On the 10th anniversary of Pitt’s Randall Family Big Idea Competition, the university’s Innovation Institute announced the formation of The Big Idea Center.
The Center will gather several existing University programs including the Randall Family competition, Blast Furnace and a series of “student blitzes.” Blast Furnace considers itself a “student idea accelerator,” using mentorship to help students prepare their ideas to pitch to professional incubators.
Student blitzes are 24-hour events, much like startup weekends, in which students form teams and incubate ideas. Originally part of University of Pittsburgh’s Katz School of Business, the blitzes will continue to happen each semester.
“We’ve been working on this for quite some time, trying to establish programs over four years where there were none,” says Babs Carryer, who will run the Center. “Now, we’re consolidating the existing programs and giving the students a place within the Innovation Institute that’s particularly for them — where they can create their own big ideas.”
The Center will also promote involvement in events and competitions such as the ACC InVenture Prize and the Rice Business Plan Competition. This year, Pitt had two teams in the ACC event. It was the first time a Pitt-related team was represented in the Rice competition, which is the largest collegiate graduate startup competition in the country.
Four Growers, the Pitt team led by 2016 alumnus Brandon Contino and seniors Dan Chia and Daniel Garcia to automate tomato harvesting in commercial greenhouses, earned a place in both competitions.
According to Evan Facher, interim director of the Innovation Institute, The Big Idea Center will have five areas of focus: education, events and competitions, funding, incubation and acceleration, and mentorship.
“There is a growing hunger for innovation and entrepreneurship among Pitt students,” says Facher. The Big Idea Center “brings their ideas to life through the enhanced programming and resources.”
The original Randall Family Big Idea Competition started a decade ago when Bob Randall, founder of TRACO Windows, committed $1,000,000 over 10 years to fund the student entrepreneurial competition. With the creation The Big Idea Center, Randall is seeding the program with a $2 million donation and aiding in raising the rest of the capital required to operate it.
This year’s Randall Family Competition winners of almost $100,000 in prizes were also announced on Thursday, with the first place prize of $25,000 won by Four Growers. Second place prizes of $15,000 each were earned by the OcuDERM (gel for treating ocular trauma), WheelFit (app to promote physical activity in manual wheelchair users) and Re-Vision (ocular tissue healing) teams. More than 300 students participated on 105 teams in this year’s competition — a record number.