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Top Pittsburgh Tech Companies to Watch in 2008

Last year was a very good year for many venture capital companies in our region.

“Lots of really exciting stuff is beginning to bubble to the surface,” says Terri Glueck at Innovation Works. Last year alone, Innovation Works invested in 17 new companies, more than any other year since the first year, making it one of the most active seed companies in the U.S.

“The good news about Pittsburgh is that all the years of effort in this region and early technology successes have really created much more fertile ground for growing new companies,” she adds. “While starting a tech companies is still a risky business, entrepreneurs have a lot of support and funding services in the region, people who understand the challenges of tech start ups and can help to point them in the right direction.”

That said, here’s the Pop City list of the Top Exciting Companies to Watch in 2008 compiled through an informal survey of the prevailing wisdom of local venture capital experts.

Akustica, South Side, is one of two leading digital microphone companies in the world. So far Akustica has delivered two-thirds of its award-winning, pencil-point sized high definition microphone chips to popular portable PC makers where the tiny mics are solving the problem of low to no quality audio. By the end of 2008, Akustica hopes to have its chips embedded in cell phones too as handhelds get ever smaller. While the company did not raise money in 2007, it’s rapidly growing and currently employs 50.

BPL Global
, based in Sewickley, is the maker of smart grid technology for utility companies. BPLG raised $26 M last year from Morgan Stanley, Novitas Capital (formerly PA Early Stage), and other strategic investors is one of the largest VC deals in the region. Most of its business comes from sales of smart grid solutions helping utlity companies to deliver electricity more reliably and efficiently at a lower cost. This past month,  BPLG announced its acquisition of Serveron of Portland, Oregon, which will allow it to expand its smart grid presence from the customer’s premises back through the substation. The company employs 75 in 8 offices around the world.

Knopp Neurosciences, South Side, is building the drug discovery and development industry in Western Pennsylvania through its innovative treatments for neurological disorders. Current research focuses on a promising new drug for the treatment of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Knopp received $12 M last year and initial trials are going well. The company currently employs 14 and plans to hire 4 more in 2008.

Landslide, located in Findley Township, is a pioneer in sales automation software having developed the industry's first software product that addresses the individual workstyle needs of salespeople. Landslide’s system helps companies to achieve revenue objectives and salespeople to close deals faster. Founded in 2004 by Razi Imam and Anupam Singh, Landslide currently employs 35 in the U.S. and plans to hire 30 more in the coming year.

Plextronics, based in Harmar Township, remains a local favorite, the world leader in developing active layer technology for printed electronic devices. Plextronics turned a big corner this year when it announced a $20.6 M round of funding through lead investor Solvay North America Investment of Brussels, Belgium. The company raised $41 M in equity capital over the last five years and continues to grow, currently at 50 employees with the hope of doubling its size in the next year. Plextronics is mapping the future of the print industry with its organic photovoltaic cells that may be used in everything from cell phone chargers to windows that generate solar power. 

Medrad in Warrendale, makers of medical devices used in diagnostic imaging, just opened its second major plant in a year, a $45 M, 120,000 sf manufacturing facility in Clinton Township. Medrad is the largest source of high tech manufacturing jobs in our region, bringing another 450 to 500 jobs in the coming year.

Meakem Becker Venture Capital “Stealth Company.” Okay, we don’t know the name or much about this except that, according to Glen Meakem, MBVC funded a series A round for the company. The company has its headquarters in Pittsburgh, it’s a consumer web company with “very, very exciting growth prospects,” it has ties to CMU and it deserves  mention on the list. No one in Pittsburgh knows about it or has written about it yet, says Glen. Until now, sort of.

Redpack Logistics, South Side, has taken a brilliantly innovative approach to the service pick up and delivery industry.  Started in 2005, Redpack has created a nationwide network where field technicians can pick up and drop off needed parts and pieces, servicing everyone from IT and office equipment technicians, home appliance repair and installations and telecommunications technicians. Their wide selection almost guarantees that Redpack has what a company needs closer to the technician than the technician's company warehouse. Redpack received $1 M last year from private investors and a $300,000 round from Innovation Works. They currently employ 11 and are hiring.

Renal Solutions in Cranberry Township has paved the way for the future of the sciences industry in the region as one of the region’s most successful medical device companies. A provider of products and services to treat chronic and acute renal failure, RS was acquired by Fresenius Medical Care of Germany in November for $200 million, earning its spot in the Pittsburgh Life Science Greenhouse’s future Hall of Fame as one of the first companies funded by the a local incubator and the first to exit successfully. Renal will remain in our region as will its 40-50 employees.

Respironics in Murraysville is another highly successful medical company and the maker of sleep disorder treatment products. Late last year Respironics was sold to Philips Electronics NV, Netherlands, for $5.2 B but Respironics plans to keep its headquarters here. The company broke ground on a $32 M, 165,000 sf manufacturing facility last October in Lower Burrell.

Talkshoe in Wexford is the leading provider of Internet community calling services, connecting people through audio via cell phones, land lines, Skype and VoIP. TalkShoe raised $2 million in venture capital last year and is seeking another $5 mil from venture capitalists and angel investors including Pittsburgh-based Blue Tree Allied Angels, which has   already invested. Founded with the help of former FORE Systems employees, Talkshoe employs 14  people.

Tiversa has quietly been working its software security magic in Cranberry Township and garnering attention in the national press this year, especially the Wall Street Journal, for its cutting-edge technology that prevents data leaks that may result from peer to peer file sharing. Local and foreign governments are its biggest customer but Tiversa also offers a consumer product that monitors file sharing for an annual fee.The company currently employs 36 and has posted a 400 to 600 percent growth rate for the past four years.

Vivisimo in Squirrel Hill, synonymous with its personable search engine Clusty, took growth to a new level and quadrupled in size to 80 strong, with plans to hire more this year. It also extended its reach into Latin America and Europe. A CMU startup, Vivisimo’s Velocity Search Platform has attracted global attention and customers by providing enterprises with a state-of-the-art search solution that allows users to access the vast wealth of a company’s information through a single search box. Just this month Vivisimo was named 2008 Technology of the Year for the third year in a row for the best Enterprise Search Solution by InfoWorld magazine.
 
Stay tuned to Pop City for more on these exciting Pittsburgh companies in the coming year.
Deb Smit is Pop City's innovation/job growth news editor.


Captions:

Thorne King, BPL Global

Glen Meakem and David Becker

Andrew Hannah, Plextronics

Juan Sotolongo and Ralph Goetz, Redpack

Raul Valdes-Perez, Vivisimo

All photographs copyright Brian Cohen

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