Conference highlights tech innovations

Entertainment and technology innovators gathered in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center Ballroom on Wednesday for the second annual Silicon Beach @ USC, a competition and conference on technology and innovation.

The two-day Silicon Beach @ USC was hosted by four professional schools at USC: the Marshall School of Business, the School of Cinematic Arts, the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and the Viterbi School of Engineering.

David Belasco, an MBA professor in the Marshall School, opened the event with a telling statement.

“Silicon Beach and USC should always be mentioned in the same sentence,” Belasco said.

The term used to describe the technology and entertainment ecosystem envisioned for Southern California, such as the already established Silicon Valley in Northern California.

“[The Institute for Communication Technology Management] was interested in doing an event that focused on the future of technology and was something that would be of benefit to students and the larger community,” said Jay Tucker, chief marketing director for Marshall and interim director of CTM.

“We were able to partner with the [Lloyd] Greif Center for Entrepreneurship on what we thought was a special opportunity to combine the venture competition and a conference as one experience.”

The two groups came up with Silicon Beach @ USC, which has started the cultivation of innovation and talent on and off campus. This year, student attendance nearly doubled from last year.

The day started with a presentation by Gerard Tellis, a Marshall professor and director of the USC Center for Global Innovation, on the secret to staying on top: unrelenting motivation.

The presentation was  followed by a series of panels covering topics ranging from start-ups to Hollywood. The first panel was led by Viterbi faculty member Ashish Soni, the founder of Viterbi Students Institute for Innovation and Viterbi Startup Garage. Soni’s programs are working to create the kind of ecosystem in which Viterbi students can make their ideas into reality.

Councilman Curren Price, who represents the area in which the University Park campus is situated, also attended the event, something the hosts of the program were happy about.

“Having our policy makers, our councilman, our state assemblymen, this sends the message that this is important to the city of L.A., but the thing that I really prize the most is the response from the USC and the Trojan community,” Tucker said.

The second panel dealt with the impact of mobility.

“This is not a tweet-free zone,” Ken Williams, executive director and CEO of the Entertainment Technology Center of USC     Cinematic Arts, said jokingly.

Director of Annenberg’s    Program on Online Communites, Karen North, also spoke on the panel.

“Mobile put all of us in the real time world. Things are happening, and we are either here, reacting, participating in the moment … That is the game changer,” North said.

The main topics of the mobility panel were immediacy, commentary on mobile being both a conduit for the virtual and physical and public policy.

“There’s always going to be a lag between what people are actually doing and what the law says they should do,” said David Anderson of Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP, a premier law firm that will provide legal services for winners of the Silicon Beach @ USC competition.

In the afternoon, Albert Cheng, the executive vice president and chief product officer at Disney/ABC held a “fireside chat.” Cheng noted that problems with constraints on both the market and people keep us from knowing what the future will look like. Despite this, Cheng attempted to forecast changes.

“The next wave is going to be less sexy, because it’s going to be focused on things the consumers can’t see,” he said. “The success of the business relies on good storytelling, period. How you get there changes a lot.”

In the afternoon, awards were presented to the contest winners. Sixty-two entrants in the fields of the technology, digital media and entertainment submitted their applications on Sept. 2. Forty-nine teams were invited to present on Sept. 10. On Sept. 17, 16 judges saw the top eight present. Each were given five minutes for presentation and five minutes for Q&A.

The $25,000 first place prize went to SellBot, a company created by brothers and USC graduates Michael and Payam Ahdoot. The technology is an e-commerce platform.

The $15,000 second place prize went to iScout. Creators Andrew Abramson, Brandon Ballew, Vincent Tsang and Andrew Costa pitched their idea as “moneyball for football.” iScout also received the “Disruptor” award from the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

Jill Bigelow, a USC MBA grad took home the $10,000 third place prize for her company, Pelv-ice. Pelv-ice helps those recovering from pelvic trauma.

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