What do a venture capitalist, two shoe designers, a marine biologist, a scholar and an app entrepreneur have in common? They’re all smart and accomplished enough to be among the Trojans on the latest Forbes “30 under 30” list only a few years out of USC.
This is the fifth year Forbes has tallied the best and the brightest — not to mention the most disruptive — young people in 20 sectors, ranging from art to technology, medicine to finance, science to social entrepreneurship. The folks on the list were nominated by peers and chosen by leaders in their respective fields.
Let’s meet some of the USC alumni on this year’s list:
The retail/e-commerce guys
Twins Adam and Ryan Goldston ’09 started their Athletic Propulsion Labs (APL) high-end sneaker in their USC dorm room while testing its feasibility in Tommy Knapp’s Entrepreneurship 452 class at the USC Marshall School of Business. After the NBA banned its players from using the performance enhancing APL shoe in 2010, media attention sent sales skyward, and today the shoes are sold around the world in high-end retailers including Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue and Net-a-Porter.
The two were on the list for their achievements in retail and e-commerce.
“I can’t think of a better way to start off 2016,” said Ryan Goldston, who along with his brother once played basketball and football for USC.
“It’s such an honor to have our vision for our brand and our approach to retail and e-commerce embraced in such a major way. We are both so honored!”
Constance Iloh ’15 graduated from the PhD program in May and accepted a position as assistant professor of higher education at the University of California, Irvine, School of Education. However, she deferred those plans to accept a UC Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellowship. At Commencement, Iloh became the first from the USC Rossier School of Education to receive the USC PhD Achievement Award, the highest honor given to any USC PhD holder.
In honoring Iloh, Forbes noted that Iloh explores “‘narratives of the most underserved students and understudied sectors of post-secondary education,’ including for-profit and community colleges.” She is the only scholar/academic listed in the education category and the only one currently working at a university or college.
She was awarded the USC Rossier Dissertation Award of Merit for her yearlong exploration of Black students going to the for-profit higher education sector. In February 2015 she served as a panelist for the Aligning for Black Excellence in Higher Education Summit, which was sponsored by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, USC Black Alumni Association and Ebony magazine.
The STEM star
Ask Dieuwertje “DJ” Kast ’11 what role STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education plays in her job and she’ll put you straight.
“STEM IS my job,” she said. The Amsterdam native and marine biologist is singularly devoted to bringing the magic of science to schoolchildren.
As manager of the USC Joint Educational Project (JEP), she provides support and materials for her STEM educators in USC’s Wonderkids and Young Scientists programs. She is also the STEM coordinator for the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative.
The curriculum she writes for STEM educators comes straight from her experiences as a STEM student, she said. And because of USC’s strength in STEM education, she is a Trojan four times over, with one bachelor’s of science, two master’s degrees and a teaching credential.
She was chosen for her accomplishments in the science arena.
Inclusion in the list means one thing to her: “It strengthens my belief that helping to educate and train our next generation of young scientists is of utmost importance and further encourages me to move forward with this work.”
The money guy
Alex Kurland ’10, was honored for his achievements in venture capital. As a principal with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’ Digital Growth fund, he has sourced and led the firm’s investment strategy in startups and disruptive technology plays.
“It is very rare for an undergraduate to break into venture capital, especially one of the iconic Sand Hill Road firms like KPCB,” said Julia Plotts, associate professor of clinical finance and business economics, who taught Kurland in her FBE 421 Financial Analysis and Valuation class. “But then Alex is ridiculously smart, and also funny and personable. Of the many smart students I’ve taught at USC Marshall over the years, Alex was one who stood out.”
Kurland came to USC on a baseball scholarship and, despite a demanding travel and practice schedule, maintained a high GPA, Plotts said. He graduated magna cum laude.
Making the Forbes list “is a nice recognition of hard work and a little success,” Kurland said. “What’s special, however, is the recognition of my peers and the highly respected V.C. professionals who chose me.”
The idea guy
Ryan Ozonian ’09, is a co-founder of Cyber Dust, the ephemeral messaging app backed and co-founded by serial entrepreneur Mark Cuban. While studying at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Ozonian took several entrepreneurship classes at USC Marshall’s Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.
“The professors at the Greif Center inspired me to challenge myself, take risks and meet as many people as possible,” he said. “Greif and ’SC taught me how to have fun — maybe a little too much fun at the 9-0 — while managing my responsibilities. I still carry that mindset with me today.” Which is a good thing if you work closely with Mark Cuban.
Making the list, in the category of consumer technology, is an accomplishment and proves to him that “believing in yourself regardless of what others expect of you can pay off,” he said. “I would never have made this list if it wasn’t for the people who have surrounded me throughout my life.”
He pays it forward by hiring Trojans for his team and speaking to USC entrepreneurship students who are just starting out.
… and more Trojans
- Blendspace is a education technology company co-founded by Amy Lin, who studied computer science and received her BS in 2008 and MS in 2009 from USC Viterbi School of Engineering. The company provides teachers access to create lessons from digital content and was acquired by TES in 2014.
- Kai Stephan ’09, who received his BS in mechanical engineering, is the founder and CEO of Pegasus Solar, a company that engineers and manufactures solar rooftop installation systems.
The USC Rossier and Viterbi schools contributed to this report.