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Entrepreneurs look for a leg up with startups

Ten-week accelerator aims to push budding businesses to the next level

Sophomores Sydney Liu and Kevin Chen
Sophomores Sydney Liu and Kevin Chen are the entrepreneurs behind a startup that matches students and recruiters at career fairs. (Photo/Brian Morri)

Top This Chocolate is a chain of customizable shops where liquid chocolate is topped with treats. GlycoGum is ready to create a prototype of a chewing gum-based glucose-monitoring device for Type 2 diabetics. Desert Farms Inc. seeks to grow its sales of camel milk.

Twenty student- and alumni-led startups like these are participating this summer in a program called Accelerate + Incubate + Mentor (AIM), a 10-week accelerator at the USC Marshall School of Business’ Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

“The Greif Center accelerator is a really exciting program to help push startups to the next level,” said Albert Napoli, a lecturer in entrepreneurship at the Greif Center.

Some may move from beta to launch, while others may better their business acumen or access capital to purchase equipment.

This could mean different things for different teams. Some may move from beta to launch, while others may better their business acumen or access capital to purchase equipment or resources to increase sales.

Valuable resources

Launched in 2012, AIM provides entrepreneurs within the USC community with resources designed to improve the odds of success for startups. A recognized leader in entrepreneurship education, the Greif Center offers intensive instruction covering everything from business models, growth strategies, branding and marketing (to both customers and investors) to legal infrastructure and financial strategy. All teams consult with Greif Center faculty on key business issues.

Tapping into the Trojan Network, throughout the 10 weeks each AIM team is mentored by USC alumni, supporters and industry experts who provide guidance, resources and strategic development.

The Greif Center also has partnered with the Pasadena City College Small Business Development Center to provide one-on-one training on running the back office.

“AIM teams have direct access to consultants — at no cost — to help guide and align them to proper resources, including funding, accounting, graphic artists and marketing experts, to name a few,” said Salvatrice Cummo, director of the center. “Ultimately, this partnership will foster growth and help each company reach measurable milestones. This partnership speaks volumes on USC Marshall’s commitment to cultivating and empowering the entrepreneurial-minded.”

Unlike a traditional accelerator, which might provide capital infusion or take an equity stake in the companies, the Greif Center provides the startups access to capital through outside investors, lenders or partners.

“Our accelerator is also unique in that we are industry agnostic,” Napoli said. “This year our teams, selected from a pool of 55 applicants, represent a wide range of innovative ideas, from a patented knee brace to an online digital music platform.”

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