University of Pittsburgh
March 31, 2015

Student Entrepreneurs to Go Big in Final Round

Pitt’s seventh annual Randall Family Big Idea Competition, which has helped launch several companies, may yield city’s next crop of start-ups

Joe Miksch


Cell: 412-997-0314

PITTSBURGH—Thirty-five teams of student innovators and prize money totaling $100,000? It’s the University of Pittsburgh’s 2015 Randall Family Big Idea Competition presented by the University’s Innovation Institute.

The Big Idea Awards Showcase will be held April 2 in the O’Hara Student Center, 4024 O'Hara St., Oakland. Competing teams will pitch their ideas to a panel of judges, who will then award a total of $100,000 in cash prizes—including a $25,000 grand prize—to the student teams in support of their entrepreneurial endeavors. The final-round presentations will be held from noon to 3 p.m. and the awards showcase will be held from 4 to 6 p.m.

“This event embodies the vision of the Innovation Institute,” says Babs Carryer, competition organizer and the institute’s 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. That starts with our students. 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, Social Innovation, Information Technology, and Apps. Students’ ideas will be judged using six criteria: the big idea itself, the market, customers and value proposition, the competitive landscape, revenue model, and the team. 

The competition kicked off in February with over 100 teams from across campus. Eighty-five teams continued to the second round and participated in the Big Idea Boot Camp, which included lessons on “business basics” and “the art of the pitch.” A semifinal competition was held in March with 35 finalists advancing to the April 2 final round and showcase.

All of the competition participants are eligible to compete in the Big Idea People’s Choice Video Competition. Voting is currently under way, and the two most popular videos will each win $2,000. 

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 7-year-old Randall Family Big Idea Competition include: Barre, CEAgent, FossilFreeFuel, FutureDerm, PathVu, Qrono, Suitable, and others. More information about student entrepreneurship at Pitt can be found on the Innovation Institute website.

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. He formerly served as president and chief executive officer of the Three Rivers Aluminum Company (TRACO), a prominent regional door and window company, which was acquired by Alcoa and is now a division of Kawneer.