University of Pittsburgh
April 9, 2014

Student Entrepreneurs to Go Big in Final Round

Pitt’s annual Randall Family Big Idea Competition, which has helped launch companies like FossilFreeFuel, may yield city’s next crop of start-ups
Audience will be invited to vote for wild-card winner at April 10 competition showcase

Joe Miksch


Cell: 412-997-0314

PITTSBURGH—Twenty-one teams of innovators. Prize money totaling $100,000 and advertising, marketing, and communications support from a big-time Pittsburgh agency to the top-four teams. It’s the University of Pittsburgh’s 2014 Randall Family Big Idea Competition presented by the University’s new Innovation Institute.

The April 10 competition showcase, free and open to the public, will begin at 6 p.m. in the Assembly Room of the William Pitt Union, 3959 Fifth Ave., Oakland. The competition, which will include participants pitching their ideas to a panel of judges before the 6 p.m. showcase, will award $100,000 in cash prizes to the students in support of their entrepreneurial endeavors.

“This event embodies the vision of the Innovation Institute,” says Babs Carryer, competition organizer and the Institute’s new director of education and outreach. “We aim to foster a convergence of imagination, ingenuity, collaboration, and entrepreneurial spirit among faculty, staff, students, and the community. Our goal is to promote a regional culture of innovation commercialization, entrepreneurship, and economic development. The future does indeed begin here.”

Students in the competition have backgrounds in business, medicine, engineering, chemistry, dentistry, and law, among other fields. Some are undergraduates—freshmen, even—and others are working toward their PhDs. The finalists compete in four tracks: Health Care/Life Sciences, Social Innovation, and two categories of General Technology/Information Technology. Students’ ideas will be judged using five criteria: the viability of the business model, the clarity and potential of the market, the expertise and commitment of the management team, the feasibility of the sales and marketing strategy, and the finalists’ receptivity to coaching and guidance.

Each of four winning entrants will receive $20,000 in cash, four second-place teams will receive $4,500 each, and the winning wild-card proposal, determined by an audience vote rather than judges’ votes, will receive a $2,000 cash prize. The four first-place teams will also work with professionals from Pittsburgh-based public relations firm MARC USA and others to develop advertising, marketing, and communications strategies in a new program called Marketing Sparks.

The competition kicked off in January and continued with the teams that moved on to the second round participating in the Big Idea Training Camp, which included lessons on “the art of the pitch,” start-up law, and customer development. A semifinal competition was held in March with the finalists advancing to the April 10 showcase and competition.

The Randall Family Big Idea Competition is an experience-based learning opportunity offered to Pitt undergraduate and graduate students from disciplines across the University. The objectives are to support Pitt students in launching and growing new business ventures in Western Pennsylvania; to provide a forum for emerging student entrepreneurs to network with potential advisors, partners, customers, and funders; and to highlight the expanding entrepreneurial culture at Pitt to the University community, the region, and prospective students.

Past winners of the 6-year-old Randall Family Big Idea Competition include FossilFreeFuel and other ventures that have created a drug delivery platform, a personality-based roommate matching service for colleges, and an electric two-wheeled vehicle. These business ventures are in varying stages of development.

The competition has been made possible through a leadership gift from the Bob and Rita Randall Family; Bob Randall (A&S ’65) is a Pitt alumnus and trustee. Additional support for the competition comes from the Office of the Provost, the Senior Vice Chancellor for the Health Sciences, Pitt’s Innovation Institute, the School of Education, the School of Law, the Swanson School of Engineering, and the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business. Outside sponsors are K&L Gates, MARC USA, and Songwhale.