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Guiding the Next Big Idea From Lab to Marketplace

A national investment aims to propel technologies from top U.S. universities into your own hands and homes.

March 15, 2016 Alicia Di Rado

For investors looking for the next big idea, research universities can be a gold mine. But faculty scientists and engineers often don’t know how to adapt their work for the marketplace.

Enter the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Innovation Corps, a network of entrepreneurial hubs that help spin off technologies from top U.S. universities.

Southern California recently became one of the Innovation Corps program’s newest regional “nodes,” which include locations from the Bay Area to New York City. Called Innovation Node–Los Angeles, it’s headquartered at USC and brings together faculty from universities including USC, Caltech and UCLA for entrepreneurship education and support.

“Combined, we graduate more engineering graduate students than anywhere in the country, so it makes sense to have this network in Southern California,” says Andrea Belz, director of Innovation Node–Los Angeles. Belz is entrepreneur-in-residence at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering with appointments at the USC Iovine and Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation and the USC Marshall School of Business.

Yannis C. Yortsos, dean of USC Viterbi, is principal investigator.

“We teach, we think, we launch and we link,” Belz says of the program. “We teach entrepreneurship to engineers from freshmen to postdoctoral fellows and infuse business-model thinking into curriculum. We have a leading research partnership to understand engineering entrepreneurship. We help companies get started. And we link the universities to each other and link innovators with capital and mentors.”

Peter Beerel, faculty director of innovation and entrepreneurship in engineering at USC Viterbi, also heads up NSF-funded innovation efforts specific to USC. These include funds for a pitch competition and a program that helps USC PhD students start commercializing their ideas.

What’s next? Growth, Belz says.

The Los Angeles node is based on the University Park Campus, but expect it to deepen its presence at Silicon Beach.