After almost two months of hard work molding their startup ideas, eight teams from the Pitt Blast Furnace student startup accelerator pitched their ideas to a panel of five judges. The event, held on June 9th in the William Pitt Union, marked the completion of the third Blast Furnace cohort in its first year of its existence.

The winner of the Pitt Blast Furnace was AquaCloud, which is developing water monitoring systems that provide end-users with water quality insight and control within their facilities. AquaCloud is a team of five members, led by CEO Vinh Luong, a computer science major who just completed his freshman year.


Luong first pitched his idea for AquaCloud at the Startup PittBlitz event in January, at which he won the $2,500 top prize.

“The Pitt Blast furnace really gave us the expertise and leadership that we needed to succeed in building our idea,” said CEO Luong. “Looking forward, we plan on building upon the knowledge given to us and hope to continue to grow AquaCloud. We thank all of those who put their time and effort into helping AquaCloud become what it is. Especially now, looking how far we have come from the beginning.”

The runner-ups were Cyclosa Labs, which is a way of modernizing cybersecurity and Jock-bots, an automated solution for the lining process of clay tennis court maintenance.

Each team had four minutes to present, with 3 minutes of Q&A from judges right after.

Judges included Audrey Murrell, Dean of the College of Business Administration, the Innovation Institute’s director of education and outreach Babs Carryer, and members of the Pittsburgh startup accelerator community, including Ilana Diamond (AlphaLab Gear), Mike Woycheck (Alloy 26) and Aaron Tainter (AlphaLab).

“The strength of the teams in this cohort was impressive,” said Blast Furnace Director Greg Coticchia, who is an executive in residence at the Innovation Institute and a veteran of multiple information technology startups. “To have a freshman lead the winning team is nothing short of amazing. It speaks to the growing culture of entrepreneurship at Pitt at all levels and across all of the schools.”

Coticchia credited the success of Blast Furnace to the dozens of Innovation Institute staff, Pitt alumni and others from the Pittsburgh entrepreneurial community who volunteer to serve as team mentors and judges or who provide guest lectures.

Earlier this spring, Coticchia implemented a crowdsourcing fund raiser for Blast Furnace through the EngagePitt portal. Hoping originally to raise $5,000 to support expansion of the program and provide more resources at the Blast Furnace’s physical space inside Webster Hall, the effort blew past that goal to raise $12,808 from 76 donors.

To learn more about the Blast Furnace, watch this video, or visit the Blast Furnace web page.

To watch the full event, watch here.

Looking to the second year for the program, Coticchia said conversations are ongoing to offer Blast Furnace as part of the undergraduate entrepreneurship program at the College of Business Administration and to offer summer entrepreneurship internships.


Blast Furnace Cohort 3 Teams/Descriptions:

Bifrost Medical/ Diapanion: Integrated assistive case that increases the convenience while decreasing the stress of daily care which integrates multiple diabetic management devices into one easy-to-use instrument.

Alligrader: Automated grading software

Jock.bots: Automated solution for the lining process of clay tennis court maintenance.

AquaCloud: Water monitoring systems that provide end-users with water quality insight and control within their facilities.

Local Oceans: A technology that breaks down flavors in Recirculating Aquaculture systems, in turn making the process much more efficient and sustainable.

LabKind: A web platform which provides a means for research laboratories to connect and collaborate with each other, and interact with industry to commercialize technology.

Loop: A software solution for companies who want to hear the voices of their customers from around the web.

Cyclosa Labs: Cybersecurity threat intelligence platform.


Click here to learn more about the teams.