Please note that all fall Big Idea Center programs will be held virtually. Additionally, the Big Idea Center office at G50 GSCC is closed for the remainder of 2020. For more information, please contact us.

Spring 2021

Spring 2021 will operate virtually unless otherwise noted. Days and times for our Spring 2021 events are tentative and are subject to change.

She Innovates – February 5-7, Discord

The Women in Computer Science (WiCS), School of Computing and Information, and the Big Idea Center are delighted to bring you She Innovates, Pitt’s only all-women hackathon.  This hackathon is for all female students – undergraduates and graduates – in the Greater Pittsburgh area with or without a computer science background!  Come for a weekend filled with hacking, technical talks, mentorship, and fun!

Big Idea Blitz – February 12 & 13, Zoom

Join us for a 24-hour idea, pitch, and team development competition where you will be able to pitch your idea, form a team, work with entrepreneurs in residence, and win cash prizes.

Start Smart Series – TBA

The Start Smart series hosts various seminars and workshops throughout the semester that cover a wide range of legal topics for startup businesses. During each event, you will be able to learn from K&L Gates’s startup lawyers and gain valuable insight on how to legally start/run your startup.

Click here to watch the latest Start Smart seminar recording.

Randall Family Big Idea Competition – February through early April, Zoom

This competition is an experience-based learning opportunity for Pitt students with Big Ideas who enjoy working in diverse teams to bring those ideas to life.  It is open to all Pitt undergraduate and graduate students across all schools and departments.  Discover how to take your idea to the next level towards startup creation.  This competition spans February and March of each year and awards a total of $100,000 in cash prizes to winning teams, with a grand prize of $25,000 given to the team with the most startup promise.  Since its inception in 2009, the competition has attracted hundreds of interdisciplinary teams seeking to bring their Big Ideas to market.

2021 Randall Family Big Idea Competition Schedule of Events (subject to change):

  • Application deadline: Friday, February 19, by 11:59 P.M.
  • Bootcamp: Friday, February 26, 9:00 A.M. – 12:00 P.M. (Noon)
  • Practice Pitches: Friday, March 5, 9:00 A.M. – 1:00 P.M.
  • Semifinals: Friday, March 12, 9:00 A.M. – 1:00 P.M.
  • Finalist Bootcamp/Mentor Matching: Thursday, March 18, 5:00 – 7:00 P.M.
  • Elevator Pitch Workshop: TBA
  • Final Round: Friday, April 9, 9:00 A.M. – 1:00 P.M.
  • Awards Ceremony: Thursday, April 15, 8:00 P.M. (YouTube Premiere)


RFBIC 2020 Virtual Awards Ceremony: Watch the Virtual Awards Ceremony that was held on Wednesday, April 22, 2020 here. Read the ceremony’s virtual program here. View this year’s winning teams here.


Thank you to all of our mentors, judges, and sponsors for your support during the COVID-19 crisis.


Blast Furnace – May through July (tentative timeline for Summer 2021)

The Blast Furnace is Pitt’s student accelerator providing access to a deep mentor network, inspirational co-working space, and a rich curriculum preparing student startups for creating and growing their businesses.

The Blast Furnace was created by the Innovation Institute’s Big Idea Center to work with Pitt students at all levels who have a desire to be entrepreneurial, create new companies and receive hands-on learning on how to accomplish these dreams. Students can apply to Blast Furnace if they have completed a Big Idea Center program or other learning opportunity. Students must apply with a vetted idea and a team.

The Blast Furnace runs every May and June for a nine-week intensive period of stakeholder discovery, coaching, product-market fit, and operational planning.

Our goal is simple: we want to increase your chance of entrepreneurial success. We want you better prepared. We help you decide if your idea can be successful upon graduation.

For information on how to apply, please email


The Forge

Pitt students and alumni who have developed advanced ideas and startup projects are eligible to apply for the Forge, Pitt’s newest program for ongoing startup incubation.

Forge teams have 24-7 access to Big Idea Center space (when applicable) and come together monthly for meetups that encompass peer-to-peer learning and sharing. Forge participants also have access to Big Idea Center Entrepreneurs in Residence and an outside network of mentors with professional experience in related fields.

Participating Forge teams may also apply for seed funding awards to help defray certain startup expenses.

Students can participate in the Forge until they “graduate” to an outside incubator or accelerator, such as YCombinator, AlphaLab, AlphaLab Gear, etc.

I would like to receive more information on how to apply.

Innovation Living Learning Community

This first-year, on-campus, living experience is a partnership between the Big Idea Center, Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences (A&S), Residence Life, School of Computing and Information (SCI), and Swanson School of Engineering (SSoE).  These partners will help freshmen learn about innovation and entrepreneurship through engaging, interactive, and fun experiences throughout the year.  The mission of this LLC is to allow students to explore the entrepreneurial process and create a community of innovative students who will maintain an interest in entrepreneurship and the Big Idea Center and partner programs for the remainder of their time at Pitt.

Past Events (Fall 2020)

Big Idea Kickoff – September 15 and September 29, 5:00 P.M., Zoom

Are you interested in innovation and entrepreneurship, but are not sure how to get involved? Our Big Idea Kickoff is your chance to meet the Big Idea Center as we “Kickoff” the start of our first entirely virtual semester! Pick one of our two meeting options and join Big Idea Center staff and entrepreneurs in residence as we tell you a little bit about what the Big Idea Center has to offer Pitt students. Attendees will participate in a short informational presentation followed by a live q-and-a with our staff.

Registration is required in order to receive a unique Zoom meeting link and password.
Register here.

Diversity in Innovation – October 20, 5:00 P.M., Zoom

New for 2020! Is it harder to be a Black entrepreneur? What unique challenges do minority entrepreneurs face when getting their startup off the ground? Please join us for our Diversity in Innovation Panel as a panel of Black founders and CEOs shed light on the racial divide within the startup and entrepreneurial community as well as how they’ve been able to forge their own path as a minority entrepreneur. This unique panel is a partnership between Pitt’s Big Idea Center, the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, Pitt’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and Pittsburgh’s Black Tech Nation.

Watch the recording of our Diversity in Innovation Panel event.

She Creates – October 29, 5:00 P.M., Zoom

What pressures do women entrepreneurs face in the business world and how do they navigate through those challenges? How can women shape their own mold for success when it comes to building and running a startup? Please join us for She Creates as we showcase women who hold leadership roles both within the Pittsburgh entrepreneurial community and beyond and discuss the difficulties of being a woman entrepreneur.” The She Creates panel is a partnership between the Big Idea Center, Women In Bio-Pittsburgh, PNC, numo, and CMU Project Olympus.

Theme: “Be the Spark: If You Can Dream It, You Can Be It”

Watch the recording of our She Creates event.

Virtual Big Idea Blast – October 30 & 31, Zoom

In this 24-hour, virtual weekend workshop, students will have a chance to work on their ideas and win unique prizes including a fast-pass to the final round of the Randall Family Big Idea Competition! Our event will begin on Friday with a group meetup and informational session followed by our first round of presentations. On Saturday, finalists will have a chance to schedule coaching sessions with our staff of entrepreneurs in residence. The day will conclude with final presentations and a live q-and-a with our guest judges.

This unique opportunity is a chance to participate in concentrated mentorship and coaching on your Big Idea! Take a shot at presenting your project prior to entering our spring Randall Family Big Idea Competition.

Registration is required in order to participate in this event.

Pitt x CMU Global Entrepreneurship Week – November 6-12, Zoom

During one week each November, thousands of events and competitions in 170 countries inspire millions to engage in entrepreneurial activity while connecting them to potential collaborators, mentors, and even investors.  At the University of Pittsburgh, our Global Entrepreneurship Week partners with Carnegie Mellon University for one amazing week!  Don’t miss it!  Individual events listed below:

  • The Money Table – November 6 and 7
    • A graduate student investment competition where YOU are the angel investor.  Put real Pittsburgh startup companies in YOUR hot seat.  As you grill local entrepreneurs, real angel investors assess your investment team in a single elimination tournament.  No experience required! Application deadline is November 4.
  • An Evening with Ben Weiss – November 9, 5:00 P.M.
    • Join us for this special presentation, for GEW 2020 only! The University of Pittsburgh presents Ben Weiss, founder of Bai Brands and author of Basementality, in this new talk designed to inspire budding entrepreneurs to get their ideas off of the ground. Ben founded Bai Brands in the basement of his townhouse in 2009 and, in just seven years, built Bai into the fastest-growing brand in the industry, leading to its $1.7 billion acquisition by Dr. Pepper Snapple Group. His new book, Basementality, offers the first inside look at how he drove Bai’s fight against Big Sugar and elevated the company from his basement to a $1.7 billion brand. It is the story of old-fashioned door-to-door hustle, naïve belief and the powerful mindset of a classic American entrepreneur.
  • Product Management and Development Association (PDMA) Competition – November 10, 5:00 P.M.
    • Teams from the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, and Duquesne University will pitch their innovative ideas to an expert panel of judges to compete for prizes. The winning teams will receive prizes as well as access to a variety of resources which are generously donated from local sponsoring companies.
  • Change the World: Social Innovation Panel – November 11, 5:00 P.M.
    • Interested in learning more about taking entrepreneurial action to help solve local, regional, national, or global challenges?  Students, alumni, and the Pittsburgh community are welcome to join us for a conversation with Pittsburgh mission-driven organizations. Watch the video recording of the panel here.
  • Steel City Startups: PittxCMU – November 12, 5:00 P.M.
    • Join us for this virtual panel to close out Global Entrepreneurship Week at the University of Pittsburgh.  Hear TEDx style presentations from Pitt and CMU innovators and learn about how they were motivated to pursue commercialization, what path they are taking, and the challenges they’ve faced. Watch the video recording of the panel here.
  • Startup Job Fair – Moved to February 2021, details forthcoming
    • Attend this virtual Startup Job Fair to network with Pittsburgh startups looking to hire full-time, part-time, interns, and paid positions in sales, marketing, operations, IT, engineering, and more.