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The First Gear program helps shape Pitt inventions originating from University research from early-stage discovery to products and services that can be taken to market. The program offers hands-on guidance and mentorship that takes an inventor through the necessary steps in creating a go-to-market plan that can result in the creation of a new enterprise or licensing agreement for the technology. As a designated NSF I-Corps site, First Gear participants also receive $3,000 in funding to help validate the market-readiness of the innovation, and qualify for additional NSF funding of larger amounts. Want to learn more, watch the Pitt Ventures & NSF I-Corps info session.

Fall 2022 Cohorts

The next cohort begins in September 2022 on Tuesdays 3:00 – 5:30 PM.

Exact Dates: September 6, 20, 27

October  11, 25

November 8

Workshops are held on Tuesdays from 3-5:30 p.m.

This cohort is held virtually.

Deadline to apply is Aug 23, 2022.


Who Qualifies?

A team working on a Pitt invention developed from University research (potential Pitt IP) that is comprised of the following:

  1. Entrepreneurial Lead: Typically a student with deep knowledge of the innovation and a commitment to investigate the commercialization of the innovation, however can also be faculty or staff.
  2. Academic Lead: Faculty with an appointment at the University involved with discovering the innovation – someone who would qualify to submit grant proposals to NSF.
  3. Mentor: Skilled business leader with experience in bringing products to the market. The mentor will be responsible for advising the team on business matters that affect commercialization.  The Innovation Institute team can help you identify (or provide) a mentor for your team.

What is the Program?


  • Your team will be assigned a dedicated entrepreneurial mentor who will guide you through the process.
  • Six First Gear workshops will be facilitated weekly for three hours and will take you through the development of the Business Model Canvas with emphasis on identifying your market, understanding your customers and articulating the value of your invention. See the syllabus below.
  • Through a flipped-classroom style workshop, you will become knowledgeable on what it takes to get to market, create your business model and adjust it based on real-time input from seasoned entrepreneurs.
  • You will talk directly with potential customers and understand first-hand the potential of your invention and what it will take to be successful.
  • At the end of the six weeks, you will have guidance on what to pursue next. Next steps could include applying for additional funding through NSF or a local economic development organization, establishing a new enterprise or pursuing an external licensee agreement.


Program Syllabus

Week 1: Who are you?

Team Introduction, Program Overview, Introduction of the Business Model Canvas

Week 2: How do you Create Value for your Customer?

Defining your value proposition and cost benefits for your customer

Week 3:  How Big is Your Market and Who is Trying to Steal it?

Quantify your potential and identify your competition

Week 4: What is Required to Bring Your Innovation to Market?

Define your minimal viable product and operational strategy

Week 5: How to “Sell” Your Idea?

Understand your potential distribution channels and go-to-market strategy

Week 6: The Pitch

Summarize what you’ve learned in a concise presentation that will get the attention of potential funding sources, partners and customers

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