$85K Given To Spur Student Start-ups

A total of $85,000 was recently awarded to University of Pittsburgh students to support start-up causes that ranged from cloud platforms for big data analytics to motion-capture physical therapy monitors.

The 2013 Randall Family Big Idea Competition, presented by the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership at Pitt Business, doled out the awards in a competition showcase on April 3 that was attended by nearly 350 people at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association in Oakland. The annual 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.

Student teams who entered the competition had backgrounds in business, medicine, engineering, chemistry, dentistry, and law, among other fields.  The finalists made their pitches to professional judges in four categories: Energy & Technology, Life Sciences, Social Innovation, and Pitt Innovation. Each winning team was awarded $20,000. There was also a Wildcard winner, voted upon by the audience, which received $5,000.

The winners, in addition to the cash prizes, will receive help from local groups to help them further their ideas. Innovation Works, Idea Foundry, Pittsburgh Gateways, Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, and the PantherlabWorks will be working with the groups. Winners receive half the prize money up front and will receive the other half after achieving specified milestones with the groups.

The winning teams, some of which consisted of Katz and College of Business Administration students, were as follows:

Energy & Technology

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.

  • Collin Otis, Swanson School of Engineering graduate student

Life Sciences

interACTION—Motion-capture devices and software that evaluate whether a person engaged in physical therapy is following—or straying from—his or her prescribed exercise.

  • Joao Paulo Coehlo, Katz Graduate School of Business
  • Kevin Bell, Swanson School of Engineering graduate student
  • Robert Hartman, Swanson School of Engineering graduate student

Social Innovation

AlcoFriend—A mobile app that determines a user's alcohol intoxication level by having the user perform a series of simple tests on reaction time, cognitive pattern recognition, and spatial reasoning.

  • Akash Goyal, Dietrich College of Arts and Sciences undergraduate

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. After schools provide Orro with electronics, Orro will either refurbish or sell them—and schools receive 30 percent of the proceeds.

  • Andrew Devlin, Katz Graduate School of Business
  • Vishal Vinayak, Katz Graduate School of Business
  • Kartik Johari, Katz Graduate School of Business
  • Robert Marasti, VP Sales
  • James Marasti, VP HR
  • Milton Bar, VP Operations

Wildcard Winner

Corrupt or Not—An online platform to use crowdsourcing to identify government corruption in developing countries. Users would be able to form groups around their experiences.

  • Vishal Vinayak,  Katz Graduate School of Business
  • Kartik Johari, Katz Graduate School of Business
  • Jon Hewson, College of Business Administration
  • Jessie Mooberry, College of Business Administration
  • Meenal Patel, Swanson School of Engineering, PhD program

“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,  Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Business Administration, College of Business Administration.

Finalists in each category were judged by a four-person panel of business professionals and experts. Their ideas were judged upon 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.

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.

For more information about the Randall Family Big Idea competition, please contact Babs Carryer directly at bbc10@pitt.edu.