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From Underdog to Top Dog: Undergraduate Business Students Win Big Idea Competition

Pitt Business undergraduate students Kate Gallo and Trinity Foster combined their entrepreneurial drive with a commitment to safety for college women+ to win the 2023 Randall Family Big Idea Competition.

Underdog is a women-led, student startup company providing holistic self-defense to college students. Gallo (BSBA ’25) founded the startup when she started at the University of Pittsburgh in 2021. Like many first-year students at a new school in a new city, she felt uncomfortable in unfamiliar situations. “I was tired of just hoping to never get catcalled or harassed or attacked, knowing I would do my best to keep myself safe without any training,” she said. “After hearing weekly stories of friends walking home or taking the bus in dangerous situations, enough was enough.”

Foster (BSBA ’25), who is Underdog’s head of marketing, said, “We utilize proactive and reactive strategies to protect our peers mentally, emotionally, and physically. In addition to providing in-person self-defense classes, we are building an online community platform with original content from counselors and self-defense experts. We aim to make self-defense education fun and build a community to protect women+. Everyone deserves to feel safe.”

With their Pitt Business coursework and support from the University’s Big Idea Center, Gallo and Foster entered Underdog into the Big Idea Competition for a second straight year. On April 18, 2023, they won the $25,000 grand prize and, for the second straight year, the Marketing Video Award. Watch their 2023 winning video here (content warning for references to sexual assault).

Andy Hannah, adjunct professor of entrepreneurship and analytics at Pitt and entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR) with Pitt Business, has given Gallo advice on combining entrepreneurial creativity and excitement with the need for operational structure and timelines. When asked what a win like this can do for a startup, Hannah said, “First of all, the win is about credibility: having important people hear and recognize Kate’s talent, the market need, and Underdog’s unique solution.” Hannah describes Gallo as “an amazing entrepreneur with passion and natural leadership skills.”

Empowering Women

Even before she stepped foot on campus, Gallo was interested in working with the Big Idea Center. “I knew I wanted to explore entrepreneurship, and they offered workshops and mentors that reflected exactly what I wanted to learn and try.”

Foster’s short-term goals are to teach about sexual assault prevention and healthy relationships through Underdog’s social media content and begin building its own community at Pitt. “There are so many great student organizations like Take Back the Night and Girl Up who already empower women and create conversation about issues like sexual assault, and they have greatly supported us.”

During the Spring 2023 semester, Underdog hosted an event about healthy relationships and an event with Chi Omega and Stout PGH teaching self-defense. With multiple sorority chapters and Title IX offices interested in partnerships, Foster said the group plans to host more events as soon as possible.

Who Runs the World?

Both women are involved in Phi Beta Lambda (PBL), a professional business organization on campus; it’s how they met. Foster who serves as PBL’s vice president of compliance, said “PBL has introduced me to so many accomplished and determined women who push me to my full potential. I’ve gained advice on classes and internships, mentorship, and support, and my college experience would be much different and much worse without them.”

Gallo reflected on the first half of her time at Pitt Business: “In both the friendships I’ve made and the business I’m building, I want to make sure I’m becoming a person I respect, trust, and love. The people I’ve met throughout my time at Pitt – professors, friends, advisors/mentors, and classmates – have helped me grow closer to the woman I want to be professionally and personally.”

When asked who or what inspires them, Gallo – who studies data analytics and business information systems – said, “As cheesy as this sounds, people who do small, kind things every day inspire me to do good in my life.” Foster – who studies marketing, psychology, and business analytics – said: “I’m most inspired by the women I’ve met throughout college. I’m a strong believer that you become whom you surround yourself with, and I’m surrounded by incredible women.”

Support Underdog

Those looking to support Underdog’s initiatives should follow their social media accounts here.