USC Launches Annual, $50K Entrepreneurship Prize For Engineers

The University of Southern California and wealthy engineer Fariborz Maseeh, now a hedge fund manager in Newport Beach, is announcing this week a $1M endowment, which will fund an annual, $50,000 prize for a business plan competition for the school's engineering students. The new prize, which is being funded by the Massiah Foundation, will award $50,000 each year to the best, entrepreneurial plan and idea to come out of the USC Viterbi engineering school. Fariborz Maseeh, in an interview with socalTECH, said that the business plan competition will be open to any undergraduate, graduate student, or faculty or related staff at the engineering school, and is aimed at prompting engineering students to take their ideas to market. Maseeh also said the prize will come associated with a new course at the USC Viterbi school, which will help engineers learn about business plans and creating viable businesses from their ideas.

The school said that the competition will be favoring ideas which address some of the challenges being covered by the National Academy of Engineer's Grand Challenges, which are being discussed at the 2010 NAE Grand Challenges Summit being held at USC this week. Although business plan competitions are quite common at universities, the school believes this is the first one specifically focused on an engineering school and open to just engineering students. Maseeh told socalTECH that the prize was modeled after a similar, schoolwide competition at MIT, where he received his Ph.D. Maseeh made his fortune at Intellisense, a developer of micro-electro mechanical devices.

The Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competition (MEPC) is expected to have its first competition in the spring. The class associated with the competition also includes an industry component, which includes allowing mentors from industry to help out teams to refine and improve their ideas. The University of Southern California has been very visible in recent years for encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation. The university is home to the USC Stevens Institute for Innovation, which was funded by Sequoia Capital venture capitalist Mark Stevens, and also was one of the first groups to host a T.E.D.-affiliated event focused on spreading innovative ideas.