THE INNOVATION INSTITUTE: Ready to Kick Off 2019 with Big Idea Blitz and She Innovates

By Nick Zarras

2019 is here, and students will arrive on campus in early January ready to get the spring semester underway. Luckily for any entrepreneurs on campus, the Innovation Institute’s Big Idea Center will host two events in January, both leading up the highly anticipated Randall Family Big Idea Competition in February and March where students can earn more than $100,000 in cash prizes.

The Randall Family Big Idea Competition applications are already open, with the Feb. 5 deadline fast approaching. For those wanting to get introduced into entrepreneurship at Pitt, or maybe just get warmed up for the Big Idea Competition, the Big Idea Center will put on the Big Idea Blitz on Friday, Jan. 18, and Saturday, Jan. 19. The Blitz will be held at the Information Sciences Building (135 North Bellefield Ave.) on the third floor, and registration opens at 5 p.m. on Friday before the competition begins at 5:45. Students can register online at

On Friday, teams will pitch their ideas to the judges, who will announce top teams later in the evening. Teams can be formed in advance, at the competition, or using the TeamFinder online. The top teams will return on Saturday, and final pitching will take place in the afternoon. Presentations are not required for the initial pitch, but teams will have time during the day on Saturday to create a simple PowerPoint presentation for the final pitch. The winners will be announced at 4:30. Teams will have the opportunity to meet and work with the entrepreneurs in residence on Friday night and on Saturday, and the entrepreneurs in residence will be speaking at the dinner on Friday night at 7. Food will also be provided on Saturday. The winners will get cash prizes, and many teams at the Blitz go on to compete at the Big Idea Competition, so the Blitz will be a great introduction if you are thinking about registering.

For female entrepreneurs, the Big Idea Center, with the Women in Computer Science (WiCS) and School of Computing and Information, will host She Innovates, the only hackathon at Pitt exclusively for women. She Innovates will take place on the third floor of the Infor- mation Science Building from Friday, Jan. 25, beginning at 5:30 p.m. to Sunday, Jan. 27. Registration can be found online at Like the Big Idea Blitz, teams can be formed in advance, at the hackathon, or using the TeamFinder. A hackathon is an event where teams work to develop technical projects in a limited amount of time, and She Innovates is open to all skill levels. For those wanting to learn more, an information session will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 23, at 8 p.m. in Sennott Square 5317.

She Innovates will kick off at 5:30 on Friday and continue until the closing ceremony at noon on Sunday. Competitors will be free to come and go as they please. Breakfast, lunch and dinner will be provided on Saturday, and breakfast will be provided on Sunday. The opening ceremony keynote will be given by Nicki Zevola Benvenuti, the founder and CEO at FutureDerm. Mentors will be available to everyone throughout the competition, and after lunch on Saturday, PNC will give a workshop. Projects are due by 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, and the winners will receive cash prizes.

Like the Big Idea Blitz, She Innovates is an excellent chance to participate in a competition prior to the Randall Family Big Idea Competition later in the semester. For those wanting more info on the Big Idea Competition, info sessions will be held on Jan. 11 from 2 to 3 p.m. and Jan. 14 from 4 to 5 p.m. in Benedum 102. More info can be found at