USC startups pitch to venture capitalists at showcase
Over 1,000 students gathered at Bovard Auditorium Monday night for the annual USC TAMID Tank, which allowed several students to pitch to a venture capitalist panel for potential investment.
TAMID Tank, modeled after the ABC television show Shark Tank, featured three student startup groups. With more than 35 applicants, the organizers of the event selected only three groups via student body voting online.
According to Daniel Newman, who founded the event at USC last year after seeing its success at Queens College, the organization was created to empower students by giving undergraduates an opportunity to showcase their ideas on stage with venture capitalists.
“What I realized is that a lot of people at USC had a bunch of ideas, but none of them actually acted on [them],” Newman said. “I realized sometimes when I spoke to them, the reason they thought was they were too young and too inexperienced to actually go out and pitch their idea to raise money.”
The three student founders who led the group pitches were Sarah Allen, a senior majoring in arts, technology and the business of innovation; Molly McClary, a junior majoring in public relations; and Jack Agarwal, a senior in the World Bachelor in Business program.
IN/LINE, a startup founded by Allen and Ben Choe, a senior majoring in arts, technology and the business of innovation, is a fashion showroom solution that provides efficiency for wholesale buying appointments. According to Allen, this software development solution is aimed at making the wholesale buying and fashion industry more efficient and fast paced for niche retail clients.
“Wholesales has not been touched [by software solutions],” Choe said. “We realize that IN/LINE has the potential to revolutionize wholesale business. Not only make the jobs easier for sales reps, but allowing brand to generate more revenue while developing stronger relationships with their clients.”
ABLEapp, founded by McClary, is a customer review-driven platform that connects parents of individuals with intellectual disabilities to services for a lifetime. The app was created to aid families with mentally disabled children through digitally connecting parents with each other, therapists and medical providers.
“We create ABLEapp as a way to alleviate some of the apprehensions that parents face day-to-day,” McClary said. “We are a platform that connects parents to better resources and services for each and every stage of their child’s life.”
Itinero, co-founded by Agarwal, is a consumer tool delivering itineraries that fit consumer preferences and schedules. The app considers traffic time, weather, scheduling and entertainment factors to deliver a more efficient itinerary planning experience for users.
“Itinero guides you through your free time by creating a road map of activities and great restaurant recommendations based on your budget, you time frame and your personality, like maybe adventurous or laid back or romantic,” Agarwal said. “Itinero is the quickest way where you can go from not knowing what to do to doing fun things in Los Angeles, never having to waste another second planning.”
The event also featured investors on the Venture Capitalists panel as keynote speakers of the night. Speakers included Tinder co-founder Jonathan Badeen, Applied Semantics co-founder Eytan Elbaz, former Nickelodeon actress Jesse Draper, Luma Launch venture lead Laurent Grill and PLG Ventures partner Elaine Russell.
Elbaz shared his experience building a successful startup business.
“You are not really going to know whether or not [your startup] will be received well,” Elbaz said. “One of these products might be a great product … but you should think about the size of the company you want to have, the aspirations you have. [You should] be honest and realistic about how big the idea is that you are focusing on.”
According to Badeen, TAMID Tank makes an effort to invite a panel of experienced and successful investors. The organizers want to provide audiences and competitors with valuable feedback regarding their innovations and how to execute them into reality.
“As an entrepreneur, you are creating tools for everybody,” Badeen said. “So the more that you understand everybody and markets the better you are. Don’t be afraid of going off an uneven path and learning something.”
TAMID Tank introduced a new segment, “Life after TAMID Tank,” to the event. According to TAMID Tank chair Deepthi Sampathkumar, the segment was implemented to reflect upon the lasting impact TAMID Tank has had in supporting last year’s winner Kevin Kassel in his startup career.
“I wanted to make sure that it has an impact on these students,” Sampathkumar said. “They come, they pitch, they get an investment. And it is really important to get to see how that investment helped them.”
Another mission of TAMID Tank is to forge a connection between the Israeli economy and American entrepreneurship.
“[Israel] has a solution-oriented mindset that has to deal with things in a very specific, short amount of time,” said Elbaz, an Israeli American entrepreneur. “So when you think of responding to the threat of annihilation, needing to innovate, getting a product out quickly, the same things that help you essentially defend the nation are the exact same skills that you need to build a startup. So that is what Israel has done.”
The competing companies were judged by two factors: the audience attendance and the opinions of the panel of venture capitalists. After tallying the votes from both peers and investors, ABLEapp came in third place, Itinero second and IN/LINE took the grand prize of $1,000 to develop their startup.