Sponsored Content:The Innovation Institute: How do I get my big ideas off the ground?

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Sponsored Content:The Innovation Institute: How do I get my big ideas off the ground?

By Andrew Tindall

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What do Larry Page, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? If you’d answer that they’re self-made tech giants, or that they could each lose a cool billion dollars without batting an eye, you’re right. But they, along with many other world-class entrepreneurs, have one more thing in common: They got started in college.

Here’s the question you should be asking yourself about now: How do I get my own big ideas off the ground?

Pitt’s Innovation Institute can help you and your idea get from where you are to where you want to be. It doesn’t matter how far along you are, or even whether you’re set on an idea at all. The Institute has programs and resources for anyone. But if you do have an idea, and want a free resource to workshop your way to a successful startup, the Blast Furnace might be right for you.

Blast Furnace is designed to fill in the gap between shorter workshops, like the Startup Blitz (Oct. 6 and 7), and the big local startup accelerators, like Idea Foundry, AlphaLab and Ascender.

Blast Furnace is an eight-week program that meets two nights a week and is accepting applicants right now. The kickoff will be Oct. 4, and it will meet Monday and Wednesday nights until “Demo Day” on Dec. 7, where cash prizes are awarded to the top three teams as judged by a panel of Pittsburgh innovation ecosystem VIPs. It might even count as credit for your degree: three credits through the College of Business Administration, or two through Swanson School of Engineering (if you are in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship track). The cohort is open to absolutely any student at the Oakland campus. Check out the program website for details and to apply: www.innovation.pitt.edu/programs/blast-furnace/.

There is absolutely no better way to learn than by doing it yourself, and Blast Furnace emphasizes experiential learning. The basic idea behind Blast Furnace is the “Lean Launchpad,” a style of entrepreneurship education designed to maximize hands-on learning. A central factor is the “flipped classroom.” On Mondays, instead of sitting idly by during a lecture, each student gets involved. The teams put together individual presentations on how they have applied the new ideas they’re learning to their own startup. On Wednesdays, an expert or professional shares valuable insight into the process of launching an idea, including entrepreneurs themselves, past graduates of the Blast Furnace, lawyers, marketing and operations experts and angel investors. Additionally, Blast Furnace offers office hours and a co-working space at the Gardner Steel Conference Center on O’Hara Street. Throughout the program, professional mentors are available to guide you through the process. All the Institute asks in return is enough passion and perseverance to stick with the program.

The Blast Furnace has conducted two cohorts per year since the first one in the spring of 2015. More than 400 cumulative students comprising more than 80 teams have worked to forge ideas into reality. Some past success stories include uTranslated, founded by a group of students from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. Their idea for a new way to deliver translation services won them the top prize at Blast Furnace Demo Day. They went on to be accepted into the AlphaLab accelerator and are now a full-fledged startup with customers and revenue.

It’s about grit: Will you forge your own passion and perseverance in flame at the Innovation Institute’s Blast Furnace? Registration ends Sept. 25.

Other upcoming Innovation Institute student events:

ENTREPRENEURIAL CAFE: Connect with like-minded students interested in innovation and entrepreneurship and meet members of the Pittsburgh regional innovation ecosystem.

WHEN: Sept. 22, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Mervis Hall, first floor event space

STARTUP OPEN: Come hungry for all things entrepreneurship at Pitt and learn about the programs and resources available to help you start your journey. You can also win tickets to the Thrival Festival.

WHEN: Sept. 28, 5 to 7 p.m.

WHERE: O’Hara Student Center Ballroom

STARTUP BLITZ: Pitch your idea or join a team in this fast-paced event where you can win cash prizes. Entrepreneurs in residence will be on hand to help you shape your idea and develop an investor pitch.

WHEN: 5 p.m., Friday, Oct. 6, to 4 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 7

WHERE: O’Hara Student Center dining room/ballroom

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