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Accolades & Honors

Pitt team Hoth Intelligence takes second place in Rice Business Plan Competition

Two men from Hoth Intelligence holding four large checks together

Jonathan Cohen chose the University of Pittsburgh’s MD/PhD program because of the Pitt’s focus on pioneering new medical technologies and its ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship.

With the support of that ecosystem, Cohen and his student collaborators Andrew Liu and Tyler Alexander, a friend since his undergraduate studies, have recently strung together impressive performances in two startup pitch competitions.

Their team, Hoth Intelligence, captured second place and prize money totaling $386,700 at the prestigious Rice Business Plan Competition in Houston, then took a third place $5,000 prize at the Pitt Big Idea Center’s Randall Family Big Idea Competition.

Hoth Intelligence is developing hardware and software that reconstructs a CT or MRI scan to create a patient-specific 3D object. This can then be loaded into a virtual reality headset that allows clinicians to “see through and into” patients to assist in performing tasks such as inserting catheters with greater accuracy.

“This headset and the software we’re building will fundamentally transform the nature of medicine forever,” Cohen said, adding that their system has already met FDA standards for catheter placement with a less than 10 percent error rate.

The team has already met with the chair of the department of neurosurgery at a major children’s hospital and others about using the system for clinician training. Using the device for training purposes allows Hoth to begin generating revenue prior to receiving FDA approval for patient use.

Cohen said Hoth is working to raise a total of $1.5 million to assist with obtaining FDA approval, which they are shooting for by the end of 2023.

He said the rapid progress Hoth has made is attributable to the support it has received from Big Idea Center, Pitt’s hub for student innovation.

“I want to highlight the contributions of Rhonda Schuldt, director of the Big Idea Center, entrepreneurs in residence Don Morrison and Kelly Collier, and Chris Wilmer, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering — they have all been excellent mentors, helping to guide us in our business strategy and prepare us for Rice and the Big Idea competitions.”

He added, “We are excited to continue to grow with the Pittsburgh community and look forward to bringing some of our technology to market soon.”

Hoth’s success at Rice continues a recent trend of strong showings for teams from Pitt.

In 2021, SimpL (now EZPT), led by then Pitt senior Kunal Gandhi, took home a $30,000 prize for an app that uses artificial intelligence to assist with improving posture and technique while engaged in athletic training.

In 2017, then Pitt medical student Matt Kesinger won first place and $600,000 for his company, Forest Devices, Inc., which is marketing a device to more quickly and accurately diagnose a stroke.

“We are thrilled for the success of Hoth Intelligence at the Rice Business Plan Competition,” said Schuldt, director of the Big Idea Center. “Jonathan and his team have quickly become exceptional entrepreneurs and have accessed every resource open to them from the Pitt innovation ecosystem.”

She added, “Their success is emblematic of the accelerated growth of student innovation and entrepreneurship at Pitt.”

The Big Idea Center is opening a new facility this summer for student innovators in the Loeffler Building, 3601 Forbes Avenue.


— Mike Yeomans