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

Issue Date: 
April 1, 2013

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 is 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, a Pitt 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.