Students launch innovation week with speakers

Photo by Jonathan Wong | Daily Trojan

What started off as a series of late-night cross-disciplinary talks between seniors Sophie Wix and Lindsey Beach became a week-long symposium for student entrepreneurs and industry leaders — and now, USC’s first-ever Innovation Week is taking place this week.

The four-day event, which started Monday, will showcase student projects and business ventures that address pressing themes, from health to sustainability.

“It’s not about the ‘what’ or the ‘how’ as much as the ‘why,’” said Wix, the president and co-founder of Innovation Week. “The ‘why’ drives you at the end of the day. You have to be willing to make sacrifices. Use this time to really understand what your passion is and dig deep into that, because when times get tough, what you really care about is going to pull you through.”

Over the summer, Wix, who is studying health and human sciences, and Beach, who is studying business administration, worked with co-founders Luke McGartland, a senior majoring in arts, technology, and the business of innovation, and Kabir Sagoo, a USC alumnus who studied neuroscience, entrepreneurship and international relations, to make Innovation Week a reality.

“It’s all about handing it back to the students and saying here’s a space for you to network and to share ideas and to really organically connect across disciplines,” Wix said.

Each day addresses a grand challenge with student, faculty and alumni panelists. Human health, e-currency technology and sustainability were selected as the year’s most pressing concerns. The event has been featured on the website for InnovateLA, a two-week gathering in November for innovators and entrepreneurs.

On Monday, the first night of Innovation Week, the focus was on human health. At a panel discussion in Fertitta Hall, Marshall alumnus and Health-Ade Kombucha co-founder Vanessa Dew described her commitment to the process of crafting authentic kombucha.

She said she founded her business to emphasize quality and customer satisfaction, using fresh, organic, local ingredients. Since selling its first bottles in 2012, Health-Ade Kombucha has expanded sales to all 50 states and opened a brewery in Torrance, Calif.

Human Health Night also featured Sara Ma, a senior majoring in arts, technology and the business of innovation and a researcher and designer for CancerBase. CancerBase was founded by scientists Jan Liphardt at Stanford and Peter Kuhn at USC, according to its website.

The platform allows cancer patients to contribute to an online database to improve cancer research. Patients can also connect with each other through CancerBase, pursue different treatment options and learn how to improve their quality of life.

Ma spoke on the importance of giving personal help to those living with cancer. By enhancing the conversations patients can have with their doctors and caretakers, CancerBase helps patients manage their lives and treatment, she said.

Ma developed the brand and logo for CancerBase and contributed to former Vice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Summit in 2016.

“We love the process of innovation,” Ma said. “If you love the process and the people [who] you’re working with, the process of solving problems, you’ll be able to stay in the game and focus your attention on solving a problem.”

Ethan Bresnick, a freshman majoring in media arts and practice, spoke about his work with developing Augmedix, which is powered by Google Glass. In high school, he joined Augmedix as the fifth founding member, serving as the creative director. This health care application helps doctors maximize their time with their patients, quickly pulling up records so that they are able to assist their patients. Augmedix has partnered with Sutter Health and Dignity Health.

On Wednesday, Blockchain Night will promote the new technology that gained popularity with the digital currency Bitcoin. Student innovators and industry leaders will discuss the future of blockchain in entrepreneurship, and USC Marshall professor James Healey will moderate a panel with experts in the innovative technology.

On Thursday, Sustainability Night will showcase leaders in technology for social change.

Innovation Week will end with a two-hour Impact Night on Friday. Brian Shepard, assistant dean of the Iovine and Young Academy, will lead the discussion with panelists Amanda Daflos, the director of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Innovation Team; Albert Lawrence, correspondent on The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation and Robbie Cabral, founder of padlock company Benjilock.

Beyond USC, Wix and her co-founders hope to spread Innovation Week to other universities worldwide. The London School of Economics will host its first Innovation Week next semester, and the founders of Innovation Week at USC are in talks with student leaders at some East Coast universities.