Viterbi incubator partners with Amazon

Amazon Alexa’s Fund is partnering with the Viterbi Startup Garage to focus on supporting entrepreneurs pursuing voice technology. The 12-month residency program begins in October.  (Photo courtesy of Viterbi School of Engineering)

The Viterbi Startup Garage is teaming up with Amazon’s Alexa Fund, the venture investment division of Amazon, to build the next generation of technological entrepreneurs. The partnership, which will begin in October, will focus on voice technology as part of the organization’s Fall 2019 cohort.

This year, student- and alumni-run companies selected to participate in the accelerator program — especially ones affiliated with USC — will have the opportunity to connect with Amazon mentors and investors in a 12-month residency ending on USC’s “Demonstration Day.” 

VSG Director David Eastman believes that the technology giant will be “a big help” with startups in the organization. 

“That Amazon [Innovator in Residence] is not just going to be working with the Amazon or the voice-enabled teams,” Eastman said. “They’ll be working with all the teams to give Amazon’s perspective, and because many technologies and hardware and software have a voice-enabled component to them, Amazon’s going to be assisting in that realm with all of our teams.”

The Viterbi Startup Garage was founded in 2013 as an entrepreneurship incubator by the USC Viterbi School of Engineering alongside venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and the United Talent Agency. 

The VSG is one of many university organizations dedicated to innovation and start-up ideas. James Bottom, project director of Blackstone Launchpad USC, another incubator on campus, believes the Amazon Alexa Fund and Alexa Fellowship will help university-affiliated startups.

“This generation should be the most entrepreneurial we have ever seen,” Bottom said. “In many industries, the days are gone where people would work for a company their entire career. We’re finding that more and more individuals are starting their own companies – smaller companies – so they can find ways to build their own businesses and grow.” 

VSG gives USC engineers and entrepreneurs the resources to specialize in deep technology such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and computer vision. Additionally, VSG provides access to resources across Los Angeles, such as a communal work space, legal and fundraising support and additional training. Students who join participate during a one-year residence program.

Though Amazon has partnered with the Viterbi School of Engineering on campus programs such as sponsoring natural language processing research at the USC Information Sciences Institute and the Amazon Alexa Voice Prize, this is the company’s first partnership with VSG.

Greta McAnany, a USC alumnus and founder of the startup firm Blue Fever, said the Garage provided her company with mentorship and support. To date, the VSG has sponsored 21 startups.

“They gave us the time, space and resources to grow as people,” McAnany said. “We were really given a lot of advice and mentorship and then the time to figure it out, which I think is the most valuable when you’re in a startup, because time is always of the essence.”