Innovation Institute Experience – Part 3: The Blast Furnace

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Welcome to Part-3 of our three part series on FoodChain’s experience with the University of Pittsburgh’s Innovation Institute. Over the past few weeks, we have been 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.

I saved our recap of The Blast Furnace for the finale of our three-part series because it was, by and large, the most beneficial program we participated in during our time at Pitt. So it only seemed right that we conclude this series with it.

First off, lets answer the obvious question - what is The Blast Furnace?

The Blast Furnace (TBF) is the University’s official student business accelerator that offers mentors, co-working space, and curriculum to help students create and grow their businesses. It’s a relatively new part of the Pitt community, starting just in 2015, but it’s already become the go-to program for entrepreneurs of all levels within the University of Pittsburgh.

That being said, here at FoodChain we are very proud to be one of the initial teams of this program.

FoodChain participated in the first fall session ever of TBF and were officially members of Cohort 2 from the fall of 2015. At the time, it was the biggest Cohort ever accepted into TBF and it was the birth of growth for this excellent program. After a summer Cohort that saw 10 teams participate, the fall session doubled in size as 20 businesses participated in the program. And we were very happy to be a part of the group.

Okay let’s get to the bottom line – what was it like in TBF?

In TBF, the routine each week focused on two main events – business workshops and professional speakers.

During our session, we would meet as a group each Tuesday and Wednesday. On Tuesdays, we were given tasks to do within the business. Obviously these tasks were catered to your specific business needs and growing that market, usually they revolved around customer discovery to validate the idea.

On Tuesdays, every team was required to go and present what they did the past week to the group. As you can imagine, it certainly pushed us to the limits with school still in session, but the accountability that this group presentation caused kept FoodChain progressing.

On Wednesdays, TBF would bring in experts from various industries to give tips and insights from their experiences. Among the people we had during the second Cohort were several law professionals, marketing experts, and past entrepreneurs. Most importantly, there was always pizza or subs for everyone to enjoy!

Now honestly this is the most important part of TBF experience. We were able to gain a great deal of knowledge because we managed to ask the right questions during the presentations and network with the speakers afterwards. On several occasions, we asked extremely complicated questions regarding a wide array of topics and they were always able to help us. On one occurrence, we were actually able to get personalized advice from a legal expert, which otherwise would have cost us a great deal.

After 8-weeks of this rigorous schedule, TBF hosts a final presentation with some of the best judges the city has to offer and all teams are required to pitch their product and work.

FoodChain is very proud to be one of the winning teams of the Second Cohort.

Now that about wraps up our official recap of our experience with the Innovation Institute. I want to extend a special thanks to Greg Coticchia and everyone else who helps run The Blast Furnace and the Innovation Institute. Words can never express how grateful we are for everything they have done for us as a company and for me on a personal level. You’ve changed not only our path, but also the path of many aspiring entrepreneurs for the better.