Innovation Institute Experience – Part 1: The Culture Change

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Welcome to Part-1 of our three part series on FoodChain’s experience with the University of Pittsburgh’s Innovation Institute. Over the next few weeks we will be documenting the company’s experience with the various programs the Innovation Institute has to offer. We hope that it can be a guide to help future entrepreneurs at the university and around Pittsburgh.

Now first off, I must admit something. When we started FoodChain, we were very skeptical about using the Innovation Institute for help with this project. At the time, entrepreneurship was not exactly a trendy thing at Pitt and the Innovation Institute was just getting started.

But slowly we could see the shift of culture happening at the university and we decided that it was time to join the wave. So I reached out to the director of outreach, Babs Carryer, to set up a meeting to find out more.

Within the initial 15 minutes of talking with her, we knew that teaming up with the Innovation Institute would only be beneficial to our company. She directed us to join some of the various pitch contests they host and gave us information about the upcoming business accelerator they were starting called The Blast Furnace.

Shortly afterward, we signed up for an event they were hosting called the Startup PittBlitz. It was an event that started on Friday night with everyone giving 90-second pitches and then forming teams around the best ones. Then on Saturday, the teams put together pitches and business plans around the ideas and judges from around the city decide the best ones.

Naturally, we were a little concerned since we had already been working on FoodChain, but we were very well received from everyone at the event. And luckily the concept of FoodChain was voted as one of the best 90-second pitches, so we were able to continue in the event.

On a side note, although our team had already been formed and we had been developing for a few months when this event happened, it would have been an excellent opportunity to find co-founders had we needed them. The culture of innovation was fantastic and there were several talented people looking for teams to join. So it is a great place to get started.

The next morning we got up extra early and met with a few restaurants to get potential customer leads because the contest encouraged going out and speaking directly with customers. We then set up our area and began to perfect our presentation and business plan with no time to spare.

The truly awesome part though about the entire thing was the people the Innovation Institute brought in to help. They had several very successful mentors who were constantly around to help young entrepreneurs, including at the PittBlitz event. Throughout the entire time there are way too many to list right now, so I’ll let you check it out for yourself. Just about every one of them helped us advance this company in some way.

So finally after 24 hours of work, it was FoodChain’s turn to present and a moment that changed our business forever happened.

There’s all old rule when giving presentations about software that you should never rely on a demo. There are too many things that can go wrong and ruin the entire thing.

That being said though, when I think about the best presentations I’ve seen, they usually involved a demonstration. And I have great faith in our team’s ability and the software we are continually building.

So we ended our pitch with the first-ever live demonstration of FoodChain…

We won $900 that day and got the first editorial of our work.

Not bad for 24 hours.