It’s an exciting time to be at Pitt. Two years ago the only programs for students encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship existed only within specific campus schools and departments. Today, thanks to the Innovation Institute, which spans the whole university, all schools and all departments, we provide programming to all students, from freshmen to post-docs.

Take the Randall Family Big Idea Competition for example. This competition is Pitt’s signature student event around entrepreneurship. This year we had more than 100 teams apply from across campus. 85 teams made the cut to Big Idea 2, the second round, where teams pitched to judges on Thursday, March 5. The students’ big ideas covered everything from safe driving devices to new ways of screening for early-stage pharmaceutical drugs.

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Each team had five minutes to pitch to a panel of independent judges, all of whom are experienced professionals or entrepreneurs themselves. The judges did not go easy on the teams, asking them difficult questions about where they wanted to take their big ideas in the future. As the judges caucused over lunch to decide which teams would move on to Big Idea 3, the final round, it was evident how serious they took their tasks. Pouring over the judges’ sheets, each panel of judges had to present a unified view of the best teams to move forward. Their mission accomplished, 35 teams were notified that they were chosen for the final round.

Now the real work begins, starting with a “Meet Your Mentor” event on Monday, March 16. Each team will be introduced to a mentor who is volunteering their time away from their own startup. On March 21, the elevator pitch master, Mel Pirchesky, will give a workshop on how to do an elevator pitch.

The teams will also be able to avail themselves of Innovation Institute coaches to prepare for the final pitches on Thursday, April 2. Come to the Randall Family Big Idea Competition Awards Showcase on Thursday April 2, from 4-6 p.m. in the O’Hara Student Center Ballroom to find out who wins the $25,000 grand prize and which teams place 2nd, 3rd and 4th, plus see who wins the People’s Choice video competition.