Competitions / Universities

Pitt startup team wins 2024 Big Idea Competition with innovative neurosurgery device

With $75,000 in prizes, the annual contest aims to inspire student creativity and business acumen.

Students representing the winning team at the 2024 Big Idea Competition (Courtesy University of Pittsburgh)

A University of Pittsburgh startup team that developed a breakthrough medical device to make neurosurgery faster walked away with $25,000 at the 2024 Big Idea Competition.

Called Malleous, the tool is a patent-pending product out of UPMC’s Neurological Surgery department. The winning team comprised three undergraduate students, a med student, and two MDs, including a neurosurgeon and the chief resident. 

The Big Idea Competition, an initiative by Pitt’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, was created to inspire and support student entrepreneurs from all academic disciplines in developing new ideas and transforming them into viable business projects. Founded in 2009 and supported by the Randall family, the contest is now run out of the Big Idea Center in Oakland. 

Each year, the competition culminates in a showcase where finalists pitch their concepts to a panel of industry professionals. In addition to the grand prize, awards are given to second, third and fourth place winners.

In addition to several prizes for inventions in the medical or biotech fields — a rising home for venture capital — there were also ideas for tech to improve sustainability, regulatory compliance, music education and even social interaction.

Check out the 2024 winners below, with descriptions provided.

  • Grand Prize ($25,000): Malleous — Ben Leslie (ENGR’24) and Rohit Mantena (A&S ’26). A novel surgical instrument that reduces operative time in neurological surgery by combining suction and retraction tools.
  • Second Place ($15,000): Conduction — Joe Maggiore (MD-PhD ’26) and Julia Aapfelbacher (MD-PhD ’24). Music education software that allows kids to easily compose original songs and see them brought to life by real musicians.
  • Second Place ($15,000): noVRel — Sejeal Katiyar (ENGR ’24), Tanvi Mittal (CMU), Andrew Daoud, Sam Lord, Amogh Vellore, and Garrett Martin. A neurosurgery-targeted device that condenses bulky tools into a single AR headset.
  • Third Place ($5,000): StemPath — Andrew Liu (MD-PhD ’27) and Shruthi Venkatesh (MD-PhD ’26). An AI-powered recruiting platform for careers in STEM.
  • Third Place ($5,000): MitoAI — Diya Qu (MBA ’24), Qi Chen (SCI MS ’24), Binda Li (CMU), and Xinyu Wang (CMU). A fully automated process that uses AI and robotics for creating, handling and working with cell cultures.
  • Third Place ($5,000): Forevergreen — Jack Pearson (CBA ’24) and Joe Pearson (Pitt-Johnstown ’27). A platform to calculate your personal carbon footprint and find solutions to offset it.
  • 4th Place ($2,000): DetectION — Bavya Mavila Chathoth (DMD ’26), C.J. Belleci, and Sara Trbojevic (ENGR PhD ’25). A portable device to detect blood sodium and potassium levels through a simple prick.
  • 4th Place ($2,000): Greetings — Avi Moses (CBA ’24), Tyler Fritz (ENGR), Vy Nguyen, Matthew Fraijo, and Silian Lihuang. A platform to help isolated young professionals meet other people and make friends. 
  • 4th Place ($2,000): Plyance — Hanzala Rehan (SCI ’24) and Jared Peters (SCI ’24), along with Kian Salem and Jack Mezger. A compliance testing platform to reduce bias and ensure fair practices in the lending industry.


Companies: University of Pittsburgh

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