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Darla Moore School of Business

  • Image of The Proving Ground winners

    The Proving Ground 2024 finalists

Transforming students into entrepreneurs

Moore School students pitch their innovative business ideas to win seed money

Six teams of USC students and young alumni recently pitched their startup ideas to a panel of judges to compete for more than $22,500 in prize money at the Moore School’s annual The Proving Ground competition.

The Proving Ground finalists competed in a high-stakes “Shark Tank” pitch competition before a live audience. Each team had only six minutes to define a target market and demonstrate how their product/service solves a problem currently not addressed in the market. Contestants had to pitch in front of eight judges, who included seasoned entrepreneurs and Moore School alumni.  

2024 The Proving Ground Judges:

  • Caroline Crowder, ’16 management and marketing, ’21 MIB, Boyd Innovation Center, powered by GrowCo
  • Bill Brewer, ’91 USC Ph.D. chemistry, DPX Technologies
  • Dirk Brown PROOF Hard Ice Cream, faculty director for the USC McNair Center for Entrepreneurism and Free Enterprise, and Moore School international business clinical assistant professor
  •  Jason Scalzo, ’14 PMBA, Revyrie 
  •  Jose Salibi Neto, ’82 finance and marketing, ’86 MIBS, HSM management seminars and author of nine management books
  • Gene Swank, Propellant Labs & Double River Ventures
  •  Amy Bone Schmidt, ’16 management science,
  • Christopher Guerrera - Modern Inventor & Shark Tank guru

This year’s Proving Ground was unique in Moore School history, as it was done in conjunction with the International Business 50th anniversary celebration in the spring. Several donors made the event possible, including Aaron & Candice Hark from Maxient, Lanford Holloway with TerraStride Inc., and Bill Brewer with DPX Technologies, as well as in-kind donations from Nelson Mullins, Menlo Park Patents, Revyrie and the Boyd Innovation Center, powered by GrowCo.

This event was led by Jeff Savage, management clinical assistant professor; Kasie Whitener, management clinical assistant professor; and Geoffrey Graybeal, management clinical associate professor. Savage, Whitener and Graybeal run the Moore School’s Faber Entrepreneurship Center, which mentors Moore School students in their entrepreneurial pursuits.

First place was awarded $10,000, second place $5,000, and third place $2,500. The competition categories included a High-Tec/High-Growth, International Business and the recurring Crowd Pleaser category. Teams of USC undergraduate students, graduate students and recent alumni who have graduated within three years are eligible to compete in The Proving Ground.

First-place award and winner of both High-Growth/High-Tech and Crowd Pleaser categories, for a total of $14,000: Qatalyst Health, Andrew Nye, ‘24 finance

His business plan integrates directly into the electronic medical record (EMR) system of skilled nursing facilities. The software instantly receives and interprets the care data to automatically fill out reimbursement forms, a time-consuming process currently performed by nurses. Qatalyst won in-kind legal services from Nelson Mullins and one year of office space in the Boyd Innovation Center, powered by GrowCo.

“With the money we won in The Proving Ground, we were able to bring on a software developer to code in parallel with me to speed up this shift from coding our MVP (minimum viable product) to scaling it nationally,” Nye said. “As a result, I can spend more time building a repeatable sales process for us to scale. Our initial playbook should get us in contact with at least 80 percent of the EMR head administrators at facilities in South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Florida by the end of July.”

Second-place award ($5,000): Charolina Carbon, Trevor Corsello, Alyssa Brucato, Alexis Allegro, Sarah Stofik, Victoria Garman, all ’24 USC chemical engineering

Their business plan uses proprietary technology developed in USC College of Engineering and Computing chemical engineering professor Jochen Lauterbach’s lab. The technology uses waste to pull carbon dioxide emissions out of the atmosphere and recycles them to create other value-added products. Partnering with Revyrie and the Faber Center, the Charolina team is pitching their idea to investors this summer.

“We are using our winnings to improve our strategy, professionalize our pitch and leverage outside resources to get investments,” Corsello said. “The next step for Charolina is building a field prototype.”

Third-place winner ($2,500): Drift, Peyton Meredith, ’24 PMBA

Drift is an elegant hangable and attachable garment bag with a cushioned liner, hidden pockets and more, elevating the women’s garment experience. Drift received a donated provisional patent application from Menlo Park Patents.

“With The Proving Ground winnings, we can set up our corporate structure and create and file our utility and design patents, which is very special,” Meredith said. “I will be forever grateful for the support I have received from USC. It is so meaningful and empowering to have community support and winnings to put towards the business that is very impactful for a startup.”

Semifinalist and winner of the International Startup category, for a total of $2,500*: PeakTew, Lucas Sevathian, ’25 ESSEC and USC double degree student in international business and sustainability

PeakTew is a mobile app designed to empower people to link back with reality and have a more fulfilling in-person social life by meeting like-minded people, discovering new sights and attending social events. PeakTew won the international business category.

“Thanks to another investment, The Proving Ground money, and some personal funds, we can reach our projected budget for three years sufficiently,” Sevathian said. “This amount will enable PeakTew to run and become accessible in multiple countries efficiently and to benefit from legal coverage in a wide range of areas such as the EU, the U.S., Korea, and Japan. This budget will facilitate PeakTew's transition from a mere concept to an established entity.”

Semifinalist ($1,750*): Vitality Way, Taylor Gripentog ’21 international business and operations and supply chain

Vitality Way is a quantum wellness app with AI-based diagnostic capabilities.

“Thanks to the winnings, I can continue working with Revyrie’s startup applications to finalize all resources to raise capital, and then begin the MVP (minimum viable product) build,” Gripentog said. “After the MVP is built, I intend to bring the software to market, ideally less than six months from now. Then, we can start making a difference in the world!”

Semifinalist ($1,750*): Thrift U, Sydney Todd ’25 accounting and management

Thrift U is a marketplace mobile app for college students to barter, exchange or pay for second-hand clothing items.

Todd wasn’t available for comment.

Each year, The Proving Ground opens applications at the beginning of the spring semester and gives contestants at least a month to prepare their materials for submission. Visit for more information.

*At the end of The Proving Ground event, an anonymous alum donated $3,000 for the two semifinalists, giving everyone at least $1,750 in prize money.

-Christian Osborne

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.