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Business Students Lead the Way in Pitt Startup Competition
Many of the winning teams at the University of Pittsburgh’s sixth-annual Randall Family Big Idea Competition in April 2014 featured students from the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration.
Open to Pitt students from all academic majors and experience levels, the Randall Family Big Idea competition is the University’s largest forum for startup pitches and new venture development from emerging entrepreneurs. This year, a record $100,000 in prizes was awarded to the winning teams, who prior to the final round in April had to advance through two previous rounds of competition. Hosted by Pitt’s Innovation Institute, the Randall Family Big Idea competition is designed to accelerate Western Pennsylvania’s reputation as a hub for innovation commercialization, entrepreneurship, and economic development.
The winning projects involving Katz and CBA students included such enterprises as solar-powered cell phone towers, a new safety device for pedestrian pathways, an online transaction system for real estate sales, and a biodegradable ring for knee surgeries. Collaboration outside the b-school, with Pitt peers from the engineering, law, health and rehabilitation sciences, and other disciplines, was critical to their projects’ success.
The Randall Family Big Idea competition’s four first place teams each received $20,000, its four second place teams each received $4,500, and its one wild card team received $2,000. The wildcard team was selected via an audience vote, while winners were selected by an esteemed judging panel with extensive experience in startup ventures and entrepreneurship.
Teams were judged upon five criteria: the viability of the business model, the clarity and potential of the market, the expertise and commitment of the management team, the feasibility of the sales and marketing strategy, and the finalists’ receptivity to coaching and guidance.
The winning teams with Katz and CBA ties included the following:
Solar Cell — 1st Place—Energy Sustainability: An electrical generation system for cell phone towers that runs on solar power and uses batteries for added reliability. All connections use direct current (DC) power, as opposed to the alternating current (AC) power distribution systems common to the electric grid. The team is currently building a prototype and creating a marketing plan.
- Dean Rosenwald, (CBA ’11) a Katz MBA student
- Abhishek Agarwal (ENGR-G ’05), a Katz MBA student
- Nick Scangas, a Katz MBA and Swanson Engineering joint-degree student
- Jai Kumar, an undergraduate studying neuroscience in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences
- Emmanuel Taylor, (ENGR ‘10, ENGR-G ’12), PhD student in electrical engineering
Phizzbo — 1st Place — General Technology/IT: An online transaction management system that empowers individuals to buy and sell real estate without a broker, absolutely free. In addition to the Big Idea win, Phizzbo received the “Best Web Application” award at the April 2014 North American Professionals and Entrepreneurs Council (NAPEC) Conference in New York City.
- Doug Hilling (MBA ’14, LAW ’14), company CEO
- Phil Morrissette, a Katz MBA student, business development lead
- Flavio Fenley, Carnegie Mellon University business and computer science student, product manager
Magnesium Ring — 1st Place — Health Care/Life Sciences: A biodegradable metallic scaffold that is designed to aid in the regeneration of a person’s torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). The device is an alternative to the reconstruction method. The product is in the second round of in-vivo animal studies.
- Danielle Martin, a Katz MBA and Swanson Engineering joint-degree student
- Katie Ferraro, a PhD student in bioengineering
PathMeT — 1st Place — Social Innovation: A three-wheeled tool to measure pedestrian pathway accessibility to make sure sidewalks are safe for everybody, even wheelchair users. Visit the team’s Website for more information.
- Noelle Greenwald (CBA ’14)
- Eric Sinagra, Health and Rehabilitation Sciences graduate student
- Ian McIntyre, Swanson Engineering undergraduate
- Tianyang Chen, Swanson Engineering undergraduate
- Jonathan Duvall (ENGR ’10, SHRS ’13), Health and Rehabilitation Sciences PhD student
- Dianna Stuckey, (ENGR ’14)
Flippo — 2nd place : A smartphone application, now available at the iOS store, which enables busy college students to request deliveries from other students in the area. It helps students “flip” their errands when they are busy and then earn money back by doing other people’s errands.
- Alec Davis, CBA and A&S French student, Class of 2016, company CEO
- Sourab Narayana, CBA and A&S microbiology, Class of 2015
- Brandon Chu, CBA student, Class of 2017
- Timothy Collanto, CBA student, and A&S, French and Philosophy, Class of 2015
- Amit Shimshi, CBA student and pre-med, Class of 2018
Free Lunch—2nd place—Social Innovation: A smartphone app connecting college students to free and discounted food around them in order to reduce food waste on college campuses.
- Ryan Hestin, computer science student in Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences
- Charles Bonge, economics student in Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences
- Cathleen Bonge, CBA student, Class of 2017
- Deen Lin, Swanson Engineering student
- Jon Hewson (CBA ’14)
- Zheru Liu, CBA student, Class of 2017
The Randall Family Big Idea competition was made possible through a leadership gift from the Bob and Rita Randall Family; Bob Randall (A&S ’65) is a Pitt alumnus and trustee. Additional support for the competition comes from the Office of the Provost, the Senior Vice Chancellor for the Health Sciences, Pitt’s Innovation Institute, the School of Education, the School of Law, the Swanson School of Engineering, and the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business. Outside sponsors are K&L Gates, MARC USA, and Songwhale.