More than 70 pumped up Pitt students turned out at the O’Hara Student Center on an unseasonably warm Friday night to try their hand at entrepreneurship at the Innovation Institute’s Startup Blitz.
One-by-one, 31 students of all levels from across the university had a minute each to present their ideas. The students then voted with colored stickers to narrow to a group of 10 finalists that expanded to 11 due to a tie. Ideas ranged from medical devices to new apps for activities such as campus event marketing, financial literacy and crowdsourced parking, to name a few.
Some students whose ideas did not advance to the finalist round caught on with one of the teams that did. The teams then consulted with experienced entrepreneur mentors to begin developing their ideas. Many of the teams spent the rest of the evening contacting potential customers to determine if there is a demand for their offering. They then began translating that research into the elements of a minimally viable initial product/service.
Several of the teams worked late into the night and returned the next morning to begin honing their pitches to a panel of judges that included Innovation Institute Founding Director Marc Malandro, Rhonda Schuldt, owner of the Synergos Group, Stephan Mueller chief operating officer of local Pittsburgh business accelerator Ascender and Justin Ruoff, a Pitt alum and CEO of startup FoodChain, who is a veteran of the Startup Blitz, Randall Family Big Idea Competition in 2015 & 2016, and the Pitt Blast Furnace.
Following the pitches and Q&A, the judges deliberated and selected the top three teams.
Taking third place prize of $500 was Solo Safe, whose idea is a plastic cup with chemical sensors that can detect date rape drugs. The team consists of Max Polec of the College of Business Administration (CBA), Aakash Sudhakar of the Swanson School of Engineering (SSOE) and Priya Chandrasekaran of the Deitrich School of Arts & Sciences (A&S).
Winning the second place prize of $1,000 was InkCinerator, which plans to develop a new type of tattoo ink that does not fade over time. The team consists of Collin Azinger and Robb Manns (SSOE) and Joe Aiello. Azinger’s father, a Pitt alum and team mentor, has been a tattoo artist for nearly 20 years in addition to operating large scale tattoo conventions. The two say they plan to use the prize money to begin designing prototype ink and explore intellectual property protection as they prepare to enter the Randall Family Big Idea Competition.
Finishing first and receiving $1,500 was the MEDCOOL team, comprised of Sivan Alouf of CBA and Charlie Trouba, Josh Peters and Micahel Lynch of SSOE. They are seeking to create a portable cooler for transporting vaccines and other medical products with a focus on applications in developing world nations.
The judges each had words of wisdom for the teams as they get ready for the Big Idea competition.
Ruoff noted that many of the teams were not able to get through their pitch in the allotted two minutes and said they will need to work on condensing their message in their pitches.
Mueller urged the students to keep a longer-term vision in mind.
“When you think about these ideas you have to think about what the vision is down the road. It might be a different kind of business in the beginning compared to what it will be at scale,” he said.
Schuldt said that conducting further customer discovery will be important as the teams prepare to enter the Big Idea Competition.
“To progress to Randall, the best thing you can do is get out and talk to as many people you can,” she said.
Malandro said that in addition to having a laser focus on customer discovery, the teams must always keep in mind how their ideas will make money.
“With that said, it’s amazing what you were able to do in such a short amount of time,” he said.
The other teams in the final round included:
Strategyze: Financial literacy app for young adults
Team: Jenna Bareski (CBA), Elise Molinaro (A&S and Innovation & Entrepreneurship LLC)
Bionix: Kinetically powered leg brace
Team: Armando Rams (SSOE) and Jessica Langrock, Nicole Landreman and Sriram Iyer (A&S and I&E LLC)
Right Choice: App to link people in a foreign country with products and services they prefer
Team: Zehndong Wang, Yuhan Wang, Shiyang Wang (School of Computing & Information)
ResectAssure: Post-surgical bowel leakage monitoring device
Team: Jennifer McHale, Alecadria Ader, Jonathon Salazar and Saurin Parikh (SSOE) and Charles Onvenemezu (Katz)
Slot: Real-time crowd-sourced parking availability app
Team: Evan Turman, Steve Saed and Cole Sterrett (CBA)
Current: Campus event marketing app
Team: Cyrus Basseri (Dietrich) and Farhan Farooqui (SCI)
GND: Light-up safety apparel
Team: Teddy Valinski, Julia Cope and Thomas Russell (SSOE)
Locus Notebooks: Automated notebooks
Team: Abhinar Garg and Forrest Salamanca (SSOE)
Check out a flickr gallery of all the fun.
5:30-7:30, Fifth Floor, Alumni Hall
Entrepreneurial minded Pitt students can connect with members of the regional startup ecosystem, including the MIT Enterprise Forum. Click here to register.
Randall Family Big Idea Competition
Apply by February 1
Students of all levels from across the university can enter this pitch competition and compete for $100,000 in prize money courtesy of Pitt Trustee Robert Randall and his family. Click here to register.