PantherlabWorks, the commercialization center of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence (IEE) at the University of Pittsburgh, assists startups and business owners in the Pittsburgh region by providing product development-based consulting, educational workshops, and networking opportunities.

PantherlabWorks Concept-to-Commercialization Program

Applications are now being accepted for the 10-week, virtual Concept to Commercialization program. The course kicks off Monday, June 6. Complete the application here.

About the Program

The Concept to Commercialization program engages economic development partners, the AIM Higher Consortium members, and local investors, board representatives, sponsors with entrepreneurial companies in experiential learning opportunities helping to advance innovations along the commercialization path while providing real opportunities to accelerate growth. Concept to Commercialization utilizes a team approach where “Enterprise Teams” (early- to growth-stage companies) participate in a customer discovery experience learning how to engage at a deeper level with existing customers and gain first-hand profound insights, as well as identify and learn about new customer segments. Through customer discovery, the Enterprise Teams will have an opportunity to validate, strengthen or challenge their existing business models through direct market input. It’s all about “getting out of the building” to learn by talking to industry leaders, customers, partners, competitors and fellow entrepreneurs. Concept to Commercialization is not about lectures, it is about speaking with people in the marketplace. As a Concept to Commercialization participant, you will spend time refining and testing your business hypotheses about your innovation, its value proposition, who the customers are, and how the innovation will reach these individuals. You will be introduced to the several tools and resources to build each element required for an innovation to grow in the market and report back to the teaching team through brief presentations during class time and communication during office hours. The program also includes elements to help businesses who are specifically seeking to create products for the Department of Defense (e.g. TRLs, MRLs, SBIR/STTR, lean product development).

Teaching Team: The Teaching Team consists of members of the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence. This program is modeled after the University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute’s First Gear program (and Fourth Gear program) which has been delivered the Gear program to more than 200 Pitt teams and 350 participants. The teaching team members each have over 30 years of experience across multiple industries and have helped launch and grow numerous new products and early stage companies.  Additional invited guests such as AIM Higher Consortium members,  mentors from the southwestern Pennsylvania business community/entrepreneurial ecosystem and invited matched mentors will play a role on the teaching team.

Enterprise Teams: Entrepreneurship is a team sport. Program participants will work in teams to determine how to accelerate the growth of their innovations as a product, service, or process that addresses a market need in a way customers’ desire. All members of the Enterprise Team will participate in out-of-the-building customer discovery activities. Each week will be a new adventure as teams create business hypotheses, run experiments to test them, and validate the items in their business model canvas. Enterprise Teams will see how customer discovery can help rapidly iterate a product to build something potential customers will value, buy, and use.

The members of each team must commit to attending the virtual workshops and final presentation, plus dedicate the time needed for customer discovery, recommended readings and watching flipped classroom video lectures prior to the related workshop.  Each Team member should expect to commit 8 – 10 hours per week completing course learning and customer discovery. This includes consistent documentation of learning and progress.

Each Enterprise Team will consist of a:

  1. Principal Investigator (possibly CTO, CSO, or Director of Engineering)
  2. Entrepreneurial Lead (possibly CEO, COO, Director of Sales, or Director of Marketing)
  3. Mentor (a trusted business consultant or entrepreneur)

If you cannot identify an outside business mentor, the University of Pittsburgh’s Innovation Institute will assist to recruit an experienced individual.

Online “Flipped Classroom” Lectures Prior to each of the weekly workshops, teams will view online lessons via from the class “How to Build a Startup,” instructed by Steve Blank. During this period, each team will “get out of the building” and test its business model assumptions, meeting with potential customers/stakeholders each week. Teams will record their customer validation progress and update their class presentation for each workshop reflecting the customer lessons learned.


  • Ten workshops (each 2 hours)
  • Each class is organized around:
    • Learning about one of the 9 building blocks of a business model as described in Business Model Generation.
    • Team presentations on “Lessons Learned” from getting out of the building and iterating or pivoting your business model.
  • One final “mini” investor pitch presentation to selected entrepreneurs, business owners, and investors
  • Weekly, 30-minute team meetings (phone) with individuals from the Teaching Team.
Who are you, who are we, and what will we be doing?
Monday, June 6• Program overview
• Team introductions
• Intro to Business Model Canvas
Who are your stakeholders, customers, and your market?
Monday, June 13• Customer discovery
• Customer segmentation (intro)
• Markets (intro)
How do you create value for your customers (i.e. what is the problem you are solving and what is your solution)?
Tuesday, June 21• Value proposition
• Solution
• Benefits
Who is your competition and how do you compete?
Monday, June 27• Competitive landscape
• Differentiation
What is your market and how do you reach it?
Tuesday, July 5• Market analysis: primary and secondary
• Business models
• Customer personas
What is required to propel your success in the market?
Monday, July 11• Critical activities and resources
• Gap assessment
• Partners
How do you sell your solution? How do you fund it?
Monday, July 18• Channels
• Revenue models
• Funding
How do you make your solution?
Monday, July 25• Prototyping
• Lean product development
How do you pitch your solution?
Monday, August 1• Art of the pitch
Final Pitch
Monday, August 8• Mini-investor pitch
• Judging

Learning Materials

  • Concept to Commercialization workbook
  • Weekly teaching materials/slides
  • Talking to Humans (authors Giff Constable and Frank Rimalovski, available for free here:

The following texts are optional, but will guide you through the process in very detailed terms improving your experience:

  • The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company (authors Steve Blank and Bob Dorf:
  • Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers (authors Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur:

Workshop Overview

The Concept to Commercialization program is organized around a series of workshops designed to accelerate commercialization and company growth. In so doing, the Enterprise Team interacts regularly with potential customers, partners, and competitors as a way to apply workshop learnings and validate business hypotheses. The program provides each Enterprise Team with a novel experiential learning opportunity to determine the commercial readiness of their technology, developing clear go/no go decision points regarding product enhancements, entering or exiting customer segments and creating a refreshed pitch deck.

In-class workshops consist of the following elements:

  • Scoreboard Update: Workshops will begin each week by Enterprise Teams providing an update on the number of new customer interviews conducted during the previous week, the number of cumulative interviews to date and the number of interviews scheduled for the upcoming week. This scoreboard will be inputted at the start of the session so that all teams have a sense of progress others are making with their customer efforts.  Without these customer interviews, minimal learning will occur for the participating teams.
  • Enterprise Team Presentations: Before the Teaching Team presentation, each Enterprise Team will be called to the front of the classroom for a short (10 minute) update presentation on the assigned outside class work and updates to their business hypotheses resulting from the previous week’s customers interviews. The weekly team presentations from getting out of the building, testing team business hypotheses and iterating or pivoting on business models is essential to making progress toward accelerating commercialization. Note: Your slides will be public and, therefore, should not contain any proprietary information.
  • Teaching Team Topic of the Day: Following these scoreboard updates, a member of the Teaching Team will provide a brief presentation on the topic the Enterprise Team will be focused on during the ensuing week as a way to prepare the team for their upcoming work.  Understanding this topic through the Teaching Team slides and the related flipped classroom videos viewed prior to class will be an important component allowing the Enterprise Team to advance against the business model canvas and validate their business thesis and related hypotheses. Discussion of these “flipped classroom” lecture topics will cover the nine building blocks of a business model canvas as described in Business Model Generation. 
  • In-Class Discussions: The Enterprise Team will use any remaining time at the end of each workshop to perform in-class work with mentors (and the Teaching Team) providing guidance as needed.  This in-class time will typically be used to get a jump start on the Enterprise Team assignment for the next week based on topics covered during the Teaching Team presentation.

Classwork outside of the regularly scheduled workshops includes:

  • Office Hours (30 minutes, outside of class): An important component to assist teams in advancing their innovation in the marketplace is the individualized attention each team will receive from the Teaching Team outside of class. Each Enterprise Team will schedule 30-minute, in-depth updates with members of the Teaching Team on a weekly basis to discuss progress, challenges, and issues and receive feedback on where to go next.  Additional time will be scheduled on an as needed basis. This mechanism not only provides additional input for the Enterprise Team from individuals that have had successful business careers commercializing innovations, but also allows us to better understand the status of each opportunity so that we can connect the team with additional relevant resources. This can be by phone or in person. We encourage the mentors to participate in the office hours as well, if they are able to do so.
  • Mentor meetings: The Enterprise Team should schedule weekly, recurring meetings with their mentor. These meetings are similar to the office hours above in that it allows for a deeper dive into the topics discussed during the week, allows for brainstorming, and review of the customer discovery interviews.
  • Market research: The Enterprise Team will be introduced to a variety of resources for conducting market research and will be encouraged to take advantage of those resources during the course of the program. Some of these resources, such as the  Entrepreneurial Librarian at the University of Pittsburgh require scheduling meetings.

Investor Pitch Deck:

The culmination of all workshops/office hours is the final workshop where each Enterprise Team presents a “mini” investor pitch to the members of the BlueTree Screening Committee or other regional investors. This presentation should not include any proprietary technical information. Rather, the presentation will focus on the team’s business model and learnings from its customer discovery process. This short slide deck should convey items such as unique value of the innovation, market potential, customer pain points, competitive landscape, business model and any revisions to path to market. Include what your needs are so that those hearing your pitch might open doors for you, if you tell a compelling story.

Team Deliverables:

  1. A record of your customer discovery progress to capture the narrative, contact information, learning and insight. (It’s how we measure your progress towards milestones and it is required that you maintain and update it at least once per week. Best practices suggest you update after every customer insight.)
  2. Each class a 5-minute “Lessons Learned” presentation on your progress. Your weekly and final slide decks should not contain any proprietary information. They should focus on your business model and customer discovery.
  3. Investor Pitch Deck – The Team will create a short slide deck that conveys items such as unique value of the innovation, market potential, customer pain points, competitive landscape, business model and any revisions to path to market.

For additional information and questions, please contact:

Victoria Hassett, PantherlabWorks Director
Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, University of Pittsburgh