Students explore entrepreneurship and innovation in Los Angeles during Winter Term

Led by Alyssa Martina, faculty member and director of the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, the program met with more than 30 companies during a three-week span.

Ten Elon students with various majors traveled with Love School of Business faculty member Alyssa Martina, who also serves as the director of the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, to study and focus on the entrepreneurial and innovative ecosystem of Los Angeles in depth during Winter Term.

The cohort visited with new companies such as Rivian, Beyond Meat, SpaceX, coco delivery, Tastemade and Everytable as well as met with more established companies such as the NFL Network, Apple, Paramount and Dreamscape Immersive to learn what new innovations they are pursuing.

Innovation in LA course visiting Tastemade in Santa Monica, California. From left: Aaron Satko, Lily Hauptmann, Jasper Nadler, Lauren Culp, Berlyn Squillaro, Daniela Lopez, Aaron Weiner-Goldsmith, AnaLuna Alvarez, Audrey Cumbee, and Professor Alyssa Martina. Front row: Elon alum and Tastemade Senior Engagement Lead Raj Rawal hosting students at company.

“As a non-business student, I found that this course helped shape my perception of innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Claudia Risner ’25. “I left feeling very inspired by the innovative spirit in Los Angeles, and enjoyed learning about how different industries practice innovation in unique ways, and interact with each other. This helped me expand my definition of innovation and begin thinking about how I can incorporate these concepts in my own future, as well as how society can use innovation to help solve some of the problems we face today.”

During the Winter Term experience, the students were hosted by organizations such as LACI, AltaSea, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab to study green tech, blue tech, space tech and were lunch guests of the Annenberg Foundation to learn more about the region’s commitment to diversity in tech and entrepreneurship through Pledge LA.

Innovation in LA course visiting SpaceX in Los Angeles. From left: Elon alum and SpaceX software engineer and Stephen Taliadoros with students Jasper Nadler, Claudia Risner, Daniela Lopez, AnaLuna Alvarez, Alex Weiner-Goldsmith, Lauren Culp Berlyn Squillaro, Lily Hauptmann, Audrey Cumbee and Aaron Satko

The class sat in on a very innovative class at the University of Southern California called Lives Not Grades and taught by faculty members Dan Durhora, Brad Cracchiola and David Gerber, who has produced an Emmy-winning documentary. Joined by a Swiss delegation of government officials, the students had a wonderful visit to USC’s Vterbi Startup Garage in Marina Del Rey where they learned more about its incubator and met with several of the entrepreneurs who are engaged in its co-working space.

The class examined social entrepreneurship through volunteering at The Valley of Change, a new nonprofit, and spent one morning at Homeboy Industries, which is the largest gang rehabilitation program in the world and provides training and support to formerly gang-involved and formerly incarcerated individuals through the pursuit of entrepreneurial enterprises.

Daniela Lopez ’23 shared that her favorite visits were those to organizations focused on social innovation and sustainability, such as  Beyond Meat, LACI and Homeboy Industries.

During a trip to Santa Barbara, they learned about innovation in organic farming, cannabis and retail fashion as well as paid a visit to UC Santa Barbara to meet with Professor JoAnn Kuchera-Morin and her team for a firsthand look at the Allosphere, a three-story research facility that uses multiple modalities to represent large and complex data, including immersive visualization, sonification, and interactivity.

Innovation in LA students Visiting with Aeronautics Engineer TJ Wright in Elon in LA’s classroom, Second Home, East Hollywood. From left: Alex Goldsmith-Weiner, Daniela Lopez, AnaLuna Alvarez, Jasper Nadler, Lily Hauptmann, Audrey Cumbee, entrepreneur TJ Wright, Lauren Culp, Claudia Risner, Berlyn Squillaro and Aaron Satko

During their time on the west coast, students met with entrepreneurs including those in aerospace, fashion, “world-building,” technology and more, as well as visited several co-working spaces such as Blackbird House and Second Home, among others. They met an Elon alumna Mia Ginae’ Watkins and other gamers from Riot Games and Julianne Katz, an Elon alumna who works in innovation for Anheuser-Busch. Finally, they met with venture capitalists to explore the state of venture finance in southern California.

Amazingly, this entire trip occurred during the torrential rains of early January but that didn’t dampen the energy of the group, which ended up meeting with 34 companies in a three-week span.  Visiting regions including Santa Monica, Pasadena, downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood and Santa Barbara, the students gained an appreciation for the region and its role as an engine of innovation.

In the kitchen and facilities of Everytable with Chef Tim Reardon explaining its mission based on offering nutritious, affordable food to every table in the country, with no one left out. Vernon, California.

“As a bio major, I did not know much about entrepreneurship, innovation, startups, or venture capital,” said Lauren Culp ’24, “but I have had the unique opportunity to experience all of these firsthand during my trip to LA. The course focused on different aspects of innovation, such as sustainability, affordability, improving communities and the well-being of others, and finding new and better ways to improve our lives while also keeping in mind our impact on the environment.

“In small groups we focused on companies with these goals, one being beyond meat. I learned how detrimental the meat industry is, not only to the environment but to us as well,” Culp added. “This inspired me to become a ‘flexitarian’ and only eat meat couple of times a week instead of every day. I learned about the work of venture capital and its investments in startup companies. I also learned all of the steps to becoming a successful entrepreneur, and have found myself inspired to be an entrepreneur myself one day, knowing that I have many connections in my field of interest that will help me succeed one day.”

Martina planned this course over several months, with the support of Elon faculty members Mark Kurt and Matt Ryan, The Isabella Cannon Global Education Center, as well as Love School of Business Dean Raghu Tadepalli and others in the school.

“I created a similar course based in San Francisco, New York and Israel, but because Los Angeles is so vast, it was perhaps the most challenging,” said Martina.

She loved working on the course, including reaching out to hundreds of companies, social ventures, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and industry experts as she started to develop the course and travel itinerary. Martina added that it was a very rewarding experience to see the course come together and witness the students’ curiosity and deeper understanding of innovation.

“Los Angeles is home not only to entertainment and aerospace but a host of other industries that drive innovation and entrepreneurship and I wanted my students to experience the breadth of innovation in LA,” Martina said.

Martina worked with J McMerty, the director of the Elon in LA program as well as with Cierra Seawright, program coordinator for Elon in LA and Professor Kai Swanson who taught the Sundance film course. Many Elon alumni helped out with the course, sponsoring company visits, or leading panel discussion. Martina is very grateful to the 15 amazing alumni in Los Angeles who took the time to meet with the students in her class.