Take a moment to consider how many things you want to learn to do. What’s on your list? What’s holding you back from getting started? What if you could move that process along faster? Now instead of directing that desire at, say, learning to play the piano or becoming a master chef, what if you could accelerate your pace of learning and mastery of skills, as well as network with peers and experts so that you could apply that knowledge to building a new business?

That’s the idea behind an accelerator. And we are proud to be launching one here at the University of Pittsburgh starting April 28, 2015 and running through the middle of June 2015.


What exactly is an accelerator? When confronted with such daunting requests I am forced to use the source of all knowledge and wisdom – Wikipedia. It states “accelerators are fixed-term, cohort-based programs, that include mentorship and educational components and culminate in a public pitch event or demo day.” And accelerators are not to be confused with incubators which have a different timeframe and focus.

The Pittsburgh area and Western Pennsylvania Region has many significant and successful accelerators already in the region such as AlphaLabAlphaLabGear, Idea Foundry, and ThrillMill.  So why does Pitt need one? And what makes us so special? Let’s start with a definition: The Pitt Blast Furnace is a student accelerator providing access to a deep mentor network, inspirational co-working space, and a rich curriculum preparing student startups for creating and growing their business

Unlike local (Pittsburgh) economic development led accelerators, the Blast Furnace was created by the University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute for Pitt students at all levels who have a desire to be entrepreneurial, to create new companies and to receive hands-on learning on how to accomplish these dreams. Our goal is simple: we want to increase your chance of entrepreneurial success. We want you better prepared.

So what’s the program look like? We will be meeting two evenings a week – Tuesdays and Thursdays – here on campus. Tuesdays are focused on learning all about how you start and build a company, using the latest thinking from Steve Blank’s Lean LaunchPad and Eric Ries’ Lean Startup combined with Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas and Value Proposition Canvas. At the Innovation Institute, we have been using these approaches for a number of years as a part of our various programs: Benchtop to Bedside and Pitt Ventures. On Thursdays we will be listening, networking and socializing with some of the region’s best entrepreneurs, venture capitalist, business attorneys, economic development leaders and more. They will share their experiences with Blast Furnace cohort members in a casual and fun setting. And in between? You get mentoring and coaching from the Innovation Institute. At the end of the program you will be ready to launch the next chapter of your startup.

Joining us as advisors for the program are the region’s accelerator leadership including Jim Jen, Ilana Diamond, Nehal Bhojak, Bobby Zappala, and Mark Musolino.  The first cohort of the Blast Furnace will be the winners of this year’s Randall Family Big Idea Competition, as well as select entrepreneurial teams that apply to the program. Check out our recent coverage about the Blast Furnace in the Pittsburgh Business Times. So get ready to accelerate with Pitt’s Blast Furnace. We’re ready to take you and your startups to the future.