Andy Kuzneski III and his wife, Laurie, wanted a way to support University of Pittsburgh students in a manner that aligned with their passion for innovation and entrepreneurship.
Together they have established the Kuzneski Innovation Cup, a student innovation pitch competition to be administered by the Pitt Innovation Institute. The competition will award $18,000 in annual funding to support the commercialization of those discoveries based on Pitt research that have the potential to impact people’s lives in areas other than health care.
“As active members of Western Pennsylvania’s small business and startup community, we are thrilled to witness the surge in student entrepreneurship at Pitt fostered by the Innovation Institute,” said Andy Kuzneski III.
“We are excited to introduce the Kuzneski Innovation Cup as a new vehicle for supporting students who are passionate about translating their discoveries into innovations that can impact humanity and contribute to the growth of our regional economy,” Laurie Kuzneski said.
Pitt students of all levels from across the University can compete for a $10,000 top award, as well as for a $5,000 second-place award and a $3,000 third-place award.
The Kuzneski Innovation Cup will be operated in tandem with the Michael G. Wells Student Healthcare Entrepreneurship Competition. Now in its sixth year, the Wells Competition focuses solely on health care innovations.
Both competitions will be operated under the combined banner of the Pitt Ventures Student Challenge. Pitt Ventures is the Innovation Institute’s platform for educating Pitt faculty, staff, and student innovators about the process of commercializing early-stage innovations and for providing mentoring and financial support for Innovators through these initial steps of the commercialization process.
Students from the Pitt Ventures Student Challenge will promote their innovations at the “First Look” Technology Showcase in October, which allows Pitt faculty, staff, and student innovators to present their ideas to an audience of investors, entrepreneurs, regional economic-development representatives, and alumni.
“We are grateful for Andy and Laurie Kuzneski’s support for our student entrepreneurs,” said Innovation Institute Founding Director Marc Malandro. “As Pitt places an enormous emphasis on providing our students with experiential learning opportunities, the contributions of friends and alumni like the Kuzneskis to provide students with hands-on entrepreneurial exercises outside of the classroom is invaluable.”
The Kuzneski family has long supported Pitt. Kuzneski III’s father, Andrew Kuzneski Jr., attended Pitt on a football scholarship beginning in 1958 and later served as president of the University’s Alumni Association and on the Board of Trustees. He also has an annual undergraduate scholarship in his name.
Kuzneski III embarked on a successful career as an entrepreneur prior to taking the leadership reins of his family company, the Kuzneski Financial Group (KFG).
Shortly after graduation from the University of Pennsylvania’s Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology with dual degrees in finance and computer science, he formed his own startup, ArtWatch International, which became one of the nation’s largest makers of character watches.
He cofounded FastFreight Expeditors, a specialty trucking and logistics firm, in 2006, and serves on its board of directors.
Kuzneski III is also active in startup investing and consulting. He is founder and president of Greyhawk Capital, Inc., which has provided equity capital and consulting to early-stage growth companies since 1999.
He is also on numerous nonprofit boards supporting the region’s startup ecosystem, including the Pennsylvania Angel Network and MIT Enterprise Forum Pittsburgh. He is an advisor to the Coulter Translational Research Partners II Program at Pitt and a mentor to startup companies at both AlphaLab and AlphaLab Gear.
Kuzneski III is a member of the Angel Capital Association; Life Science Angels, Inc.; Keiretsu Forum; BlueTrue Allied Angels; Pittsburgh Venture Capital Association; and TiE-Pittsburgh. In all of these venues, he seeks to connect promising entrepreneurs with capital and mentors.
In 2008, he formed Myeloma Angels, an angel investment group dedicated to multiple myeloma-related deals and opportunities and is on the board of the International Myeloma Foundation.
Laurie Kuzneski, a graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, began her career as a financial marketing executive for a local financial institution and quickly worked her way up to assistant vice president where she was responsible for corporate and retail marketing for the bank’s subsidiaries and wealth management and insurance divisions. In 2000, Kuzneski took some time away from the corporate world to focus on Kuzneski III and her growing family. In 2002, she founded Miss Laurie’s Gourmet Kitchen, a cooking school for adults and children in Indiana, Pa.
Along with running Miss Laurie’s Gourmet Kitchen, in 2013, Kuzneski joined her husband at the helm of their business, KFG, as the director of marketing and wellness. With her background in marketing and at Miss Laurie’s, she coordinates the marketing efforts of KFG and offers wellness cooking classes and demonstrations to their corporate clients and their employees.
She is a member of the board of directors of the YMCA and the United Way of Indiana County, an ex-officio board advisor of the Chamber of Commerce of Indiana County, and a member of Quota International of Indiana, Pa. She is serving as the vice chair of the United Way’s 2016 Capital Campaign and is slated to be the chair of the 2017 campaign. She is also the vice chair of the International Myeloma Foundation’s 10th Annual Comedy Celebration honoring the actor Peter Boyle—the largest fundraiser for the International Myeloma Foundation. She is a member of the Rising Tide US Fund, a group dedicated to educating women angel investors, and also spends her free time mentoring entrepreneurs at AlphaLab and throughout the region.