully-launched companies.

VIP is located in the USC Hacker House on Adams Boulevard, where groups have access to workspace five days a week as well as a suite of technologies at their fingertips, such as 3D printing, virtual reality and motion sensors. Teams are paired with mentors that give feedback and advice on anything from product development to investor presentations.

VIP seeks to foster a collaborative environment between teams, creating a community of like-minded innovators. Participants have frequent opportunities to provide feedback and suggestions to other teams, with an emphasis on collective success rather than competition.

“We think of our [VIP’s] environment as more of a community than other incubators,” said Natalie Riso, vice president of marketing for VIP. “We have monthly dinners where teams talk about their current struggles and successes together and how they overcame different obstacles.”

VIP also hosts speakers often to connect groups with industry leaders, who share their professional experiences with students. Past speakers have included tech mogul Evan Spiegel, founder of Snapchat, and Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit.

Last year, VIP’s inaugural cohort boasted the largest percentage of its teams that received funding of all USC incubator programs. After VIP, startups go on to continue cultivating their products and services, receive financial support from venture capitalists or operate as an independent business. EnvoyNow, a popular app where students can order food for delivery from local restaurants, was selected for VIP last year.

HostelPass, a participant in VIP, is a startup that provides travelers an easy method for booking hostels while on the go and won last year’s “1000 Pitches” competition.

“Everyone in the VIP program has incredible ideas,” said Sarah Weingust, a senior majoring in psychology and a partner with HostelPass, in an email to the Daily Trojan. “I am excited to see how far we come collectively and individually through this process.”

Trakfire was also chosen to participate in VIP this year. Trakfire provides a platform where undiscovered artists have the opportunity to post their music and receive feedback from users via an upvote polling system. Music industry giant Jimmy Iovine serves as a mentor for the Trakfire team, and Troy Carter from the popular television show Shark Tank featured Trakfire as one of the top startups on his tech accelerator, SMASHD.

VIP is also working to create its first ever Startup Career Fair in February. Open to the public, attendees will be able to visit teams’ booths to learn about their companies and available job opportunities.

“The Venture Incubation Program is the newest and most comprehensive technology incubator in the USC ecosystem,” Riso said. “We strive to take and create companies that are ready for success regardless of their education level or specific industry.”

The program is currently accepting applications on a rolling basis, and interested students can visit VIP’s website or Facebook page for more information on applying.