University of Pittsburgh
March 29, 2012

Pitt Students With Big Ideas to Compete April 4 for Start-Up Funds With Medical, Energy Innovations

First-place winner in the 2012 Randall Family Big Idea Competition to receive $30,000
Contact:  412-624-4147


PITTSBURGH—Student innovation and entrepreneurship will converge when Pitt’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence (IEE) hosts the 2012 Randall Family Big Idea Competition, beginning at 6 p.m. April 4 in Ballroom B of the University Club, 123 University Pl., Oakland. This is the fourth year of the Big Idea Competition, made possible through a leadership gift from the Bob and Rita Randall Family. The IEE is part of the University’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration.

Six student team finalists, emerging business visionaries competing for a total of $75,000, have been chosen from ideas submitted by 156 Pitt students. The first-place prize will be $30,000. Descriptions of the student team projects follow:

  • Drug Delivery Platform, a technology that allows for controlled release of protein therapeutics to specific tissues; 
  • DVsphere, a revolutionary therapy to halt and potentially reverse certain types of diabetes;
  • SensorTech, carbon nanotube sensors that detect the presence of dangerous gases, like hydrogen sulfide, at a fraction of the price of electrochemical gas sensors;
  • SmartPace, a heart-imaging platform that assesses whether a patient will benefit from a pacemaker and, if beneficial, guides the surgeon during implantation;
  • TactSense Technology, a tactile feedback system for relaying the forces experienced by robotic surgical tools directly to a surgeon’s fingertips; and
  • UV-Pods, market-ready, single-use sunscreen capsules designed to ensure that the right amount of sunscreen is applied by the user. 

Additionally, 13 runner-up teams will compete in a WILDCARD round, with a chance to win $1,000.  The winner will be chosen by those who attend the Randall Family Big Idea showcase and vote for their favorite idea.

Students were able to enter the competition through the following three categories: Powered by Pitt, where teams are formed around Pitt technologies, as provided by Pitt’s Office of Technology Management; Power Up Pittsburgh, where teams are formed to provide business solutions for challenges in the City of Pittsburgh, as provided by the Office of the Mayor; and the Power of Innovation, where students can compete with ideas for growing an existing business or with ideas for new products or services.

Past Randall Family Big Idea Competition winners include first place Business Growth Idea winner Justin Mares, a senior finance major at Pitt. Mares’s company RoommateFit LLC provides colleges and universities with a computer-based matching service for effectively pairing incoming freshman roommates via a research-based personality test. Since competing in 2011, Mares won Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper Venture Challenge and partnered with two universities, Ohio and Cleveland State, to participate in a pilot program. Pulse Motors, the first place interdisciplinary team idea winner from 2011, submitted the idea for creating personal electric vehicles. Since the competition, Pulse has conducted a successful beta test of its first production prototype, started leasing the vehicles, and is selling sponsorships. Pulse was recently named among “America’s Coolest College Startups 2012” by Inc. magazine, and CEO Micah Toll, a senior mechanical engineering major at Pitt, was named one of the Top Five College Entrepreneurs of the Year by Entrepreneur magazine.

Attending the Randall Family Big Idea Competition showcase is free and open to the public but does require registration. To RSVP or for more information, visit




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