Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh.

Almost 200 students and graduate entrepreneurs attended Startup Smash!, the first official gathering of the University of Pittsburgh’s Innovation Institute last week.

While the meeting was largely organizational, to share upcoming events and spread the word on campus organizations ready to support student entrepreneurs, it also signaled a growing interest among students who are looking to engage in a larger startup community.

“It was a smashing success,” said Babs Carryer, director of innovation and outreach, who circulated the standing-room-only crowd with a microphone like a talk show host, giving successful Pitt entrepreneurs a chance to share their stories with others. “It’s so exciting to see all these students here who are interested in entrepreneurship.”

The Innovation Institute was founded last November as a way to consolidate several departments and organizations at Pitt under one umbrella. Its mission is to raise the bar on entrepreneurial initiatives on campus and throughout the region.

Several new programs and collaborations were announced. A soon-to-be-named student startup accelerator will begin accepting student projects. The accelerator will be located in the William Pitt Union across from the food court.

The Innovation Institute and the Idea Foundry have formed a formal partnership to facilitate the commercialization of companies coming out of Pitt.

The Innovation Institute is also working to establish “entrepreneurial dorms,” a community comprised of upper class students and graduate students who are building startups.

Events like the 1000 Pitches Competition, offering cash prizes for the best business ideas, and Panther Tank, an angel investing competition, will be held this fall.

“It’s very exciting to see everything that’s happening at Pitt,” said Jim Jen, executive director of the AlphaLab program at Innovation Works, who was among those present.

“Our goal is to provide a forum so students understand all the resources that we have here,” said Carryer.

Deb Smit

Deb is an award-winning journalist who loves ancient places and cool technologies. A former daily newspaper reporter and Time-Life Books editor, she writes mostly about Pittsburgh. Her stories have appeared in Fast Company, Ozy and Pittsburgh Magazine.