The University of Pittsburgh wants to make seed-stage levels of funding more accessible and successful for those among its faculty and staff who have innovative ideas, and it’s altering the traditional way it offered such funding by making changes to its Pitt Seed Project.
With the Pitt Seed Project, selected entrants can now receive up to $500,000 during each funding cycle — the university currently has three committed funding allocations for between now and 2025 — to further build out their ideas that will have an institutional impact on campus. The university noticed that those ideas previously lacked the necessary infrastructure to help them grow beyond what just a grant allocation can offer, a realization that led to updates to the project.
Pitt learned it needed adjustments to the program after it reached out to 86 prior seed grant recipients who received funding since the Pitt Seed Project’s launch in 2018 to better learn what did and didn’t work and identify strengths and weaknesses of the program.
Following that feedback, the university is ready to implement some changes including making sure that there is more support for applicants, including addressing scaling concerns when it comes to turning an idea into a reality. The program previously provided up to $50,000 for faculty or staff members to develop their ideas, but the university lacked the resources needed to help participants in the program further develop these ideas following the funding award.
Now, that changes as part of the program’s evolution.
“We are changing the program to realign with the new Plan for Pitt,” Julia Spears, associate vice provost for academic innovation at Pitt, said in an email statement and referencing the university strategic plan called Plan for Pitt 2025. “By adding some additional support to grantees early in the program to encourage interesting and broad ideas and by creating a process to transition noteworthy ideas into the institutional support, we believe the revised program will offer a clear pathway for faculty and staff innovation to flourish.”
Pitt hopes to address these concerns across multiple iterations as a concept goes through five different phases of the program, which will begin accepting ideas on Jan. 7 and will continue to do so until Feb. 7. That’s when Phase 1 of the program will close, which focuses on having founders develop their ideas for 90-second pitch videos that will be submitted for future possible selection in the program.
The 30 of those who prove successful in this stage of the program will then go on to Phase 2, which focuses on cohort selection and training for those selected. This stage of the program will include six training sessions that start during the first week of March and last through the first week of May. Each of the 30 projects will also receive $2,000 as part of this stage.
Then, come June as part of Phase 3, up to 10 projects will be awarded $75,000 and will be considered the first cohort of Pitt Seed 2.0. The projects will then have a year to further develop their ideas with the funding award.
By the following year’s Phase 4 start, these same 10 projects will get the chance to make a pitch for more funding where two will be selected to receive as much as $500,000. The projects will then have between one and three years to demonstrate feasibility and create an implementation plan to scale the project at an institutional level.
Finally, by Phase 5, one of the projects will be selected for implementation into the institutional level universitywide and sustained funding for it will be incorporated into the university’s budget, though those details are still being developed.
“These changes will help faculty and staff learn how to navigate the university structures to develop their ideas within institutional frameworks,” Spears said. “They will be better supported through 1) training, coaching and workshops, 2) increased financial support, 3) a clearer connection to the university’s strategic planning office.”
Pitt said between 74 and 76 of the 87 total projects launched since the program began remain active, 15 of which are nearly completed.