USC Just Got $15 Million Grant To Help Universities Create New Startups

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

USC Just Got $15 Million Grant To Help Universities Create New Startups

The University of Southern California was among a group of universities awarded a $15 million grant from the National Science Foundation to invest in and incubate startups.

The new program is called NSF Innovation Corps Hub: West Region. USC, UCLA and UC Riverside are among the participants, along with Caltech, the University of Colorado Boulder, the Colorado School of Mines, University of New Mexico and the University of Utah. The plan is to add more university affiliates as the program develops.


The colleges will identify potential startups and provide mentoring, campus resources and labs to help standout companies develop. Each university will also monitor work happening in campus labs that might lead to the next big company.

USC Viterbi School of Engineering will lead the program, guided by Dean Yannis Yortsos.

"There is a big diversity of the population in the West," Yortsos told dot.LA, "and so that's something that we also are going to focus on. The idea is to also engage more and more other institutions in this and keep increasing the footprint."

The program will look to invest in scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs who are people of color or "from the many diverse backgrounds of the Western United States."

It won't directly invest in startups. Instead it will look to connect startup companies to potential investors. "We are helping people demystify the process of innovation," Yortsos added.

The USC-led West Coast hub is one of five that the NSF is investing in. Each will receive $3 million every year for five years, contingent on progress milestones, rather than one lump sum upfront.

Yortsos said "the emphasis is on funding deep technology — by this I mean, technology that is not simply creating an app for something, but doing something that has fundamental technological value that can then essentially transform the landscape in different ways, whether this is bioengineering, defense, aerospace [or] artificial intelligence."

Yortsos pointed out that several big technology companies started with support from the government or NSF funds, including Qualcomm, which was created by USC Engineering School namesake Andrew Viterbi.

"Viterbi started with a startup and this startup was funded by National Science Foundation grants," Yortsos said, "then it became what is known as Qualcomm."

"Google, in some sense, came out of intellectual property that was developed by support within Stanford," Yortsos added.

The I-Corps Hub West will also give its startups opportunities to show off their work and court potential investors at technology scouting showcases and by leveraging its existing connections with accelerators and national laboratories. No companies have been selected for this year's class yet; the program begins in January 2022.

The National Science Foundation created the I-Corps in 2011, and a decade later is adding this division to focus specifically on emerging startups in West Coast markets. The NSF reports that since the program's ceration, roughly 1,280 colleges and universities have helped launch over 1,000 startups— and those companies have gone on to raise more than $760 million in funding.

Correction: This story was updated to clarify that USC was not the grant's sole recipient.

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The Influencer-to-Podcaster Pipeline Is Ready to Explode

Nat Rubio-Licht
Nat Rubio-Licht is a freelance reporter with dot.LA. They previously worked at Protocol writing the Source Code newsletter and at the L.A. Business Journal covering tech and aerospace. They can be reached at nat@dot.la.
The Influencer-to-Podcaster Pipeline Is Ready to Explode
Evan Xie

It’s no secret that men dominate the podcasting industry. Even as women continue to grow their foothold, men still make up many of the highest-earning podcasts, raking in massive paychecks from ad revenue and striking deals with streaming platforms worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

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nat@dot.la

NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System
Evan Xie

NASA’s footprint in California is growing as the agency prepares for Congress to approve its proposed 2024 budget.

The overall NASA budget swelled 6% from the prior year, JPL deputy director Larry James told dot.LA. He added he sees that as a continuation of the last two presidential administrations’ focus on modernizing and bolstering the nation’s space program.

The money goes largely to existing NASA centers in California, including the Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory run with Caltech, Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

California remains a hotspot for NASA space activity and investment. In 2021, the agency estimated its economic output impact on the region to be around $15.2 billion. That was far more than its closest competing states, including Texas ($9.3 billion) and Maryland (roughly $8 billion). That same year, NASA reported it employed over 66,000 people in California.

“In general, Congress has been very supportive” of the JPL and NASA’s missions, James said. “It’s generally bipartisan [and] supported by both sides of the aisle. In the last few years in general NASA has been able to have increased budgets.”

There are 41 current missions run by JPL and CalTech, and another 16 scheduled for the future. James added the new budget is “an incredible support for all the missions we want to do.”

The public-private partnership between NASA and local space companies continues to evolve, and the increased budget could be a boon for LA-based developers. Numerous contractors for NASA (including CalTech, which runs the JPL), Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and Northrop Grumman all stand to gain new contracts once the budget is finalized, partly because NASA simply needs the private industry’s help to achieve all its goals.

James said that there was only one JPL mission that wasn’t funded – a mission to send an orbital satellite to survey the surface and interior of Venus, called VERITAS.

NASA Employment and Output ImpactEvan Xie

The Moon and Mars

Much of the money earmarked in the proposed 2024 budget is for crewed missions. Overall, NASA’s asking for $8 billion from Congress to fund lunar exploration missions. As part of this, the majority is earmarked for the upcoming Artemis mission, which aims to land a woman and person of color on the Moon’s south pole.

While there’s a number of high-profile missions the JPL is working on that are focused on Mars, including Mars Sample Return project (which received $949 million in this proposed budget) and Ingenuity helicopter and Perseverance rover, JPL also received significant funding to study the Earth’s climate and behavior.

JPL also got funding for several projects to map our universe. One is the SphereX Near Earth Objects surveyor mission, the goal of which is to use telescopes to “map the entire universe,” James said, adding that the mission was fully funded.

International Space Station

NASA’s also asking for more money to maintain the International Space Station (ISS), which houses a number of projects dedicated to better understanding the Earth’s climate and behavior.

The agency requested roughly $1.3 billion to maintain the ISS. It also is increasing its investment in space flight support, in-space transportation and commercial development of low-earth orbit (LEO). “The ISS is an incredible platform for us,” James said.

James added there are multiple missions outside or on board the ISS now taking data, including EMIT, which launched in July 2022. The EMIT mission studies arid dust sources on the planet using spectroscopy. It uses that data to remodel how mineral dust movement in North and South America might affect the Earth’s temperature changes.

Another ISS mission JPL launched is called ECOSTRESS. The mission sent a thermal radiometer onto the space station in June 2018 to monitor how plants lose water through their leaves, with the goal of figuring out how the terrestrial biosphere reacts to changes in water availability. James said the plan is to “tell you the kind of foliage health around the globe” from space.

One other ISS project is called Cold Atom Lab. It is “an incredible fundamental physics machine,” James said, that’s run by “three Nobel Prize winners as principal investigators on the Space Station.” Cold Atom Lab is a physics experiment geared toward figuring out how quantum phenomena behave in space by cooling atoms with lasers to just below absolute zero degrees.

In the long term, James was optimistic NASA’s imaging projects could lead to more dramatic discoveries. Surveying the makeup of planets’ atmospheres is a project “in the astrophysics domain we’re very excited about,” James said. He added that this imaging could lead to information about life on other planets, or, at the very least, an understanding of why they’re no longer habitable.

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samsonamore@dot.la

Behind Her Empire: Margaret Wishingrad On Creating A Low Sugar Cereal Brand

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

Behind Her Empire: Margaret Wishingrad On Creating A Low Sugar Cereal Brand
Provided by BHE

On this episode of Behind Her Empire, Three Wishes founder and CEO Margaret Wishingrad talks about creating brand awareness and shares the key component to running a successful business.

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