Innovation Institute Experience – Part 2: The Randall Family Big Idea Competition

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The Randall Family Big Idea Competition (RFBIC) is the largest entrepreneurial competition that Pitt has to offer and it runs every spring. Thanks to a very generous donation from the Randall Family, $100,000 in cash prizes is awarded to students working towards creating the next big thing each year.

Now I must admit something, our first venture in the RFBIC did not go very well.

At the time, the thought of FoodChain was in its infancy and we were just starting develop the concept of a food-review based social media platform. But despite the relative newness of the idea, we were confident in the idea and we knew that a simple review system could change the dynamic of this space.

Unfortunately we were not ready for the level of competition that came with this event. Over 100 ideas are entered each year and that spans all the way from graduate students working on their doctorate down to undergraduates. So there was an impressive array of very developed ideas that were ahead of us at the time. And as a result, we were bounced in the first round.

Now although we were distraught by the results, we learned from this experience and it taught us what we needed to do to advance FoodChain to a better point. And we went to work making that happen.

One year later, in the spring of 2016, we returned to the RFBIC with an entirely new presentation and product. After a summer of developing, we now had a working application and our plans for growth had been established. We were ready to take on Pitt’s best and brightest young entrepreneurs.

So we went into the first round of presentations, a five-minute pitch to three judges with a five-minute Q&A period, with an entirely different mindset than the year before. In 2015, we had an idea. In 2016, we had a product with growth. And we knew we had something to impress the judges.

Thankfully the judges loved our presentation and we moved to the final round of the competition, a 7-minute pitch with a 5-minute Q&A. Before the finale though, the RFBIC and the Innovation Institute set everyone up with a mentor and classes to prepare. Throughout a three-week period, we attended several workshops on the art of presenting and giving an elevator pitch.

Most importantly, the connection with our mentor through the competition, Phil Laboon, gave us a wealth of opportunity. He is one of the premier Internet marketers in all of Pittsburgh and he gave us some excellent advice and helped us acquire our first verified restaurant, Carmella’s Plates and Pints (Check them out on FoodChain!).

As this was all happening, we also produced and released our first video advertisement for FoodChain. As you can imagine, it was quite a hectic time for us. But thankfully with the help of Mike, Chris, Adam, and everyone else here at FoodChain, we were able to get it all done without too much stress.

Finally it was time for the final presentations and FoodChain was up searching for redemption from the year before…

As you can probably guess, we ended up being one of the winning teams that day and the legend of FoodChain continued.

This is part two of our three part series on FoodChain’s experience with the University of Pittsburgh’s Innovation Institute. With this series, 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.