Big Idea Advantage Fund Launching
to Support Pitt Student Entrepreneurs

First Investments to be Made this May

February 15, 2021

Pitt students are transforming their big ideas into products and companies like never before.

Polycarbin is transforming the medical/research plastic waste stream. Trek Gum is developing a chewing gum that cleans teeth on the go. Four Growers is building harvesting robots for commercial greenhouses. Aeronics is producing portable oxygen solutions for people and pets. Interphase Materials is making anti-fouling coatings for industrial and marine applications. Trellis Legal provides legal advice for startups and small businesses. Lumis is creating medical simulators transforming healthcare education.

These are just a few examples.

Pitt students who want to explore innovation and entrepreneurship now have a new resource to help them bridge the critical period between the initial idea and having a prototype or beta version of their product or service.

The Big Idea Advantage Fund will provide investments between $10,000 and $25,000 to Pitt students of any level, freshman to postdoc, from any part of the University. The first investments in approximately 4 student startups will occur this May. Moving forward similar awards will be made in both the fall and spring semesters.

“Since its launch in 2018, the Big Idea Center for student innovation has been building a suite of programs, events and resources that provide Pitt students with experiential innovation and entrepreneurship learning opportunities,” said Babs Carryer, Director of the Big Idea Center. “Through the Big Idea Advantage Fund we can provide students who demonstrate exceptional commitment and whose ideas show commercial potential with critical early funding to support them before they are able to generate revenue.”

The investments into the startups will be in the form of Simple Agreements for Future Equity (SAFE) that was conceived by famed Silicon Valley accelerator YCombinator for its portfolio companies.

The Big Idea Advantage Fund is being made possible by donors who have stepped forward to accelerate the growth of student innovation and entrepreneurship at Pitt.

The inaugural donors are Pitt alumni from the Swanson School of Engineering who are both experienced entrepreneurs and investors.

David Toth BSEE ’78 is former CEO and Co-Founder of NetRatings, Inc., (Nasdaq: NTRT) the leading provider of Internet audience information and analysis. As a private investor, Mr. Toth has helped raise over $1B in the capital markets for his portfolio companies.  His previous investments/board roles include; NexTag: acquired by Providence Equity Partners, TubeMogul (Nasdaq: TUBE) acquired by Adobe (Nasdaq: ADBE), Edgewater Networks; acquired by Ribbon Communications (Nasdaq: RBBN), NetRatings (Nasdaq: NTRT) acquired by Nielsen Holdings (NYSE: NLSN).  He is currently an investor and Chairman of the Board of Directors at LeadCrunch HiveIO.

“Pittsburgh and Pitt are where I built a strong technology foundation.  I had to move to the Silicon Valley to become an entrepreneur.  Our goal with the Big Idea Advantage Fund (BIA Fund) is to bring real world entrepreneurship to more Pitt students and Pittsburgh by investing in their ideas.  This is a long term investment in Pitt and Pittsburgh,” Mr. Toth said.

Douglas Condon (BSMechE ’85) is Managing Director of Three Rivers Energy and senior advisor to Accenture.  Mr. Condon has structured over $2 billion of energy transactions including utility scale and behind the meter solar and wind power purchase agreements, tolling agreements, and energy derivative products.

“I wanted to give back to the University in a meaningful way for me. Helping students who have discovered the magic of innovation and entrepreneurship to hone their ideas and make them come alive is an extremely compelling way to stay connected to Pitt,” Mr. Condon said.

Importantly, Mr. Condon and Mr. Toth are not only supporting the Advantage Fund monetarily, but also will be providing mentorship to the student entrepreneurs who receive investments.

The momentum around student innovation and entrepreneurship at Pitt is due in large part to the seeds planted by Pitt Trustee and alumni Bob Randall and his family.  In addition to a decade plus of gifts to support the Randall Family Big Idea Competition, three years ago, the Randalls stepped forward again with a $2 million commitment to help establish the Big Idea Center, which is a part of the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“When I helped support the launch of the Big Idea Center in 2018,” Bob Randall said, “it was with the expectation that others in the Pitt family and greater Pittsburgh innovation community would recognize the value of supporting young Pitt innovators and entrepreneurs as they seek to make an impact on the world with their big ideas. I am excited to see such people now stepping forward to help take student innovation and entrepreneurship at the University to the next level.”

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