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Pitt Students Forge Ahead to Complete Randall Family Big Idea Competition

Medical School team wins $25,000 top prize with platform for recycling biomedical waste

April, 23, 2020 – Pitt Randall Family

As Pitt School of Medicine and research students, James O’Brien (Physician Scientist Training Program), Noah Pyles (Physician Scientist Training Program) and Jonathan Cohen (Medical Scientist Training Program, 3rd year of his PhD) witnessed the tremendous amount of plastic biomedical waste generated in hospitals, clinics, and university laboratories.

That’s when they added healing the planet to healing the body as part of their life mission, becoming entrepreneurs along the way.

Last year, the trio formed Polycarbin, a company that seeks to better manage the biomedical waste stream to enhance recycling. They are the 2020 recipients of the top prize of $25,000 in the Randall Family Big Idea Competition.

“We did not necessarily set out to become entrepreneurs, rather, we came to medical school and pursued science to analyze, understand and solve problems,” said Pyles. “The biomedical plastic crisis happens to be an enormous problem that we have contributed significantly to, and we think we have developed a solution.”

This year’s Randall Family Big Idea Competition kicked off February 14, 2020, with an entrepreneurship bootcamp. Just after narrowing the field to the final 40 teams of 112 students from nine Pitt schools, however, the competition ground to a halt with the closing of the campus for the remainder of the semester.

Entrepreneurs are frequently required to pivot their business plans as they work to bring their products and services to market.

So, when the COVID-19 pandemic escalated in the middle of last month, the Big Idea Center for student innovation and entrepreneurship quickly transitioned the Big Idea Competition to a virtual format in order to complete the competition under the current social distancing circumstances prior to the semester’s end.

“We did our own customer research by reaching out to the students on options for moving forward with the competition. They were almost unanimous in their desire to complete the competition now as opposed to postponing till the summer or fall,” said Babs Carryer, Big Idea Center director.

The Big Idea Competition awards $100,000 in total prizes thanks to the generosity of Pitt trustee and alum Bob Randall, and his family.




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