Members of the Peter Kuhn Lab gather at the USC Michelson Center

Members of the Peter Kuhn Lab gather at the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience. The new USC and Techstars Digital Economy Accelerator will reinforce the work of the USC Michelson Center and the USC Stevens Center for Innovation. (Photo/Courtesy of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering)


USC collaborates with startup supporter Techstars to encourage intellectual property development

The university and Techstars will work together to accelerate opportunities for USC-affiliated entrepreneurs, including students, faculty and alumni.

February 27, 2024 By Paul McQuiston

USC will spark new startups and innovation under a new collaboration with Techstars, a leading pre-seed investor.

The collaboration is also promising for the local economy as ideas generated at USC are converted into products and businesses that will enhance the university’s economic footprint at “Silicon Beach.” The budding tech corridor spans Los Angeles County and portions of Orange County, and it hosts several tech and biotech industry leaders, including the USC Information Sciences Institute in Marina del Rey and the USC Institute for Creative Technologies in Los Angeles.

“Our mission is to foster an ecosystem that thrives on innovative thinking, groundbreaking translational research and multidisciplinary collaborations that drive meaningful impact,” said Ishwar K. Puri, USC’s senior vice president of research and innovation. “This new partnership with Techstars is certain to inspire growth in the Southern California innovation ecosystem and fortify the fast-growing tech corridor that stretches from Santa Barbara through L.A. to San Diego. We look forward to building an entrepreneurship accelerator that produces even more student, faculty and alumni startups.”

USC is one of the largest private employers in the L.A. economy. With nearly 4,800 faculty and 47,000 students, it also boasts a significant brain trust with the potential to solve significant challenges such as treatment of health issues by translating research into biomedical devices, drug therapies, tech devices and software, and other product development.

“It is critical that we uplift and empower inventors and founders across all idea development stages,” said Shirley Romig, chief accelerator investment officer at Techstars. “Together with USC, we will be able to provide the ambitious and innovative thinkers within the Trojan community with the tools needed for impactful success.”

Techstars will introduce USC faculty, students and alumni to the business of startup formation by providing assistance at the pre-seed stage through a two-pronged approach — one that is focused on education and networking and the other on business acceleration.

The USC and Techstars Digital Economy Accelerator will invest in selected USC-affiliated companies, empowering founders and facilitating startups’ growth through support, education, access to its global network of partners, and fundraising opportunities. The University Catalyst pre-accelerator program will provide training and support for USC students, faculty and alumni interested in starting their own company. Together, Techstars support and programming will bolster USC entrepreneurs’ efforts to move their intellectual property from concept to market.

The Techstars collaboration is another key development in the USC Frontiers of Computingmoonshot.” Announced by USC President Carol Folt in May, the $1 billion-plus investment is advancing and expanding computing research and education across the university in a strategic, thoughtful way to transform USC’s future.

USC entrepreneurship extends to Silicon Beach Campus

The Techstars programs will enable USC to expand its footprint in the Silicon Beach corridor that is home to more than 500 tech companies and startups, including Google, Amazon, SpaceX and others.

The cornerstones of USC’s Silicon Beach Campus are its two computing-centric institutes affiliated with the USC Viterbi School of Engineering: the Information Sciences Institute in Marina del Rey and the Institute for Creative Technologies in Playa Vista. Powerhouses in their respective fields, these institutes have made groundbreaking discoveries such as the Domain Name System (commonly known as DNS, and why web addresses end in .com, .edu, .net) and the technology underlying the Oculus Rift, among many others.

USC is also a leader in quantum computing, which promises to transform cybersecurity, material discovery, fintech and drug discovery. In 2011, USC became the first university in the world to host and operate a commercial quantum computing system, the USC Quantum Computing Center in Silicon Beach, which houses a D-Wave quantum computer.

With Techstars, the university is fostering an even friendlier climate for entrepreneurship across the university. Researchers at the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience, for instance, are investigating some of the greatest health challenges we face.

The center which draws together collaborators across the sciences, was founded with a gift by renowned inventor and surgeon Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson, to develop new drug therapies and devices as solutions for health issues ranging from cancer to blindness.

Steve Kay, who directs the center, said the agreement with Techstars will help eliminate obstacles to commercialization.

“The new partnership between USC and Techstars forms an important component of building an innovation ecosystem that supports our emerging entrepreneurs,” said Kay, a University Professor and director of convergent biosciences at USC Michelson Center. “Partnerships such as these can lower the barrier to entry for faculty and students considering creating a startup company founded upon USC IP. Early-stage support is critical to our success in this arena.”

Ellis Meng, vice dean of technology innovation and entrepreneurship and professor at USC Viterbi, develops novel micro- and nanotechnologies for biomedical applications that have been spun off into two companies. Mark Humayun, director of the USC Dr. Allen and Charlotte Ginsburg Institute for Biomedical Therapeutics, received international attention for his development of a stem cell-based implant that has shown promise in preliminary clinical trials in reversing macular degeneration.

With this new agreement, USC faculty, researchers, students and alumni developing the next generation of potentially life-changing technologies can access the resources of the Techstars network to transform their ideas from concept to product and to network with startups and venture capitalists in the Silicon Beach area.

“We’re very excited for this new partnership with Techstars that will help us form partnerships in the Los Angeles area,” said Steven Moldin, USC interim associate vice president of research strategy and innovation. “It will enhance innovation in Los Angeles by investing in companies that utilize USC research and talent, and Techstars will give the USC community the required resources to successfully launch business ideas.”

Techstars builds upon USC’s foundation for IP support

The new partnership will reinforce the work of the USC Stevens Center for Innovation, the university’s technology licensing office. Led by executive director Erin Overstreet, the center was established by a gift from USC Viterbi alumnus and USC Board of Trustees member Mark Stevens to support entrepreneurship at the university and the commercialization of USC IP.

The USC Stevens Center will streamline the IP commercialization process to match the robust support and faster development time of the Techstars accelerator program. Twelve USC-affiliated companies will be selected each year to participate in the USC and Techstars Digital Economy Accelerator.

“Our partnership with Techstars is a strategic step toward realizing an even greater impact on the Southern California innovation ecosystem,” Overstreet said. “It catalyzes product-oriented research and entrepreneurial ventures among our faculty and students and fulfills a critical need for the USC community. We’re excited about the unique opportunities this collaboration presents.”