About the USC Incubator

The USC Incubator accelerates the development of the University of Southern California’s top student and alumni entrepreneurs through experiential education, mentorship and community.

The USC Incubator, supported by the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at USC’s Marshall School takes founders from feasibility and development work, on to customers, a tested business model, getting distribution, building a team, bootstrapping and investment preparation. We also provide access to other supporting resources, such as legal and financial assistance.

Participating companies have been acquired, raised money, run successful Kickstarter campaigns, received an NSF grant and of course, shipped product to customers. We’ve also had winners in recent USC competitions including Silicon Beach, Stevens Student Innovator Showcase and the New Seed Venture Competition.

The program is run by Paul Orlando, who is also a Professor of Entrepreneurship at USC, teaching the new class Growth Hacking: Scaling Startups (BAEP 469) and others. In a typical month, USC Incubator startups meet with Paul in private sessions to discuss issues specific to their business. Incubatees also come together during group sessions to connect with other teams, potential customers, mentors and investors. If you need work space, we have that too.

The program is inclusive.

Teams that include one or more USC students, alumni, or faculty/staff founders (no matter what school at USC) are eligible to apply. We expect to see companies with founders across different USC schools and also outside the university.

We believe that great businesses are built by teams with a mix of skills including tech, design, business and marketing.

We know how to work with early-stage entrepreneurs.

We’ve done this before and have experimented with several different models and formats. Since there are diverse needs at USC, we believe that there is value in selective workshops, based not on a standard curriculum for the group, but instead based on participant needs. We believe that there is more value in continuity than one-off events. We bring in continuity in the form of office hours with each team and tracking what they learn. We also believe that challenging, encouraging and pushing have their place as we get the Incubator companies to do more faster.

We build strong connections to alumni.

USC has a large alumni base of successful and helpful entrepreneurs. When it comes to alumni involvement, we favor selective connections to exchange specific domain expertise.

We understand that different teams have different needs and plans.

We want the founders and teams to learn how to build businesses. If they totally change direction, or even take a break and return to entrepreneurship later, that is fine. We provide an experience that will be valuable no matter where your path takes you.

We add support structure.

We work with any university department and external group where there is benefit to our Incubatees. This includes connecting talent with opportunities at Incubator companies, collaborating with existing courses taught at USC and connecting founders with first customers, advisors, legal and other support, potential investors and people in industry.

We believe in providing enough time.

We don’t automatically “kick you out” after three months, as is typical. As long as you’re still actively working, you may be able to take advantage of Incubator resources for up to a full year. This extra time allows teams to meet customers, learn, build and make progress.

We’re non-profit.

We take no fees or equity in USC Incubator businesses. However, on a case-by-case basis we do set teams up with grants, stipends, access to free resources and bring in investors.

We provide workspace.

Those who need it can qualify for workspace at the Incubator.

You should expect to develop these skills in the Incubator.

  • Bootstrapping. The skills to get people to pay you and learning to build a sustainable business will carry you through any economic climate. Bootstrapping also allows you to get started immediately, rather than waiting to raise capital (often before it is a good use of your time). This is key for current students.
  • How to run experiments that help validate your business. This includes variations on tools like the Minimum Viable Product as a way to test hypotheses, collect primary data, draw conclusions and learn what to build.
  • Presenting and pitching. These skills are essential but take time to acquire, alongside someone who can give actionable feedback. We believe in giving feedback and then practicing again and again with the presenters. It takes months (at least) to become good.

What we look for in Incubator companies.

  • Coachability. This is good for the company as it shows that the founders will be engaged, will do the work required and will be flexible when required to change direction.
  • Capability to build. Capability is determined by the type of business being built. There are some businesses that have high technical requirements and others that are marketing-driven. Entering Incubatees should have the ability to build what their business requires, with small exceptions that fall outside the core of the business.
  • Commitment and Drive. Founders that are committed and driven — especially about a problem or target customer — will stick with and be creative and resourceful.
  • Those who will be engaged members of the Incubator. They will share with and help out Incubator companies. They will also engage with the opportunities offered by the Incubator.

When do you run your cohorts?

We run cohorts each semester and summer. We keep close contact with program graduates after that. Building a business takes time.

What’s the application process?

First fill out the application to the USC Incubator. There are several rounds. If you pass the first round expect to answer additional questions about your work first by email and later in person.

When should I apply?

Applications for the Summer and Fall 2016 cohort are open now. You are at an advantage if you apply early.

Is any support provided afterwards for program alumni? 

Once you’re a USC Incubator alum, you’re still supported (see above).

One year after your “graduation” from the incubator, we do invite Incubatees to return and tell the new companies what they have learned along the way. We find that this one year anniversary talk about actual experience is more valuable than a demo day event.

Is this only for tech-focused companies?

This isn’t only for tech startups. Entrepreneurship is broader than tech. We have a mix of different company types in the program. While Paul comes from a tech background, he believes that there are commonalities that can be shared across industries and great businesses come in many forms.

This sounds more like a startup accelerator program. Why are you called an incubator?

The terms accelerator and incubator do get interchanged a lot. While we perform more like an accelerator, we do not take equity in our portfolio companies.

For businesses working on Los Angeles-related opportunities

We welcome businesses building solutions to Los Angeles area opportunities including:

  • Infrastructure Improvements,
  • Drought Impact,
  • Transportation,
  • Neighborhood Development,
  • Education (especially for underserved communities),
  • Public Safety,
  • Healthcare,
  • Energy usage,
  • US – Asia/Pacific Business,
  • Food issues.

Application and Contact Information

– You may Apply Here.

– Email Paul Orlando at porlando@usc.edu if you have questions.

About Paul Orlando, Director & Adjunct Professor

Paul has a passion for helping founders achieve a lot of progress in a short time. In addition to his own entrepreneurial experiences, Paul co-founded and operated the first startup accelerator in Hong Kong. To understand how he thinks about entrepreneurship, read his bio.

Paul’s work has been featured in media, including Forbes, TechCrunch and The Next Web. Based on his experience, he recently wrote a book for startups in emerging tech locations, called Startup Sacrilege for the Underdog Entrepreneur. Paul has a BA from Cornell, an MBA from Columbia and speaks fluent Mandarin. At USC, he teaches a new course called Growth Hacking: Scaling Startups (BAEP 469) and Feasibility Analysis (BAEP 452).