the exterior of the new center with a view down Meyran Avenue
Features & Articles

The Big Idea Center is opening in the heart of Oakland

  • Innovation and Research
  • Our City/Our Campus

At the corner of Forbes and Meyran avenues in the heart of the city’s Innovation District in Oakland is the University of Pittsburgh’s vibrant new home for student innovation and entrepreneurship: the Big Idea Center.

The 5,500-square-foot facility reflects the University’s bold investment in student innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities.

“This is more than a building,” said Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. “It is a dedicated space and a point of incredible pride for the University of Pittsburgh that directly supports students in the important work of elevating their ideas for society’s gain.”

The Big Idea Center was created as a unit at Pitt four years ago, bringing together programs and resources for student innovation and entrepreneurship within the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Students, alumni and friends are welcome to join the new facility’s grand opening celebration Sept. 16 at 5 p.m.

“The Big Idea Center and its programming have always supported students interested in starting a company. We still do. But innovation and entrepreneurism encompasses so much more than startups,” said Rhonda Schuldt, director of the Big Idea Center. “The mindsets and skillsets of innovation and entrepreneurship equip students with a competitive advantage they can apply to all aspects of their post-graduate lives.” 

“Innovators and entrepreneurs are our world’s changemakers and problem-solvers,” Schuldt added. “And we know that the world’s employers value and want people with creativity and initiative, analytical and critical thinking skills, complex problem-solving ability, empathy, leadership, social influence and the ability to work effectively in a team. These are the skillsets and mindsets you gain by stepping into the world of innovation and entrepreneurship, and we are so excited to have this dynamic new space where students, regardless of discipline and career aspirations, can gain these experiences and the possibilities they open up for them.”

The Big Idea Center offers a series of dedicated programs throughout the year for students to develop and advance innovative ideas, including workshops, bootcamps and competitions such as the Randall Family Big Idea Competition and the Kuzneski Innovation Cup. It also provides access to experienced entrepreneurs in residence and other resources on campus and in the Pittsburgh region for developing ideas into new products, services, nonprofits and more.

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Enriching the center’s programming is Saxbys, a student-led and run coffee shop that emphasizes experiential learning and is located within the Big Idea Center. “It’s such a wonderful opportunity to have an organization like Saxbys in a space like this. Students coming to the Big Idea Center can see fellow student entrepreneurs tangibly demonstrating innovation and entrepreneurship in action and what it could mean for them,” Schuldt said.

Marketing and business sophomore Maggie Yu will lead the Big Idea Center cafe as the inaugural student CEO of the location.

“I’m really excited to start my position as student CEO because it’s such a wonderful opportunity for me to grow personally and professionally,” Yu said. “I hope this experience gives me the foundation for more roles in management and leadership and that I’ll be able to use what I learned from this experience as a springboard for building my own business and team in the future.”

In addition to Saxbys, the Big Idea Center has partnered with Avenu Workspaces, the co-working arm of the Pittsburgh Innovation District, to create the Big Idea Loft, a co-working space for student startups. The facility will be located at Avenu: Meyran directly across the street and one floor up from the Big Idea Center.

“As we work to support student innovators across multiple opportunities, this is an exciting partnership to fill a gap for those students whose innovation and entrepreneurial aspirations lead to startup creation find that place to power what’s next for them as they launch their business,” said Schuldt.

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Bringing the energetic brainpower of students into the co-working ecosystem in the Oakland neighborhood is central to the goals of the Pittsburgh Innovation District.

“The Big Idea Loft allows Pitt entrepreneurs to meet like-minded leaders and innovators,” said Sean Luther, CEO of InnovatePGH, the umbrella organization that hosts both the Pittsburgh Innovation District and Avenu Workspaces. “We hope these connections will support and strengthen student and alumni startups while giving them a space to thrive and eventually make the Pittsburgh Innovation District their home base as they grow their startups.”

Kunal Gandhi (SCI, A&S ’21), founder and CEO of EZPT, is emblematic of the possibilities students can realize during their time at Pitt.

“The Big Idea Center has had a major impact on me and my startup during my four years at Pitt and beyond. When I first got involved with the Big Idea Center, my idea for an AI fitness app was merely hypothetical,” Gandhi said. “But through their competitions, mentorship, connections and investments, I’ve been able to transform my idea into a global business that helps people all over the world and is receiving widespread recognition.”

With the help of the Big Idea Center, Gandhi’s organization has been able to secure office space in the city to prepare for future growth. “Without the Big Idea Center’s support and resources, I wouldn’t be the entrepreneur that I am today,” he said.


— Mike Yeomans