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Startups showcased at AIL CRUNCH evening of innovation

The winners of the 2014 CRUNCH student design challenge literally had to hack their way to victory, a $10,000 prize and the distinction of becoming the Annenberg Innovation Lab’s official Start Up in Residence.

A culmination of the Annenberg Innovation Lab’s CRUNCH course in Digital Entrepreneurship and Design, the challenge was held on April 23 during an “Evening of Innovation” at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, where the Annenberg Innovation Lab (AIL) is housed.

Erin Reilly, the AIL’s creative director and research fellow, organized the evening as a way to celebrate the academic year’s  accomplishments, such as student work from Francois Bar’s Situated Engagement class; prototypes built out of last fall’s Edison Project “Think & Do on The New Screens” and further prototypes being built by other AIL Research Council members such as Gabriel Kahn.

But the evening’s drama centered on the six student teams representing a wide range of USC disciplines, who competed for votes in “real time” by the audience, composed of industry professionals, USC faculty members and fellow students. To spark the vote wrangling, each team set up a project display, gave a timed presentation and answered audience questions.

The team behind XCLU, a mobile app that allows independent music artists to stream video content to their personal websites, emerged victorious.  “It feels good to be able to wholeheartedly go into our venture,” said Brittany Jenkins, a USC Marshall student whose team garnered the most votes. “This summer we’re going to use the money to develop out the data and get key partnerships in line. Plus, being the startup in residence, we’ll be matched up with a mentor who will get us to the next stage of building it out and presenting it.”

The CRUNCH course is designed to provide a skill-based, business-oriented overview of product development for students in small teams (3-5 members). The 10-week course allowed students, who were provided $3000 for development costs, to take their ideas from concept to alpha testing in a single semester. Just gaining entry to the course involved competition, as teams vied to win CRUNCH hackathons held in Fall 2013 to earn priority admission.

But even without a victory, the journey was worth it for Gabriel Bernadett-Shapiro, a second year Masters student in Public Diplomacy at Annenberg. “[The CRUNCH course] provides a space where education is focused on goals rather than examination,” he said, noting that students and AIL faculty and staff collaborate on new processes and outcomes.

“This allows for a much more robust educational experience and one in which I felt lucky to participate,” continued Bernadett-Shapiro, whose team developed SNAPBasket, an app that provides low-income individuals with up-to-the-minute grocery pricing information. “Both Erin Reilly  and Andrew Schrock (AIL Research Assistant) were great mentors and focused our project by getting us to think critically about our goals and how we might reach them … and on what was absolutely essential about our project and the communities which it might serve.”

Like XCLU, the SnapBasket team plans to pursue their venture. “Our plan is to roll out the app in English, Spanish and Mandarin and expand to other languages to serve the specific needs of Los Angeles's varied demographics,” Bernadett-Shapiro said, noting that at the Evening of Innovation, “several people approached us and told us to follow up with them, I believe we made some great connections which will result in strong future partnerships. 

One of the most important parts of the evening for our team was when a young man came to our table and told us that he had grown up on food stamps and that he wished his family had access to this service when he was a kid. That for us really made the evening worth it.”

2014 CRUNCH teams:

XCLU Chelsea Foster, Brittany Jenkins, Josh Lev (Marshall), James Lin (Interactive Media) and Joel Suarez (Cinema)

SphereTEC  Carolyn Wee and Douglas Rose (Marshall), Charlie Benson (Cinema) and James Lynch (USC Viterbi)
Trail Sam Sagartz (USC Keck-Health Promotion), Andrew Poksay (Viterbi), Dylan Moore (Viterbi) and Brian White (USC Dornsife - Economics).
College Knowledge LA Vanessa Monterosa, Sharla Berry (USC Rossier) and Christopher Perez (CSULB, College of Education)
SNAPBasket Bessie Chu (Annenberg Communication Management), Catherine Peiper (Cinema) and Gabriel Bernadett-Shapiro (Annenberg - Public Diplomacy). 
Privacy Doctor Nathalie Marechal (Annenberg - Communications) and Raj Saranyaraj  (Viterbi).
RePlant LA Alex Zelenty, Althea Capra, Sonia Guggenheim (Cinema), Luna White (Dornsife-Sociology)