Cohort 5 of the Pitt Blast Furnace student accelerator is underway with an interesting new twist. For this cohort, a new Blast Furnace Fellowship was created to help Pitt students develop a full-fledged startup by the end of June. The five Blast Furnace Fellows teams must work 30 hours minimum per week at the Blast Furnace office space at the Innovation Institute, conduct a minimum of 50 customer discovery meetings, apply to up to five local or national accelerators or angel investors and create a legal entity by the end of the program. Each team will receive $10,000 for their work.

We caught up with two of the teams OxyGen and Orb, to ask them about their experience in the program. OxyGen is designing a clinical oxygen concentrator capable of operating independently from an electricity source.  OxyGen’s team includes James Newton, Shushrut Bhalerao, Wendy Zhang, and Ashwin Prabhu.  Orb is developing tools to manage and analyze business interactions and data throughout a user’s career cycle. Orb’s team members are Lauren Borelli, Erik Markovich, and Nathan Czapor.

How did the Pitt entrepreneurial environment help you with where you are today? 

OxyGen: It is really easy to sit in your comfort zone and predict the future. It takes nothing! By engaging with people and taking customer surveys, you discover that you are not an oracle. You can be wrong, too. The important part is to realize that it’s okay to be wrong. The Pitt entrepreneurial environment helped us to grow our understanding of customers, markets, and overall business settings. We have a better perspective of what customers think; what are their needs and pain points.

Orb
: Previously, I was intrigued by entrepreneurship with little to no knowledge of how to go about starting my own business. However, after engaging in the Blast Furnace Fellowship, I am learning something new every day. I feel more confident in my ability to bring business ideas to fruition.

Why do you think grit matters in entrepreneurship?

OxyGen: There will moments when there is no hope; there is no path forward. You have two options, give up and go home, or get yourself up and try the next thing. Never back down and never ever, ever, give up.  Grit makes you stronger to face and conquer any challenges coming towards you. That grit, to move forward, comes from passion. If you are passionate about something, then you can generate grit in yourself.  Stay focused. Stay passionate.

Orb: Success in entrepreneurship rarely strikes with your first idea. Having grit means being prepared to grind through all the failures until you finally reach success with your business.
What is your favorite memory/person/quote of the Blast Furnace so far?

OxyGen: “Everything to everyone, is nothing to no one.” This is the biggest truth that remains oblivious to many.

Orb: My favorite quote is, “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

What are your long-term goals for your company?

OxyGen: We envision to run a profitable business with diversified product portfolio, with some of our products widely distributed in underprivileged regions of the world.

Orb: Long-term goals for Orb would mean servicing health delivery systems both domestically and internationally.

What piece of advice do you have for other aspiring entrepreneurs at Pitt?

OxyGen: You will never know until, and unless, you try. So join Blast Furnace and test your thoughts.

Orb: Listen and heed advice from other entrepreneurs, mentors, and any resource you may have access to.

What motivated you to start this type of business?

OxyGen: We started wanting to learn more about entrepreneurship and making an impact to improve the quality of life for people in the low-resource areas.

Orb: I was motivated by my combined passion for psychology, business, and excellence in healthcare.

Come to see these teams and the rest of the cohort present at Demo Day, June 8th!  Demo Day will be held in the William Pitt Union, Lower Lounge and doors will open at 4:30 p.m.