SHRS Innovation Challenge

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Two awards of $10,000* are available to the Winners of the SHRS Innovation Challenge.

The SHRS Innovation Challenge is designed to move early-stage discoveries from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences towards the market in tandem with the First Gear NSF I-Corps program.


Theme: Innovative Solutions to Promote Human Performance & Health System Optimization

Technology Focus Areas:

Disability & Assistive Technology
Rehabilitation Science & Technology
Sports Medicine & Nutrition
Communication Science & Disorders
Health Information Management
Occupational Therapy
Physical Therapy
Physician Assistant Studies

SHRS is a leader among its peers when it comes to developing and translating key technologies that advance innovation in rehabilitation science. 

40 teams from SHRS have completed the First Gear Program.


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The SHRS Innovation Challenge is an opportunity for faculty, staff, and students to translate their ideas and developments, originating in our labs and classrooms, into rehabilitation products and services that have real impact.


David Brienza, PhD, Associate Dean for Technology & Innovation

Matt Darnell


The SHRS Innovation Challenge and First Gear Program was instrumental in helping our team define our market, develop a business plan, and craft an investor pitch. Participating in and winning this challenge was the tipping point for launching our start-up.


Matt Darnell, PhD, RD, CSSD, Associate Professor & Director, Master of Science Program in Sports Science
catherine palmer_SHRS_Hearing for Health Commercialization Technology


First Gear provided me with a framework within which to understand a new vocabulary related to product discovery, pitching ideas, and moving a product to market.  First Gear also introduced me to a group of people dedicated to assisting me on this journey who I never even knew existed at Pitt. It was like I found a hidden world at Pitt that couldn't wait to help me navigate unchartered waters!


Dr. Catherine Palmer, Director of AuD Program and Associate Professor

How it Works:

The SHRS Innovation Challenge is open to faculty, post doctorial and graduate students, and staff working on University of Pittsburgh intellectual property in the School of the Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. Students are welcome to participate on teams led by a faculty member.  

The Challenge is done in conjunction with the First Gear NSF I-Corps Program.

  • 10-16 teams from SHRS programs will be selected for the Innovation Institute's 2022 Spring First Gear Cohort. 
  • 6 Tuesday sessions via Zoom from 3-5:30 p.m.:

    1. February 22

    2. March 1

    3. March 15

    4. March 22

    5. March 29

    6. April 12 (Final presentations and judging.)

  • Accepted applications will be limited to no more than two applications per program. 

  • Each team accepted to the Challenge will be awarded $3,000 from the National Science Foundation I-Corps Program through the Innovation Institute.  
  • Two winners will be awarded $10,000 after the successful completion of the Pitt Ventures First Gear. 
  • Upon completion, participants are eligible to apply for additional funding up to $50,000 through the NSF I-Corps Team National program. During the National I-Corps, NSF grantees learn to identify valuable product opportunities that can emerge from their innovative ideas and to build a business model using evidence-based lean startup methodology.
  • Learn more about First Gear here.
  • Learn about the past SHRS Challenge Winners.
  • The deadline is now Feb. 11, 2022.
  • *If participants have already gone through a previous First Gear Cohort for the technology submitted, they are not eligible for an additional $3,000. However, they are eligible for one of the two $10,000 prizes upon another successful completion of First Gear Program. 25 new customer discovery interviews must be completed by all accepted teams.

  • Expectations of participants:
    • Each member of the teams who participate in the SHRS Innovation Challenge Program are expected to contribute at least 3 to 5 hours per week to customer discovery and market research-related activities. By the end of the program, teams are expected to complete some of the following deliverables:

      · 25 Potential customer/stakeholder interviews

      · Business model canvas

      · One-page Marketing Brief that summarizes the innovation’s value proposition, market opportunity, competitive landscape, technology, stage of development, and IP landscape.

      · Final Pitch Deck for SHRS Innovation Challenge Award Competition that conveys items such as the unique value of the innovation, market potential, customer pain point, competitive landscape, business model and path to market.

  • Questions?  Contact Dave Brienza at
    • SHRS Program/Lab List:

      o             Audiology

      o             Counseling

      o             Emergency Medicine

      o             Health Information Management/Health Informatics

      o             Nutrition and Dietetics

      o             Physician Assistant Studies

      o             Physical Therapy

      o             Prosthetics and Orthotics

      o             Occupational Therapy

      o             Rehabilitation Technology

      o             Speech-Language Pathology

      o             Sports Medicine/Sports Science/Athletic Training


      •   Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL)

      •   Neuromuscular Research Laboratory (NMRL)