There’s networking, and then there’s the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies’ Networking Day – an annual event that shows how they get things done at the USC Marshall School of Business.
From aspiring entrepreneurs to USC Marshall students who already have started businesses to serial entrepreneurs with companies boasting millions in revenues, more than 360 attendees had the chance to introduce their ideas and business needs on March 3 in a fast-paced event.
After the opening remarks by director Gene Miller and the center’s founding donor Lloyd Greif MBA ’79, dozens of attendees lined up at microphones and fired off timed 30-second pitches, seeking everything from mentors and marketing assistance to customers and funding. A technology startup was looking for advisory board members; a fitness company needed an operations person. Some pitches offered employment; one mentioned free beer.
Brent Freeman ’08 said he was looking for “strategic partners passionate about social entrepreneurship” for his company, Roozt Inc., which provides “a curated shopping experience where customers can discover new, cause-related brands.”
A 15-year-old pitching a product idea – a sweatshirt with inflatable areas to provide an instant solution to uncomfortable seats – turned out to be the son of Howie Greller ’74, who coincidentally is in fashion design.
“I love that – of course, he’s my son – but anyone here has the spirit,” Greller said. “It’s really a great joy to see people who are willing to take the risk and give it a shot.”
Greller, 1978 Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year, later approached Freeman about a shoe brand that might be perfect for Roozt.
Afterward in breakout groups of 10, participants were given 30 seconds for a pitch then switched groups for another round. A half hour was allotted to connect with individuals whose pitches had appeal. Cathy Kim MBA ’11 was looking for someone to help her design and find materials for a new miniature and environmentally friendly lipstick women can use once or twice and discard.
In another group was Najah Diop, who attended as part of the College Bound program, which, with the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, brought several African-American high school students to the event.
Having worked with USC Marshall professors William Crookston and Stacy Geck, the poised junior from Northridge was excited to have the opportunity to seek a mentor to help her realize Sweet Nuances, a dessert bar for people who have allergies like she does.
“I wanted to make some contacts and learn how people got started,” she said.
A message heard throughout the day was that entrepreneurship is about taking action and risk – even in education.
Celebrating its 40th anniversary, the Lloyd Greif Center was the first university program of its kind. Greif, 1987 Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year, proudly emphasized in his opening comments that USC Marshall professors “walk the walk” as teachers and entrepreneurs. He pointed out that nine of the faculty members have won Golden Apple Awards for teaching excellence, some more than once.
Students reap the benefits of studying with those professor-practitioners: Fifty-seven percent of undergraduates start a business while still in school or immediately after graduation, Greif said. Some of those students showcased their businesses and products in the courtyard outside the Town & Gown ballroom.
In addition to Greif, 10 other winners of the Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year award were in attendance and recognized, including Nick Colachis ’82, Jim Colachis ’82 and Greg Farber ’81, who were awarded the aforementioned title in 1984 and brought national media attention to the program with their Men and Women of USC Looking Good calendars, and Shannon Gans MS ’95, who wrote the business plan for New Deal Studios while an undergraduate. Gans was awarded the title in 2000.
In his acceptance speech, 2012 recipient Scott Yamano ’98, founder and CEO of Dedicated Media, credited USC, USC Marshall, the Lloyd Greif Center, his professors, his mentor and his parents with his success and was equally enthusiastic about Networking Day.
“To be able to have access to former winners, that’s a dream for me – to be able to shake hands and exchange business cards with people that I admire that have been very successful,” Yamano said. “Some of these previous winners are household names. The opportunity to have access to them is huge, the opportunity to be in that group is mind-boggling.”