October 1, 2016


By Mike Yeomans

Pitt student entrepreneurs presented ideas ranging from a treatment for sleep apnea to new apps for professional networking and pharmacy insurance reimbursements at the first Startup Blitz of the 2016-17 year.

The winners of $1,750 cash prize pool as selected by a panel of judges from the regional startup community were:

  1. Student Connect ($1,000) – Wristbands for reporting sexual assault
  2. Sportify ($500) Sports performance analytics app
  3. Network Now ($250) – Networking app for professionals

About 50 students participated in the day-long event presenting their ideas, recruiting team members and working with professional mentors to conduct customer discovery exercises and define their value propositions.

The day culminated with the teams putting together a five-minute investor pitch.

“It was very exciting to receive so much support for my idea of using technology to help people stay safe and live their lives without fear or limitations imposed by fear of walking alone at night,” said senior Amy Johnson, leader of the Student Connect Team, which included Jie Song, Chen Su, Hanwei Cheng and Kyle Welch.

She added, “It was an invigorating experience to be able to develop my idea at the Blitz, and the advice and inputs of the entrepreneurs in residence and my other team members really helped to refine my idea.”

The Student Connect Team will join the next cohort of the Pitt Blast Furnace student startup accelerator, beginning Oct. 10, with the goal of turning the idea into marketable business that helps keep people safe while walking alone at night.

The product is safety wristbands, that takes advantage of the close proximity within which most university students live to crowdsource safety. The bands have a button, which when pressed automatically calls 911 and alerts all other wristband-wearers in the immediate vicinity that a fellow student is experiencing an emergency by vibrating and flashing a red light.  Additionally, the location of the student needing help is sent to the other students’ phones, allowing other students to assist or act as witnesses.  Finally, the phone of the student who has pressed the “help” button will automatically begin recording audio in an effort to collect evidence of the crime that is occurring, as well as emit an alarm.

“It was amazing to see students who came to the event in the morning with just the kernel of an idea pitching with the amount of polish you might expect to see from a much more advanced startup,” said Innovation Institute Founding Director Marc Malandro, who served as one of the event judges.

Other teams that were selected to pitch included:

My Recovery 365 – Search engine for opiod rehabilitation services

Papr Plane – Social media app

Revolution Biologics – Organ tissue generation

Your Fit – An all encompassing fitness app

E-Z Coverage – Insurance app for pharmacies

Snoozy  — Sleep apnea treatment pillow

Greg Coticchia, entrepreneur in residence at the Innovation Institute and director of the Blast Furnace, said he is hopeful that several of the Blitz teams, in addition to Student Connect will enroll in the eight-week program that helps students launch a startup using the Lean Launchpad methodology, while working one-on-one with an experienced mentor.

“Just because an idea didn’t get selected for one of the cash prizes doesn’t mean there isn’t a seed of a great business,” Coticchia said. “We have had many student teams come through the Blast Furnace that have pivoted their original idea into a successful startup through the hands-on lessons learned and the professional guidance they receive in Blast Furnace.”

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