Ten years ago, the Randall family first granted a cool hundred grand to be divided between the students at Pitt with the top ideas for a new product, service or nonprofit endeavor. This year’s Randall Family Big Idea Competition will mark $1 million – six zeroes – awarded to Pitt students of all levels from any school at the University. Every year, the Randall Family Big Idea Competition draws a competitive crowd of about 200 students who all pitch their ideas to a panel of prominent local entrepreneurs. Just apply by the upcoming deadline this year and you’ll have your own shot at a piece of the pie. And if you’re not yet convinced that you ought to apply, you should know that the top-placing team receives twenty-five grand, so you’ll probably want to keep reading.
To register for the Big Idea competition, operated by the Pitt Innovation Institute, you’ll need two things: an idea to pitch, and at least one other person on your team. Everyone on your team needs to be affiliated with Pitt (undergraduate or graduate student, or postdoctoral fellow).
Egging you on throughout the competition will be mentors and entrepreneurs in residence at the Innovation Institute, all of whom have a lot of experience working with fledgling ideas and navigating the whitecapped waters of entrepreneurship. After about a month of initial work, starting with a “Bootcamp” day and ending with a semi-final round in early March, you’ll also be given a dedicated team mentor who will help you develop your idea pitches. “It take an army to raise enough capital for a viable startup business to get its feet on the ground,” as they say, so there really will be a whole host of people on hand who can help you and your teammates find your footing.
The Big Idea Competition was the brainchild of Pitt trustee Bob Randall and his children. Mr. Randall founded the Three Rivers Aluminum Company (TRACO), which he later sold to Alcoa. Their goal was to promote entrepreneurship education at Pitt.
To get a sense of what this competition can really do for you, you can look at a past success story: Aeronics, a portable-oxygen storage company now operating at the University of Pittsburgh’s Applied Research Center. The Aeronics team went through the Randall competition two years ago and won the $25,000 top prize. Mark Spitz, one of the co-founders of Aeronics, says it wasn’t just the money his team won that got him where they are today, but the resources given in the competition itself. He told The Pitt News that he thinks it’s vital to let students know that “Bob Randall is giving a bunch of money to the University to accelerate what you want to do in life — not just that, but to give you an opportunity to do something you’ve never done before…Even if you don’t have an idea, you can find a team to work with.”
Your idea does not have to be fully formed to apply. You don’t need to have a prototype or a business plan. If you’re a veteran of one of the Innovation Institute’s introductory programs, like the Startup Blitz, this is a great opportunity to take the idea you forged in that competition and hone it on the Randall Family’s whetstone. Whether you already have long-term goals for your startup idea, or you’re just beginning to think about it, the Big Idea competition is a perfect jumping-off point.
Don’t let your dreams be dreams! Bring them to life at the Randall Family Big Idea Competition. The deadline to apply at http://go.innovation.pitt.edu/rfbic2018 is Monday, February 5.