The summer of start-ups
Leaders of a dozen emerging businesses received important tips of the trade in a summer pilot program offered for the first time at the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the USC Marshall School of Business.
“Being an entrepreneur can be lonely,” said Andrea Belz, an adjunct faculty member at the Greif Center who supervised the Acclerator+Incubator+Mentoring (AIM) program. “This is an opportunity to work together in a guided setting.”
Participants, most of whom run Internet companies, attended weekly workshops in which they heard experts speak on everything from the legal ramifications of operating a business to accounting and marketing practices. The program ran for 10 weeks and culminated in entrepreneurs making pitches to top local investors on Aug. 1.
The program, whose primary focus was networking and providing business expertise, was free of charge and only required that participants have some affiliation with USC Marshall. Different from other pilot programs, the effort does not take equity from participating companies nor charge additional fees.
Entrepreneurs included Steve Gatena, who earned a master’s degree in communication management from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2010 and now runs Rep Interactive, a video and broadcast media production company that started as a homework assignment in a business entrepreneurship course.
While he has a strong academic background in finance, accounting and business models, Gatena said he wants to better understand the consequences of his decisions before he makes them.
“The more I know, the better my odds of success,” he said. “This program has been extremely beneficial, and I am lucky to have had the opportunity to participate.
“There were a lot of smart people in our program,” added Gatena, a member of the 2009 USC football team. “Hearing their honest opinions and getting their help was invaluable. That kind of dynamic presents an opportunity to gain new insights.”
In Los Angeles, businesses such as Rep Interactive form the economic backbone, said Belz, whose efforts to grow technology companies includes stints at NASA, the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, Los Angeles. While the city’s economy is 60 percent as large as that in New York City, Los Angeles only has 15 percent as many Fortune 500 companies, she added, making the Greif program vital.
“If you care about the economy, you have to care about start-ups,” Belz said. “And if you care about start-ups, you have to find ways to support entrepreneurs. USC Marshall really wanted to create an innovative program to support its entrepreneurs outside the classroom.”
Another participant was Amy Liu, whose company MyPaperbuds is an e-commerce marketplace for worldwide graphic designers to sell and showcase print designs, including greeting cards, wedding invitations, stationery and wall art.
“The feedback I received on MyPaperbuds was one of the most valuable parts of the AIM program,” said Liu, who earned her MBA from USC Marshall in 2008. “It expanded our business network to include investors, experienced entrepreneurs and other aspiring entrepreneurs. The feedback we received allowed us to go back to the drawing board and really think of ways to improve our business.”