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Silicon Beach’s economic steam gets boost from Hollywood and academia

by Alison Stateman

Southern California offers two institutions that Silicon Valley can’t: Hollywood and USC. And as the two players grow increasingly connected in the digital world, so grows the region’s entrepreneurial tech culture, headquartered at what’s dubbed “Silicon Beach.”

Top executives from Hollywood studios, creative minds from Los Angeles-area tech startups and leaders in academia recently came together at the second annual Silicon Beach@USC conference. Organizers highlighted innovations in digital media and technology and awarded funds to promising new enterprises.

Andrew Thomas and Jay Tucker

Entrepreneur Andrew Thomas, left, speaks with USC’s Jay Tucker at the Silicon Beach@USC conference.

“When we talk about Silicon Beach and what’s unique about LA, there are certain things here that you’re not going to have anywhere else in the world,” said Jay Tucker, Silicon Beach@USC founder and chief marketing officer and interim director of the Institute for Communication Technology Management at the USC Marshall School of Business. “We have Hollywood. We have elite universities. The business community, the communications industry, the entertainment industry and the engineering disciplines, USC and SoCal are places that uniquely synthesize these disciplines and create new business opportunities. We have a chance to build things that can’t be built anyplace else.”

The Sept. 17-18 event was hosted by the Institute for Communication Technology Management and the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and attracted nearly 500 participants to USC’s Ronald Tutor Campus Center.

Presented with the USC School of Cinematic Arts’ Entertainment Technology Center, the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, the conference included a day of panels and keynote addresses on a variety of topics, including how to build a tech startup, mobile strategy and perspectives from studio execs on new media economics.

The conference also included a presentation of the Silicon Beach Awards, which provide development and capital support for new ventures with a USC connection. Eight finalists — selected from a pool of 62 applicants whose ventures focus on technology, digital media or entertainment — vied for $50,000 in prize money. (Enterprises had to have at least one current USC student — graduate or undergraduate — or at least one USC alum less than 10 years from graduation.)

Among the Silicon Beach Awards winners:

  • Sellbot, a multichannel e-commerce platform for online sellers. Created by USC Marshall senior Michael Ahdoot and his brother Payam Ahdoot MBA ’13, Sellbot took first place and won $25,000 toward their venture. Michael, a self-described lifelong hacker, is the duo’s programming mind, while Payam hustles on the sales and marketing side. The Ahdoots became the seventh-biggest sellers on eBay within a year of starting to use their platform.
  • iScout, a cloud-based platform that offers a scientific analysis of football. The platform would enable the NFL and NCAA to use advanced statistics and predictive analytics to make better-informed play and scouting decisions. Founders Andrew Abramson, Brandon Ballew, Andrew Costa and Vincent Tsang, all in USC Marshall’s part-time MBA program, earned $15,000 for iScout. They also received a $5,000 award from the Marshall Center for Global Innovation for most disruptive technology — a way of saying the platform has the potential to change the business of professional and collegiate sports.
  • Pelv-ice, a patented pelvic support device for those recovering from pelvic trauma. Founded by Jill Bigelow MBA ’07, a finance professional, the venture finished third and won $10,000 to aid in company development.

A variety of finance executives and tech veterans spoke in panel discussions moderated by Tucker and USC Viterbi’s Ashish Soni. Among the lead conference speakers:

  • Gerard Tellis, director of the USC Center for Global Innovation and author of Unrelenting Innovation, spoke about the need for companies to strive to embrace risks.
  • Albert Cheng, executive vice president and chief product officer of digital media for the Disney/ABC Television Group, talked with David Cohen of Variety about the culture of innovation in his group, which has encouraged experimentation with new entertainment viewing platforms.  

Visit USC Marshall’s event site for a full list of presenters and other information on the Silicon Beach@USC conference.

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