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Our Fall 2021 Initiatives

TL;DR: everything we're doing this semester.

Editor's note

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Every semester, we take a look at the initiatives we've recently run, evaluate campus culture and student needs, and determine Spark's initiatives for the following few months. Spark has formed committees to work on five external initiatives this fall. I sat down with the leads of each committee to ask them how their initiative addresses Spark's mission, what the work will look like, and what it'll be like to join the committee. Click to jump to an initiative → Founders | Spark XM | 1000 Pitches | Arts, Grooves, & Foods | Reprogram

Introduction to our Fall 2021 initiatives

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A few of our household initiatives, like Founders and 1000 Pitches, have been running for years because they feel so core to our mission and our beliefs. We might decide to continue, pause, or retire an initiative, but one can always come back if a lead is passionate about its cause. This year, Amara is resurrecting Arts, Grooves, and Foods, which originally ran in 2017, and Victor and William are resurrecting Spark XM, which is also coming out of a four-year retirement. We frequently start new initiatives at the beginning of each semester as part of our commitment to serving our mission—whatever that means in the current semester: Reprogram is debuting under Richa this semester. We have a lot in store and we can't wait for you to see what we'll be up to. Hopefully, you'll find something that piques your interest! If you join Spark, you'll join two of these committees and help us push it to its fullest potential.

Founders

Committee lead: Dea Kurti, Junior studying Industrial Systems Engineering in Viterbi

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Founders is an initiative that Spark started to bring more entrepreneurial thought leadership to USC. We host in-person speaker events where founders come and discuss their journey and their next steps before a live audience who participates with questions. Last semester, I was a part of Founders and really loved the work we did—I want to carry on the legacy of Founders while it transitions back to in-person.

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Who has Founders brought to campus in the past?

To name a few: GT Dave, founder of GT's Living Foods (whom you may remember from this That's Cringe feature); Jamie Siminoff, founder of Ring; and Natasha Case, founder of Coolhaus.

GT Dave responds to a question from Gitika, a previous Founders committee lead
GT Dave responds to a question from Gitika, a previous Founders committee lead
Part of the crowd at the GT Dave Founders event
Part of the crowd at the GT Dave Founders event
Attendees at the GT Dave event posing with GT's Raw Synergy blue kombucha
Attendees at the GT Dave event posing with GT's Raw Synergy blue kombucha
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What does Founders have to do with Spark's mission?

Success for Founders is simple and closely tied with Spark's mission. By hosting a founder that USC students are excited about, and who in turn is able to inspire students, we'll be able to foster the entrepreneurial spirit among USC students. Our impact is also straightforward: inspiring students to start thinking about ways that they can become a founder, in any context.

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What will the work look like?

A lot goes into getting a speaker to campus: Cold-emailing founders, getting a USC venue for a reasonable price, ticketing, marketing the event, and getting sponsored food for attendees. But the first step is finding a founder who is willing to answer questions and interact with students.

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What will it be like to join the committee?

Last semester, I was a part of Founders and really loved the work we did. I want to carry on the legacy of Founders while it transitions back to in-person. My leadership style is democratic/authoritarian. I like to have conversations and share ideas, as well as brainstorm ideas with my team, but also like to assign tasks and see progress in my teams.

We'll need committee members who are committed to learning how to do what I described earlier, along with anything else needed to get the job done! They should be committed to the original goal of Founders, while willing to come up with new ideas about how to make it more exciting.

Spark XM

Committee leads:

William Higbie, Junior majoring in Cinema and Media Studies in the School of Cinematic Arts

Victor Ye, Freshman majoring in International Relations and the Global Economy in Dornsife and Communications in Annenberg

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What is Spark XM?

Spark XM is a podcast broadly about entrepreneurship, but we want to share stories about students disrupting the status quo at USC. We plan on showcasing students innovating and disrupting the world—that’s what Spark is all about. And we believe in the power of storytelling for anyone who wants to listen. We’re going to release 3 episodes this season.

Spark XM has existed on and off for many years within Spark. Last Spring, it came out of retirement, and we ideated and prepared to record and release engaging audio content this fall. We plan on having a production timeline ready by our first meeting, after which we’ll be on our way to interviewing, editing, and promoting our podcast! We will definitely be giving more time to the editing stage, where stories are really formed.

What will the work look like?

All the nuts and bolts of a full production timeline: recording interviews, editing audio, and publishing and promoting our podcast. Anyone who doesn't know how to do this stuff can learn on the committee!

Our Fall 2021 interviewee list includes Tony, the founder of Hot and Cool Cafe in Leimert Park, Los Angeles
Our Fall 2021 interviewee list includes Tony, the founder of Hot and Cool Cafe in Leimert Park, Los Angeles
The Garvey: a green Hot and Cool smoothie named for Marcus Garvey, the renowned Jamaican political activist
The Garvey: a green Hot and Cool smoothie named for Marcus Garvey, the renowned Jamaican political activist

What will it be like to join the committee?

We lead by listening. Our goal is to arrive at a meeting with a vision, articulating that vision to our Committee, and then sitting back and listening to the feedback. We believe it will improve our ability to innovate together. We'll create the overarching goals of the committee, but our committee members will choose the path we take to the goal.

I should add that we just want to have fun. At the end of the day, we are just some friends making great content. Of course, quality is important, but we want everyone to be engaged and excited to work.

1000 Pitches

What is 1000 Pitches?

1000 Pitches is a semester-long pitch competition where we literally collect a thousand pitches from USC students and community members. (It's a lot of syllables, so we mostly call it 1KP.) We usually do a lot of tabling on campus and asking people to pitch to us, and at the end of the semester, we'll award a winner with prize money—we actually record and watch all thousand pitches. We hope that our initiative will reignite students’ energy to change the world around us. At a baseline, our goal is to get people to realize that their ideas matter.

This photo was taken during our fall pitch booth in 2016. Those t-shirts on the table were for each person who pitched!
This photo was taken during our fall pitch booth in 2016. Those t-shirts on the table were for each person who pitched!

We want to be able to provide resources and pathways to the different pitches students give us and give them a platform to share their ideas. Since USC still has some pandemic restrictions, success for us does not necessarily look like an extremely large campus event, though we hope for it to be! Ultimately, 1000 Pitches will be an open, collaborative place that nurtures entrepreneurship and problem-solving.

What does 1KP have to do with Spark's mission?

Spark is about spreading entrepreneurial thought and action—1KP allows students to do so by sharing their ideas and solutions.

What will the work look like?

Although we’re still working on concretely what 1KP will look like in person, a lot of work will go into making it happen this semester. We'll be in communication with past leads and committee members, doing our best to approach challenges creatively, and doing the work of coordinating the larger event: food, sponsorship, actually getting a thousand pitches... and we'll of course need the support of others in Spark (especially for the logistics of a larger event).

What will it be like to join the committee?

As sophomores who have yet to experience campus at full capacity, we wanted to be a part of hosting a large, exciting event for students to connect with one another and express their passions to the rest of the student body. We'll be learning a lot of what this initiative entails along with the rest of our committee, so we're not looking for any qualifications—we're looking for people who are ambitious, adaptable problem-solvers. (Bonus points if you're funny.)

Our leadership style focuses on inclusivity and collaboration; we embrace the idea that everyone has an equal voice (and there’s no hierarchy). Success in our team will be that everyone has had the opportunity to act as a leader. As co-leads, we enjoy transparent communication and creative thinking.

Arts, Grooves, & Foods

Committee lead: Amarachi Chimezie, Junior majoring in Arts, Technology, and the Business of Innovation in the Iovine & Young Academy

What is Arts, Grooves, & Foods?

AGF is a festival that champions an appreciation for all types of art forms and just as importantly, community.

Let me break it down real quick: The A of AGF would be a showcase of student art, the G would be live music, and the F would be food options available at the event. I love the idea of supporting locally owned businesses by allowing them to sell food at the event.

The event is also an opportunity to raise money for charity, with 100% of proceeds supporting a charity of the committee’s choosing!

What does AGF have to do with Spark's mission?

AGF's goal is to highlight the amazing artists and USC and beyond—and to attract more arts-minded USC students into the Spark ecosystem.

Art takes initiative, creativity, optimism, and all the other things we look for when we recruit. By throwing an art-focused event, we can draw arts students' interest in Spark's mission and vision for community. I want ACF to show them that their ideas and interests can find a home in Spark, too, and lead them to apply.

Spark's Board lacks representation from the arts, and I want to help grow Spark's diversity of thought. Although we've had over 50 majors and minors, most of our Board members have a background in Marshall, Viterbi, CSBA, and IYA.

What will the work look like?

At the end of the day, AGF should be an event where people meet each other, learn more about art, eat some really good food, and have a lot of fun.

What will it be like to join the committee?

This initiative is going to take serious teamwork, resources, and scrappiness! We'll need people with initiative. People who are not afraid to call and email artists that they admire. People who have an appreciation for the arts. People who are willing to learn how to plan events and market them. People who like getting into the details without losing sight of the big picture.

I’m all about getting my hands dirty with committee work, while still maintaining the flow of the overall initiative. As a leader, I'm more of a moderator than anything else! I love hearing ideas from all members of our org, whether Sparklets or Core members.

Reprogram

Committee lead: Richa Krishna, Junior majoring in Arts, Technology, and the Business of Innovation in the Iovine & Young Academy

What is Reprogram?

In Spring 2022, Reprogram will assemble a small cohort of USC student artists—dancers, musicians, poets, etc., and student entrepreneurs/techies. We'll pair each artist with an entrepreneur and challenge them to collaborate on an art piece (medium of choice) that tells the entrepreneur's story. Reprogram is still in development—including the name! Fall 2021's Reprogram committee will coordinate the Spring 2022 program.

We're still developing the program itinerary, which will include things like activities to facilitate discussions, opportunities to learn from artists and entrepreneurs, and opportunities to learn hard skills. The program will end with a final performance to show the arts and entrepreneurship colliding beautifully.

What does Reprogram have to do with Spark's mission?

50% of this initiative is focused on promoting entrepreneurial thinking to the pure arts community, which directly serves Spark’s mission. The other 50% is dedicated to understanding that the status quo of entrepreneurship culture might not be perfect.

Rather than constantly pushing our way of thinking outwards to other communities, there may be an opportunity for us to grow by learning from the communities that feel disconnected from us, particularly that of pure arts.

A graphic explanation of
A graphic explanation of Reprogram by Richa

Through this collaboration, each group gets to experience, learn from, and influence each other's creative processes and ways of thinking:

  1. The entrepreneur gets to communicate a part of themselves with someone—this may fall outside their comfort zone, but is more natural to their artist partner.
  2. The artist gets to represent someone else's experiences. This builds the empathetic muscle that entrepreneurs exercise in design thinking.
  3. Together, the artists and entrepreneurs eventually present and witness the artistic representation of the entrepreneur's journey.

There's a significant potential for impact when we push artists and entrepreneurs to work together directly. And there's a lot to learn about how to catalyze the mindsets of both worlds to evolve into more empathetic, healthy, and authentic versions of themselves.

What will the work look like?

Any new from-scratch initiative invites many question marks. This semester will be research-, ideation-, and planning-heavy, with time dedicated to speaking with students, brainstorming and discussing as a team, and fleshing out the logistics of the program so we are ready to pilot it next semester!

What will it be like to join the committee?

I value open-mindedness in every team—towards each other and our ideas without judgment. I believe in establishing systems proactively for clear communication, and prioritizing mutual trust between teammates. Acknowledging each teammate’s “why” behind being on the team is incredibly important to me, to develop individual and shared north stars that allow us to explore varying questions without straying from our mission.

You should join this committee if you share the following:

  • An ambitious mindset.
  • A commitment to seeing this idea through despite the inevitable question marks we will encounter.
  • Care for high-quality work.
  • A willingness to open your mind to the mission of this committee.
  • Comfort with the uncertainty that comes with experimenting with something new!