Sponsored Content: The Innovation Institute: The next big idea comes from you

By Michael Yeomans

So you have a great idea for the next great social sharing app. Or maybe a new crowdsourcing platform, medical device or social enterprise? Or maybe you don’t have an idea, but you want to get some hands-on experience in entrepreneurship?

Whatever the idea, the Pitt Innovation Institute has several competitions and hackathons lined up for Pitt students this semester where you can find out if your idea can make it to market. Your idea could even win some cash prizes, including the Randall Family Big Idea Competition, which includes a $25,000 top prize and $100,000 in total prizes.

The fun kicks off Friday and Saturday, Jan. 19 and 20, with the Startup Blitz. At this 24-hour startup-athon, you can pitch your idea, recruit teammates, join a team and work one-on-one with an experienced business mentor to begin developing your idea into a viable product or service.

You then pitch your idea Saturday afternoon for the chance to win cash prizes. Food is provided Friday night and Saturday morning on the third floor of the School of Computing and Information. Don’t have your own idea? No problem. Come to the event and listen to the initial pitches from your fellow students and try to join a team that interests you.

The following weekend, Jan. 26-28, is the She Innovates all-women hackathon. Also held at the School of Information and Computing, this event is for female students (undergraduate and graduate). If you don’t have a team, don’t worry. You can join one at the event. You don’t even need hacking experience to participate. Mentors will be there to guide you along.

Next up is the Randall Family Big Idea Competition. Now in its 10th year, the Big Idea competition is also open to all students (from undergrad to postdoctoral fellows) who have an idea that might make the basis for a startup or a new social enterprise. Sponsored through the generosity of Pitt trustee Bob Randall and his family, many past participants have gone on to launch their ideas as startups.

John Frazier and Nicole Xu, who earned degrees from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs in 2016, first floated their idea for a language translation platform at a Startup Blitz event, where they and fellow classmate Lujing Gao won the $1,500 top prize for their pitch.

They went on to compete in the Randall Family Big Idea Competition and launched their business, uTranslated, after completing the Pitt Blast Furnace student idea accelerator.

“We never intended to be entrepreneurs. It just sort of worked out that we came up with this idea and we won the Startup Blitz pitch competition,” Frazier said. “It turned out to be a life-changing experience. When we got that money we didn’t pay rent, we decided to keep pushing ahead. It was the perfect time in our lives to try something (entrepreneurial). So we went for it.”

To register for Startup Blitz and/or She Innovates and to apply for the Randall Family Big Idea Competition, visit the Innovation Institute web site, www.innovation.pitt.edu and click on the “Events & Competitions” tab. Deadline for submission is February 5, 2018.