Students Become Investors at Money Table


Graduate students from Pitt and Carnegie Mellon came together for a startup pitch competition that flipped the script.

Instead of pitching their own startups, the mixed teams of Pitt and CMU students were acting as early-stage investors evaluating pitches made by real Pittsburgh startups that are seeking investment to grow their businesses.

The investor teams were evaluated by members of the regional early-stage investment community. The judges assessed the quality of the teams’ questions posed to the entrepreneurs following the pitches, as well as the quality of the investment term sheets that the teams presented to the entrepreneurs.

The event, dubbed The Money Table, is one of the many activities of Pitt Innovation Week that include a more typical pitch competition involving both Pitt and CMU students, a startup career fair, an innovation and entrepreneurship alumni panel and an alumni networking luncheon. Click here for a full schedule of remaining events.

from left, Joe Shawky, Ankita Mathur and Samuel Blake, the winners of The Money Table competition.

From left, Joe Shawky and Ankita Mathur from Pitt’s Graduate School of Business, and Samuel Blake from CMU’s Tepper School of Business, were the winners of The Money Table competition. Click here to see a flickr photo gallery from the event.

Babs Carryer, the Pitt Innovation Institute’s Director of Education and Outreach, said the bringing together of students from Pitt and CMU is a valuable opportunity to broaden the opportunities for collaboration between the two neighboring universities in the innovation and entrepreneurship space.

“There is so much happening at both universities, and we’re right next door to each other, so it only stands to reason that students should be able to work together to launch and grow startups,” she said.

Joe Shawky, a Pitt Bioengineering student who competed on the winning team, said he relished the opportunity to evaluate pitches from companies spanning a wide range of industries.

“I’m coming from a non-business background so I learned an immense amount about what it takes to raise money for a startup, including some of the jargon and some of the actual processes to get these deals made,” he said.

The pitching companies included Pitt student startup uTranslated, which is developing a language translation platform. The company recently completed the AlphaLab business accelerator in East Liberty. The other startups volunteering to pitch their company at the event included Inpleo, a CMU spinout that has developed an artificial intelligence platform to improve purchasing for large organizations; Centiment, an online, real-time reputation management company, and Skycision, which is developing software platforms for drones to improve crop management; and Suitable, a Pitt spinout that provides career development support to universities.

Roger Byford, one of the event judges and a partner in the Pittsburgh-based angel investment group BlueTree Ventures, said he enjoyed the unique format of the Money Table.

“The setup is challenging for the teams competing because they have a very limited time to put together a term sheet presentation which is something they likely haven’t put together before,” he said. “I would think seeing the other side of the startup investment process will be interesting for them if they ever go into business themselves and are presenting to investors.  They will understand the rationale of what is coming back from the other side of the table.”

Pitt student Ankita Mathur said she plans to work for a startup when she graduates.

“I think this competition is a perfect opportunity to get exposure in the startup arena,” she said. “Each of the entrepreneurs we saw have their own strategy and where they would like to take the company, and evaluating that from an investor’s perspective was very interesting.”

Brian Jean, CEO of Inpleo, said he wishes he could have had the opportunity to have the investor’s perspective before launching his business.

“Seeing the feedback the angels are giving are things that I’ve learned organically over time, but this competition accelerates that process and gives students exposure early on so when they do start their businesses or they are at the negotiation table they will know better what to expect,” he said.