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Student Entrepreneurs Have Big Ideas


By the time he entered his senior year in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering in 2011, Micah Toll had invented a kit to test for toxins in imported Chinese drywall.

He’d also invented a construction beam for quick building in refugee camps, disaster areas, and war zones. And, he founded a company to build electric two-wheeled vehicles that resemble bicycles but do not require peddling.

The inventiveness of Toll and other Pitt students has been encouraged, and rewarded, by the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence (IEE) in Pitt’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business. IEE coordinates the Randall Family Big Idea Competition for student entrepreneurs (Toll has won two first-place awards), and it connects students with opportunities to market their products and network with business owners.

But IEE’s efforts extend far beyond helping students. Primarily, the institute trains business leaders and advises companies. Since its founding in 1996 by Ann Dugan, IEE has helped to launch more than 1,000 businesses, raise $250 million in venture capital, and educate some 25,000 businesspersons. Specialized centers at IEE provide resources for women-owned and urban-based businesses. The institute’s Panther Labworks is an incubator for high-tech ventures.