University of Pittsburgh
March 29, 2013

For $85,000 in Cash Prizes, Pitt Students Pitch the Next Big Idea

Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH—A biocompatible gel that makes wounds heal faster. A wearable device that monitors whether people are performing their physical therapy exercises correctly. An online travel service that allows users to compare the environmental impacts of different transportation options.

These are some samples of the business start-up ideas from University of Pittsburgh students who will be competing in Pitt’s 2013 Randall Family Big Idea Competition. The April 3 competition showcase, which begins at 4 p.m. in the Pittsburgh Athletic Association, 4215 Fifth Ave., Oakland, will award $85,000 in cash prizes to the students. The annual Big Idea Competition is made possible through a leadership gift from the Bob and Rita Randall Family; Bob Randall (A&S ’65) is a Pitt alumnus and trustee.

The event is hosted by the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership in Pitt’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration. Although attending the Randall Family Big Idea Competition showcase is free and open to the public, registration at requested.

Students in the competition have backgrounds in business, medicine, engineering, chemistry, dentistry, and law, among other fields. The finalists compete in four categories: Energy and Technology, Social Innovation, Life Sciences, and Pitt Innovation. Finalists in each category are judged by a four-person panel of business professionals and experts. Students’ ideas will be judged using five criteria: the viability of the business model; the clarity and potential of the market; the expertise of the management team; the feasibility of the sales and marketing strategy; and the finalists’ receptivity to coaching and guidance. In addition to the four professionally judged categories, there is a wild-card showcase in which the audience votes on the winner.

Last fall, students submitted ideas to the competition, which kicked off in November 2012 and continued with a three-day start-up event in January that allowed interested students to network with one another and helped them develop their ideas by pairing them with entrepreneurs and experts. A semifinal competition was held earlier this month, with the winners advancing to the April 3 showcase and competition.

“Innovation is the jet fuel of Western Pennsylvania's continued prosperity. The Randall Family Big Idea Competition is a powerful platform for launching new business ventures and bringing together the major entrepreneurial players in Western Pennsylvania,” said Audrey J. Murrell, Pitt associate professor of business administration, psychology, and public and international affairs and director of the Berg Center.

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.

Support for the Big Idea Competition comes from some of Pittsburgh's leading business incubators: Innovation Works, Idea Foundry, Pittsburgh Gateways, and Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, some of which have agreed to provide business support to the winning teams—a prize no less significant in helping the winning students launch their businesses than the cash prize. Each winning idea will receive $20,000 in cash, and the winning wild card proposal, determined by an audience vote rather than judges’ votes, will receive a $5,000 cash prize. Competition sponsors include the Randall Family, the Katz School’s Business Office of the Dean, the Berg Center, and the Pitt Business Office of Alumni and Constituent Relations.

Past winners of the Randall Family Big Idea Competition 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.

Established in 1999, the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership strives to add value to organizations through ethical leadership, focusing on creating and utilizing knowledge through cutting-edge research, experience-based teaching, and active engagement with businesses and the community.

Visit for more information on the Randall Family Big Idea Competition and the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership.

The following is a description of the 2013 Randall Family Big Idea finalists by category: 

Energy and Technology

  • CE Agent. A cloud-based database for monitoring continuing education certification, applicable to licensed professionals, including lawyers, nurses, and real estate agents, among others.
  • Powered Analytics. A cloud-based platform that utilizes big data techniques to allow users to make predictions in sales and marketing, health care, and human resources.
  • Presence Technology. Wearable sensors that provide low-cost, real-time monitoring of children in daycare and the elderly in assisted-living homes.

Life Sciences

  • interACTION. Motion-capture devices that evaluate whether a person engaged in physical therapy is following—or straying from—his or her prescribed exercise.
  • EUTalk. A mobile app that helps people with communication disabilities, such as those with autism or victims of strokes, improve their communication skills.
  • Cellular Bio-Bandage. A biocompatible and biodegradable wound gel that supports cell-based therapy to accelerate wound healing.

Social Innovation

  • Alco Friend. A mobile app that determines a user's alcohol intoxication level by having the user perform a series of simple tests.
  • Fair Trade. An arrangement that will identify sellers’ markets in the United States for the work of artisans’ groups in São Paulo, Brazil, and Kasungu, Malawi.
  • Go. An online travel service that not only lets customers purchase trip packages, but also allows them to compare the environmental impacts of different transportation options (i.e., riding a train and using a car share versus flying and taking a taxi).

Pitt Innovation

  • Orro. An organization that facilitates e-recycling fundraisers at schools by enabling students to donate old and/or used electronics that can be refurbished and sold online.
  • Flippo. A mobile app that creates an exchange market in which students can trade daily tasks, errands, and chores.
  • SwimSmart. An online tool for swimming coaches that builds a comprehensive and interactive profile of swimmers, tracking practices, past meets, swim times, and more.

Wild Card

  • NaviSection. A process for use in driving schools and driver rehabilitation programs that collects data to enhance evaluation of a person’s driving ability.
  • Steel Eyes. A novel automated tracking system that monitors specialty steel production through the heating and rolling process.
  • Bridge-Tech. An information technology product that aims to improve clinical trials by providing pharmaceutical companies with demographic information from patients’ medical records.
  • ChronoDono. An online database that matches companies seeking employee volunteer opportunities with nonprofit organizations that need volunteers.
  • CorruptOrNot. An online crowdsourcing website that enables users to rate specific individuals in government.
  • BillBox. An online platform that gives consumers easy access to their bank and credit card accounts so they can consolidate their accounts and better monitor important deadlines.
  • MeshNet. A website that enhances the employment matching process by using an algorithm that inputs personality characteristics.