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Entrepreneurs head to the beach

by Allison Stateman
Andrew Stalbow, North American general manager of Rovio Entertainment, discusses Angry Birds Space during the keynote address of USC's Silicon Beach Conference. (Photo/Dan Avila)

USC’s Silicon Beach Conference captured how the rise of technology start-ups, and the access to Hollywood’s entertainment and creative talent have created a new hub for entrepreneurs.

The event — hosted last month by the USC Marshall School of Business, the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, the Institute for Communication Technology Management (CTM) and the USC School of Cinematic Arts — provided a unique forum for business and technology leaders to connect with creative visionaries and entrepreneurs.

This year’s conference featured a series of panels to educate start-ups on trends in entertainment distribution. Executives from Sony Pictures, Disney, Rovio Entertainment and Qualcomm Labs took part in panel presentations.

Jay Tucker, CTM associate director, moderated an opening panel that featured Sandy Gould, vice president of recruitment at the Disney-ABC Television Group, and Kevin Winston, founder of Digital LA.

Gould and Winston spoke about how Southern California’s Silicon Beach is changing the professional environment and approach to entrepreneurship.

Tucker highlighted the emerging opportunities for young professionals at both start-ups and established companies.

“Technological advancements and the rise of start-ups are radically transforming traditional Los Angeles business sectors like Hollywood entertainment,” he said.

“We now live in a time when actually we should be driving the change,” said Gould, adding that job titles and responsibilities are no longer static, and flexibility is particularly important when pitching entrepreneurial ideas.

“It’s a great time to experiment with what you want to do,” Winston added. “Follow up, see your passions through. Get it done. People want to see that you’re committed.”

The intersection of entertainment and technology makes Los Angeles a vibrant place for start-ups, the panelists noted, adding that the market is open to creativity and flexibility in addition to having several big names that can boost the reputation of a new enterprise.

Gould said that with the rise of digital and social media, “there’s so much more capability, power and influence in the hands of the community,” which makes sharing ideas and creating a user base easier.

Andrew Stalbow, North American general manager of Rovio Entertainment, the company behind Angry Birds, spoke with Lucy Hood, CTM executive director, during the forum’s keynote address regarding his company’s meteoric rise and expansion plans.

With what began as a 99-cent mobile app in 2009, the “Angry Birds” brand now encompasses everything from plush toys to books and lucrative marketing alliances with organizations, such as NASA, which has helped promote Angry Birds Space, Rovio Entertainment’s newest game.

“We have over a billion downloads of Angry Birds games on people’s connective devices,” Stalbow said. “Our marketing budget to help get those downloads is zero; not one dollar have we spent on marketing. What we have done is we’ve gone out and found awesome partners who can help us get our message out to a wide range of people.”

In addition to the discussions, this year’s conference featured a competition for fledgling ventures pursuing opportunities in new media platforms, in which teams vied for $50,000 in prize money.

Music Prodigy won the first prize of $25,000 and a three-month membership at io/LA, a co-working space and accelerator. Hive Lighting finished second and netted $15,000, while CodeWars placed third and received $10,000.

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