Imagine that you come to Pitt as a freshman, or returning upperclassmen, and “BAM!” you say to yourself, “Self, that is a great idea I have. I need to start a business!” In short, you realize that you have an idea that could make you the next startup superstar. You’ve watched numerous episodes of Shark Tank, The Profit and even Bar Rescue. You’ve seen pictures of Zuckerberg, Gates and Jobs and read their quotes. You even had summer jobs in retail sales, or had your own lawn cutting/landscaping business, or had a summer internship. You know you are ready to use all this experience.


And you tell yourself, “Self, if they can do it, so can I!”

But wait a minute, you think. Am I really ready? Where do I start? How do I begin?

Pitt’s Innovation Institute can help you find out what you need to know to get a good start and accelerate your idea into a real business.

We call it the Blast Furnace.

We started this program in 2015 for students –undergraduates through post docs – who want to turn their ideas into realities. In our first Cohort, we had 40 students from all across the campus, representing 13 teams. From these teams, several have formed companies and have been invited into local accelerators, such as Thrill Mill, Idea Foundry and AlphaLab and AlphaLab Gear. And you can too.

Here are four fabulous free things you get with the Blast Furnace. All it takes is for you to apply, and get selected.

Here is what is ‘in the box’:

  1. 3 Months of Free Office Space. You can’t beat this. Instead of trying to build your business in your dorm room, or at your local Panera or Starbucks, we give you space. Free. On campus at Webster Hall. Open to you and your team to work, progress your plans, meet with mentors, potential investors, and more. Space is limited, so applying early is important.
  2. Access to “Mover and Shaker” Network. You meet the best, the brightest and the most connected in Western Pennsylvania. From venture capitalists and leaders of local economic development organizations that could potentially fund your startup idea, to true been-there-done-that entrepreneurs who will share their experiences and advice.
  3. Support from Mentors with Street Cred. These folks have done multiple times what you want to do, and not only will you hear them speak at the Blast Furnace, but you will be assigned, or you can select, a mentor or two to help you reach your goals. There is nothing like a coach; we all need one. And when you are starting a business you need coaches who will be there to help you make good decisions. The Blast Furnace provides these coaches/mentors who can help you reach your goals.
  4. Hands-on Education. I know, I know. You have enough classes already without more, but these classes are different. Hundreds of Pitt students and faculty have been through the Pitt Ventures Gear program in just the last 18 months. Why would they go to additional classes? Because it’s fun and it works, and you participate. In these flipped classroom presentations you teach as much as you listen. From these sessions, and from working and listening to other teams, you make your idea and business better.

Bonus: #5 Finally, as with any accelerator, the Blast Furnace provides pressure. A number of people have said to me that one of the most impactful things they got out of an accelerator program, was a deadline and basic framework for getting there. Of course every company should be able to provide this themselves, but in reality, it’s tricky to do in the early days. Eight weeks of the Blast Furnace, like when pressure is applied to coal, can turn your idea into a diamond.

So what are you waiting for? Join us! Join the success and fun of the Blast Furnace. We’re accepting applications now.

Entrepreneurship @ Pitt. One final note is to keep a lookout for our Innovation Institute events, competitions and programs to help you hone and develop your ideas. We start the school year with a Startup Smash held on September 24th from 6 pm – 8pm, where you can meet other students who are interested in entrepreneurship, recruit teammates, join a team, learn about entrepreneurship clubs, hear from investors, entrepreneurs and mentors from the community. This is a great opportunity to partake in the camaraderie inherent in our Pitt entrepreneurial community! Register for Startup Smash today!