School:University of Southern California

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The University of Southern California (USC) is a private, not-for-profit, nonsectarian, research university located in Los Angeles, California. USC was founded in 1880, making it California's oldest private research university. The university has a "very high" level of research activity, receiving $691 million in sponsored research between 2014 and 2015.

Dr. C. L. Max Nikias became the University of Southern California’s eleventh president in August 2010. Dr. Nikias is the holder of the Robert C. Packard President’s Chair and the Malcolm R. Currie Chair in Technology and the Humanities, and also chairs the USC Hospital’s Governing Board. He holds faculty appointments in both electrical engineering and the classics.

Not surprisingly, culture and community are important drivers of innovation at USC. Since innovation and entrepreneurship is ultimately about cultural change, university leadership works hard to drive community awareness of USC as an innovation “magnet.” At USC, innovation is not an exclusive preserve of any school or center; a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship is promoted and celebrated campus wide without bias. Centers and institutes are not innovation silos but instead function as parts of a cohesive university community.

The Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the USC Marshall School of Business is the nation's oldest integrated entrepreneurship program. Consistently ranked among the top programs in the United States and abroad, the Greif Center was named #3 by US News & World Report in its Best Business Schools 2016 rankings, and #4 worldwide by the Financial Times in 2015. With more than 68 courses taught by 27 professors and clinical practitioners, the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies is a leader in entrepreneurship education and research.

Ms. Krisztina “Z” Holly, previous vice provost for innovation at  USC and executive director of the USC Stevens Institute for Innovation, works with academic units across USC to identify promising innovations and innovators, helping faculty and students make societal impact with their ideas. Z, a member of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NACIE), oversees a diverse staff with expertise spanning business, marketing, financial and intellectual property management, technology licensing, and new venture creation. Together with the USC Stevens Institute for Innovation, her mission is to maximize the translation of USC research into products for public benefit through licenses, collaborations, and the promotion of entrepreneurship and innovation.

To further drive research and innovation at USC, Mark and Mary Stevens donated $50 million in 2015 to endow the USC Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute.

Most recently conceived as a collaborative environment that brings exceptional students together with visionary faculty and professional mentors, the USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation is a transformational presence on one of the nation’s most dynamic university campuses. This Bachelor of Science in Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation degree offers a highly select group of students an integrated, four-year course of study that provides in-depth learning in three areas: art and design, engineering and computer science, and business and venture management. Throughout the program, students are taught to think seamlessly across multiple disciplines and to apply a vast array of relevant technologies and techniques toward innovative problem solving.

In addition to being dispersed campus wide, innovation at USC is top-down/bottom-up agnostic. Innovative “garage” and “scalable” businesses alike are encouraged, especially among the student community. Consistent with USC’s bottom-up approach, two USC seniors (Nathan Doctor and Reuben Fine) are helping entrepreneurially minded students connect with innovative companies who are seeking “out-of-the-box” thinkers. With support from entrepreneurial and engineering campus organizations, the seniors hosted a special event called the Entrepreneur Recruit at USC in April 2012. Another student driven innovation event is the recently concluded the USC Gamers Network presents: GAME ON 3, a semi-annual video game tournament.

Other competitions and events with industry partners abound. With assistance from innovation partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), TEDxUSC 2012 delivered an intellectual journey filled with brilliant speakers, captivating performances, amazing new technology, and thought-provoking short films.  The theme for that year’s event was “A Journey Through Spheres of Influence.” Another industry sponsored event, Red Bull North America’s Game & Demo Lounge, featured interactive tech demos, next generation video games, and a digital media art gallery.

TEDx, launched by USC in 2009, has become a global phenomenon. It has resulted in over 3,200 TEDx events in more than 90 countries and 40 different languages. TEDxUSC is produced and managed by the USC Stevens Institute for Innovation. These and several other USC innovation and entrepreneurship events have been invaluable in securing external stakeholder buy-in, as well as in enhancing USC’s reputation as an innovation community.

Institutional agnosticism or at least recognition/accommodation of the tradeoffs, between top or bottom-driven innovation, and “garage” or “scalable” entrepreneurship have all been helpful in building USC’s vibrant innovation culture. But ultimately, USC’s success is attributable to university leadership’s commitment to promoting an innovation culture within the university, while also establishing a reputation for the university as a “magnet” for innovation and entrepreneurship with the “right people” in the community. Otherwise innovation may just become brute force.

Below is an enumeration of USC’s programs and initiatives that support the five buckets in the NACIE sponsored university commitment letter.

Student Entrepreneurship

Spark SC serves as the main entrepreneurship, innovation, and tech student organization campus. They ignite innovation by empowering students to develop their entrepreneurial potential and by fostering collaboration within the USC and Los Angeles community. Spark does this by exposing USC students of all majors and backgrounds to entrepreneurial thinking and innovative problem solving, giving students the confidence to pursue their entrepreneurial endeavors, contributing to the growing momentum of Los Angeles entrepreneurship, and connecting industry leaders and experienced entrepreneurs to the USC community.

LavaLab is another student organization on USC's campus that promote the entrepreneurship ecosystem. They are a student-run, product incubator where every semester, a new cohort of visionary designers, developers, and project managers build tomorrow’s startups, today. In LavaLab, students get the opportunity to ideate, design, and execute their ideas in an actual startup format. At the end of the semester, teams in LavaLab pitch to industry venture capitalists for the chance to get feedback and potential funding on their projects.

The Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC) at USC Marshall School of Business has several innovation and entrepreneurship programs for students. *MBA Commercialization Teams: Through the Technology Feasibility Course, the Ideas Empowered Program, and by special request from researchers, CTC recruits MBA students to join researchers to conduct technology/market roadmaps, feasibility studies, and business design. *Internships: Graduate and undergraduate students can apply for internships in startups through CTC’s partnership with the Business Technology Center of the County of Los Angeles, and with USC alumni.

  • CTC's academic component includes courses at the graduate level that prepare students to create new technology ventures.
  • In conjunction with the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, CTC offers a Certificate in Technology Commercialization; a four-course program open to matriculated and non-matriculated individuals in a graduate program or holding a graduate degree. This university certificate is designed to give applicants a specialty in technology commercialization.

In addition to the certificate program in technology commercialization, USC Marshall School of Business also offers concentration in entrepreneurship and technology commercialization.

The Entrepreneurship and Venture Management concentration at USC Marshall School of Business provides students with a thorough grounding in the business skills needed to start or manage a rapidly growing business. The courses offered not only give students the skills to excel in established industry roles; they also give the students the ability to spot and take full advantage of opportunities in small firms.

The Technology Commercialization concentration at USC Marshall School of Business prepares students to work in a variety of careers associated with technology commercialization. These include managing technology development projects; intellectual property or project portfolio; consulting to companies seeking to derive new revenue streams off archived IT; consulting to companies in the areas of technology and market feasibility; and managing commercialization effort.  In addition, the concentration prepares the entrepreneur to take a technology from idea to market with in-depth and real-world knowledge of the technology commercialization process.

The USC Entrepreneurship Club (eClub) helps students learn about entrepreneurship and launch their companies or ideas outside of the classroom, regardless of their major. For over a decade, the organization has served as an entrepreneurship hub for students and alumni. The eClub is also committed to organizing highly valuable and innovative events, while creating a support structure of resources, networks, and opportunities for startup and existing businesses.

The USC Student Innovator Showcase and Competition presented by the USC Stevens Institute for Innovation, is a university-wide innovator showcase which gives parents and students a highly interactive glimpse into the imaginations of USC student innovators, and a sneak peek at tomorrow's world. The showcase is hosted each year during the opening day of Trojan Family weekend and is followed by an awards reception (which includes cash prizes).

Faculty Entrepreneurship

The Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies develops, supports, and disseminates leading-edge interdisciplinary scholarship on entrepreneurship. Among other programs and services, the Center provides research support to faculty members for entrepreneurship-related projects through its annual Faculty Research Awards. In 2011, the Greif Center awarded three faculty research grants totaling $11,000. Other programs include:

  • The Greif Seminar Series brings leading entrepreneurship researchers to the Marshall School to present their recent work ;
  • Greif-sponsored Conferences bring together academics from around the world to present and discuss recent research; and
  • The Greif Research Impact Award is a $5,000 annual award given to the researcher(s) who publishes the most impactful entrepreneurship article in top management and entrepreneurship journals.


The James H. Zumberge Research and Innovation Fund is USC’s university-wide faculty research grant support mechanism. It awards several hundred thousand dollars each year through its annual James H. Zumberge Awards competition. The Zumberge Fund promotes the initiation of research at USC through two types of awards: Individual Awards and Interdisciplinary Awards. Recipients of Zumberge Interdisciplinary grants also derive these added benefits:

  • Individual Awards help newer faculty launch their research careers, and support research in areas with limited external funding opportunities through grants of up to $25,000;
  • Interdisciplinary Awards of up to $50,000 foster collaborative efforts among faculty from different schools and disciplines that lead to sustained interdisciplinary research programs and projects;
  • $5 million per year in support from the National Science Foundation’s Science and Technology Center program, to establish the Center on Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations at USC; and
  • More than $4 million per year from the National Institutes of Health to bring the Bioinformatics Research Network (BIRN) to USC.

University Technology Transfer Functions

The USC Stevens Institute for Innovation is a university-wide resource in the Office of the Provost designed to harness and advance creative thinking and breakthrough research at USC for societal impact. The Stevens Institute nurtures, protects, and transfers the most exciting new innovations from USC to the market and thus provides a central connection for industry seeking cutting-edge innovations in which to invest.

The Stevens Institute develops the innovator as well as innovations, through educational programs, community-building events, and showcase opportunities. From the biosciences and technology, to music and cinematic arts, USC Stevens connects faculty, students, and the business community to create an environment for stimulating and inspiring innovation across all disciplines.

The Alfred E. Mann Institute for Biomedical Engineering (AMI) at USC facilitates a faculty-welcoming process to help inventors mature their creations so that they can be transformed into commercially-viable medical products that help people and generate successes for inventors.

Beginning with a free consultation, AMI USC professionals provide a range of services for investors and companies including:

  • Information on how to start a new own company;
  • Detailed education on the commercialization process;
  • Intellectual Property (IP) evaluation and market analysis; and
  • Comprehensive assistance to inventors with the entire process of maturing their inventions for commercialization

The Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC) at the USC Marshall School of Business mission is to identify, encourage, and support technology entrepreneurship activities among faculty, students, and staff. CTC assists in the areas of IP issues, business feasibility analysis, business design, start-up financing, management team acquisition, preparation for funding, and related issues.

University-Industry Collaboration

USC welcomes industry collaboration to commercialize research, nurture startups, attract and motivate commercialization talent, and educate and train a world-class workforce.

The Ideas Empowered Program completed its pilot year in 2010. The program provides rigorous mentoring, programmatic support, and more than $450,000 in proof of concept funding to seven breakthrough ideas that have the potential to spinout of USC within two years. One of these projects, Cred.FM - led by USC School of Cinematic Arts professor and Co-founder of the EA Game Innovation Lab at USC, Chris Swain, has already completed their proof of concept within a year of participation in the program and will soon launch a beta of their social networking music sharing game.

The USC Viterbi School of Engineering, Keck School of Medicine of USC, the USC Stevens Institute for Innovation, and the Los Angeles Basin Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI) have been selected to participate in the exclusive Coulter Translational Research Partnership Program. Announced in April 2011, the prestigious program awards pioneering institutions that are fostering tomorrow’s translational technologies and innovations in biomedical health care. The ultimate goal of this partnership is to focus on outcomes that will save, extend, and improve patient lives.

Johnson & Johnson and the USC Stevens Institute for Innovation, joined forces to form the USC – JNJ Translational Innovation Partnership Program, designed to more rapidly develop early stage health science and medical technologies. Johnson & Johnson’s Corporate Office of Science and Technology (COSAT) will provide $250,000 over two years. The USC Stevens Institute will lead a joint USC / JNJ COSAT review committee to identify groundbreaking ideas developed by USC’s faculty for funding through this program. The program is structured to create a collaborative environment between academic and industry peers.

TEDxUSC has become a global phenomenon. TEDxUSC has been one of the most sought after, inspiring, jaw dropping, and entertaining conferences hosted by the University of Southern California. The presenter line-ups fascinate and delight guests, with mind-blowing technology demos, captivating talks, and stirring musical performances. Since creating TEDxUSC in March of 2009 and distributing the best practices, more than 2000 TEDx events have taken place in more than 90 countries and 37 different languages. Corporate partners have included PricewaterhouseCoopers and Red Bull USA, among others.

The USC Stevens Institute will continue outreach to partner with stellar private companies to fund and develop technology translation.

Regional and Local Economic Development

The University of Southern California leverages its unique relationships with industry, government, and nonprofits to spur economic development and encourage innovation across campus and throughout the nation.

An independent economic study suggests that USC generates $4.9 billion annually in economic activity in the Los Angeles region and beyond. By December, 2008, USC produced about $2.1 billion dollars in total direct spending: wage and payroll expenditures of $1 billion, capital projects spending of $130 million and various purchasing expenditures of $430 million. Students spent another $503 million for goods and services, while visitors to USC spent about $12 million in the region. For every dollar spent by USC in Los Angeles County, an additional 63 cents of output was created elsewhere in the regional economy.

Capital improvement projects at USC also provide economic benefits for the City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, and the immediate community. The new housing at the Village at USC will provide more options to host a greater number of USC students, faculty and staff within walking distance of campus. The university-owned area north of campus, including the new Village development, will provide housing for up to 5,200 students and 250 faculty/student family apartments in a variety of housing types including studios to four bedroom units.

Crucially construction of the Village at USC is expected to provide economic gains:

  • 12,000 new jobs (4,000 construction-related, 8,000 permanent) throughout the Specific Plan development area;
  • $1.1 billion construction‐related economic impact on the Los Angeles County economy;
  • $2.8 million in one‐time construction revenue for the City of Los Angeles; *$1.7 million in annual revenue benefits for the City of Los Angeles from The Village of USC operations; and
  • $3.8 million in tax increment to the Community Redevelopment Agency through the year 2030; this is the single largest addition of tax increment revenue in South Los Angeles.

These are just but some of the several ways activities at USC drives and benefits the regional economy.

Deep-Dive Questions

  • Is innovation an integral part of USC’s institutional culture?
  • Why is it important? And how does it influence entrepreneurship and tech transfer?
  • How do you envision your program in the future?
  • What is your vision for each of the case study’s bucket, especially regional and local economic impact?
  • How does your institution leverage (or intend to leverage) geographic endowment? *Are your innovation, entrepreneurship, and tech transfer programs integrated?
  • Why, or why not?
  • How has USC’s one university in many places (multiple campus & online) model hindered or helped faculty and student innovation?
  • Are there any unique successes (and or challenges) you may wish to highlight?

= Conclusion = The University of Southern California (USC) is a private, not-for-profit, research university and an Association of American Universities (AAU) member school. Ms. Krisztina "Z" Holly’s comments have been instructive in better understanding USC’s various innovative entrepreneurship, research, and technology transfer programs. As well as the impact of the NACIE commitment letter in framing USC’s strategic plans and institutional culture. The Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship thanks USC’s assistance with this case study, and looks forward to a continued close and collaborative relationship in building America’s innovation infrastructure.

10  Comments by: Krisztina "Z" Holly, former Vice Provost for Innovation, USC, & Executive Director, the USC Stevens Institute for Innovation.

C. L. Max Nikias Biography:

Krisztina “Z” Holly:
CTC Opportunities for Students:
Entrepreneurship & Tech Transfer Program:
The eClub:
USC Student Innovator Showcase and Competition:
The Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies:
The James H. Zumberge Research and Innovation Fund:
Center for Technology Commercialization:
The Ideas Empowered Program:
USC – JNJ Translational Innovation Partnership Program:
USC Impact:   Source: "The Innovative and Entrepreneurial University: Higher Education, Innovation & Entrepreneurship in Focus", Department of Commerce, October 2013.

Related Links

University of Southern California Page

University of Southern California Student Priorities Page

Laura Gouillon

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