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Blast Off Apps helps small businesses enter the mobile market

Small Pittsburgh businesses that need affordable mobile apps can now turn to a new local startup.

Founded by West Virginia University graduate Adam Paul, Blast Off Apps focuses on providing low-cost, high-quality mobile apps for small businesses in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. The Pittsburgh-based company was created when Paul noticed how high prices were driving small businesses out of the mobile app market.

"I began to look into the mobile market and realized that mobile application development was severely overpriced and, if not for greed, could be utilized by small business to level the playing field," says Paul.

Paul formed the company with Chief Technology Officer Cecil O’Dell, a fellow WVU alum he met while studying physics and working as a STEM ambassador at 4-H summer camps. After a year of planning and developing their system, the two launched Blast Off Apps last February.

As Paul explains, Blast Off Apps differs from other mobile app providers in its approach to pricing and development. Creating an app for Android and Apple devices can cost an average of $50,000 or more, and can take six or more months to develop. Blast Off Apps offers a flat fee of $1,500 to design apps for both Android and Apple stores. They also strive to complete each project -- which is hand-coded in-house -- within four to eight weeks.

The company recently launched an Android app for its first client, the independently owned, Wheeling, W.Va.-based bookstore Words & Music Bookshop. With more possible clients coming in, including some from as far as Australia and Switzerland, Paul hopes to expand their sales team to help further their mission of making mobile apps accessible to everyone.

"We are here to make small business the equal, once again, of big business," says Paul. "No longer will small business be priced and delayed out of the mobile market. Blast Off Apps wants every local, small business to have mobile."
 

Pittsburgh art advocates to lead panel at SXSWedu

The annual SXSWedu Conference and Festival in Austin, Texas, works to foster innovation in learning by hosting a diverse community of stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds in education. On March 9, local art professionals and educators, including Felice Cleveland, director of education at the Mattress Factory, will attend SXSWedu to participate in a panel discussion that covers the benefits of project-based learning (PBL) in schools.

Cleveland will join representatives from other Pittsburgh institutions, including Heather McElwee of the Pittsburgh Glass Center, Tresa Varner of The Andy Warhol Museum, and Avonworth High School Principal Kenneth Lockette, to explain how the Pittsburgh Galleries Project operates as a model for PBL. Titled Using Art to Transform Physical Spaces and Minds, the panel will share the successes and challenges of the project with the broader education community.

“We hope to inspire some of our fellow educators to think about this project and replicate it in their own way,” says Cleveland.

Started in the fall of 2013, the Pittsburgh Galleries Project combined the efforts of Avonworth High School and several Pittsburgh art institutions to encourage students to take part in creative extracurricular projects outside of the classroom. Groups of students visit places such as the Mattress Factory, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Pittsburgh Glass Center, the Warhol, and the Toonseum, where, as Cleveland explains, they receive behind-the-scenes insights into curating, installing, making artwork, and creative careers. The students then use inspiration from their experiences to collaborate on an installation that will go on display at their school.

As Cleveland explains, the program has made an impact on students to find creative solutions to real-world problems. This year, the group will use what they learned to address issues with the school’s Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) policy, mainly the lack of available charging stations. The students are working to build a London-style telephone booth that, upon completion, will serve as a charging station located in the school’s common area.

The panel will also address how to transform schools into more creative spaces and introduce students to the variety of careers in the art world. Says Cleveland, “We want to share the work that we do with the education community around the country; we also hope to be inspired by what others are doing and bring that back to Pittsburgh.”

For more details on the Using Art to Transform Physical Spaces and Minds panel, please visit the SXSWedu website.

Who's hiring in PGH? Dinner Lab, East End Cooperative Ministry and more

Each week, Pop City scours the web to bring you exciting career opportunities in Pittsburgh. Employers, if you have a job opening or internship you would like to promote, please email innovationnews@popcitymedia.com with "Hiring" in the subject line. Hit us up on Twitter @popcitypgh if our job listings put you on the path to success.

Dinner Lab began in New Orleans in 2012 and has since become a national sensation. The pop-up supper club has hosted innovative dining events in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and New York. Today, Dinner Lab announced Pittsburgh as its newest city.

“We’re really excited about coming to Pittsburgh,” said Zach Kupperman, co-founder of Dinner Lab. “Pittsburgh [has] an amazing cultural and culinary scene … Pittsburgh is a very cool and underground cultural city with a lot going on.”

The underground, membership-based social dining club is hiring a part-time event manager for its new Pittsburgh location. Email hdietsch@dinnerlab.com for more details.

The Frick Art & Historical Center has openings for a development manager and a membership assistant.

The East End Cooperative Ministry (EECM) is hiring a part-time database and donor stewardship coordinator to manage its donor database and stewardship cycle through print and electronic communications. Requirements include a bachelor's degree and experience with Raiser's Edge software. Send cover letter, resume, application, and compensation requirements to HR Director, 6140 Station St., Pittsburgh, PA 15206, or email materials to KellyJ@eecm.org.

Jawbone, an international consumer technology and wearable devices company, is hiring a senior hardware engineer at its Pittsburgh location. Requires seven years of experience in electrical engineering.

The hybrid advertising agency Chemistry Communications is looking for a senior digital designer with five or more years of agency digital design experience.

Hi-Tech Learning, which offers technology-focused summer camps for kids in the Pittsburgh area, is looking for camp instructors. Candidates must have criminal and child clearances and reliable transportation. Send resume to swalk@hi-techlearning.com.

Paid internships:

CBS has multiple part-time internships for students pursuing careers in television broadcasting and related fields. Application deadline is April 3.

Check out last week's listings for more opportunities.

 

Pitt launches new crowdfunding platform to support university projects

The Internet offers numerous ways to raise money for a project. But now students and faculty at the University of Pittsburgh can forego the Kickstarters and Indiegogos of the world with a new crowdfunding platform devoted to their specific needs.

The school recently launched EngagePitt, a website where student organization leaders or faculty members can create fundraising campaigns for community outreach and research projects. Managed by Pitt’s Office of Institutional Advancement, the site allows users to reach out to donors in the Pitt community, as well as family, friends, and colleagues.

As Vice Chancellor for Institutional Advancement Albert J. Novak Jr. explains, EngagePitt offers multiple advantages compared to other crowdfunding sites, where users could potentially pay large fees and risk losing funds when a campaign fails to reach the goal amount.

"Unlike other sites that charge user fees ranging from 4.5 percent to 10 percent, there will be no user fees incurred by faculty and student groups using Pitt’s EngagePitt platform," says Novak. "Further, all gifts recorded during a project’s campaign will be applied toward the stated need, whether or not the final goal is met." In addition, the Office of Institutional Advancement also provides training and guidance to all campaign groups.

EngagePitt tested the crowdfunding waters last December with a few approved pilot campaigns. Among them were projects for ThinkSepsis and Pitt’s Society of Women Engineers, both of which focus on advancing innovation on campus and beyond. ThinkSepsis will use its funds to equip six ambulances in the Pittsburgh area with new, state-of-the-art alert systems, while the Society of Women Engineers will apply the $2,351 they raised to improve their annual outreach events.

A number of ongoing EngagePitt campaigns are now accepting contributions. Students and faculty interested in launching a campaign should visit the site's application page.

First Bytes Society seeks tweens and teens for computer programming class

In 2012, the computer programming education initiative, First Bytes Society, won a $1,000 micro-grant from the Awesome Foundation.

“The grant from the Awesome Foundation served as the initial kick start for the First Bytes Society,” says First Bytes Society founder, Nate Good. “Their backing affirmed that this was a cause worthy of bringing to the community and helped us establish some important relationships in Pittsburgh.”

Now, after years of building partnerships, developing a curriculum, and creating a custom development environment, the Pittsburgh-based group is ready to launch its first pilot class.

The First Bytes Society Kick Off will provide a free eight-week course focused on teaching computer programming to 10 students between the ages of 12 and 15. The sessions will begin on March 30 and take place every following Monday at Union Project in East Liberty. Good hopes the pilot class will serve as a first step toward giving students the skills to succeed in today’s tech-heavy job market.

“In my anecdotal research among Pittsburgh students, it is very uncommon for students to even have the option to explore computer programming prior to late in their high school curriculum,” says Good. “This is especially true for public school districts serving communities with lower income families. Computer literacy has quickly become a crucial skill set for those entering the job market, regardless of their occupational focus."

First Bytes Society still has some work to do in the weeks leading up to the launch. The organization hopes to raise $3,500, either from corporate or individual donors, to round out funding for the class. For $250, donors can sponsor a laptop that will be used during the pilot class and future classes. Two local companies, ShowClix and Metamorphosis Spa in Lawrenceville, have already chosen to sponsor laptops.

Good is also in the process of recruiting more mentors to help with the classes. In addition to several software engineers that have signed on to teach, he hopes to attract individuals who possess backgrounds in computer science, or have experience working with teens.

While the pilot class centers on tweens and teens, First Bytes Society’s long-term mission is to teach programming to everyone, regardless of age. As the organization grows, Good plans to develop instruction for adults and young children.

“As we start to expand to older -- and younger -- demographics, we will introduce new curriculum tracks,” says Good. “The curriculum for tweens is focused around creating visuals and building interactive games. Curriculum for adults may be more oriented towards pragmatic real-world solutions, replacing the simple 2-D game with an interactive mortgage calculator.”

Those interested in registering a tween or teen for the First Bytes Society Kick Off can attend an info session taking place on March 2 at 7 p.m. at Union Project, or fill out an online application. Interested donors are encouraged to check out sponsorship opportunities on the website.

Pittsburgh joins urban goat grazing movement with Steel City Grazers

It's the year of the goat both in the Chinese zodiac and in Pittsburgh, where one small business has found a greener, more adorable way to handle lawn care.

Entrepreneur Carrie Pavlik recently launched an Indiegogo campaign for her venture Steel City Grazers. The service would provide goats to city residents who want a more eco-friendly alternative to gas-powered mowers and pesticides. The idea was launched after Pavlik, who runs a Hilltop-based urban hobby farm called Arlington Acres, received multiple requests from people wishing to use her two Nigerian Dwarf goats for landscaping. Interest in the practice was further piqued last summer when the urban forest initiative, Tree Pittsburgh, used 30 goats to clear West Penn Park in Polish Hill.

"I've had people come to me wanting the goats to eat poison ivy or knotweed in their yards," says Pavlik. "But the Tree Pittsburgh event definitely got the conversation started publicly and has created more excitement for the idea of grazing goats."

Steel City Grazers adds Pittsburgh to the list of cities taking part in this growing trend. The herd in Polish Hill came courtesy of the Annapolis, Md.-based business Eco-Goats, and metropolitan areas such as Detroit, San Francisco, and Portland have also recognized the advantages of urban goat grazing. Besides the environmental benefits, goats are also able to eat poisonous plants and scale terrain unreachable by conventional lawn equipment.

Pavlik hopes to raise enough start-up funds through the Indiegogo campaign to bring on 10 goats -- enough to clear one acre of land in three weeks -- as well as buy fencing, equipment and a guard llama. Once established, the herd can be rented for a base charge, a per-day charge, and other costs that depend on factors such as distance and accessibility.

With jobs lined up for the upcoming summer, Pavlik plans on beginning operations in May. From there, the goats will have a busy first season, followed by a much-needed vacation.

"They’ll get to kick back and relax over the winter, with the exception of an occasional party or event where a goat is requested," says Pavlik. "In the future, we may breed some of the goats to expand the herd as well."

Who's hiring in PGH? WPXI, Carlow University and more

Each week, Pop City scours the web to bring you exciting career opportunities in Pittsburgh. Employers, if you have a job opening or internship you would like to promote, please email innovationnews@popcitymedia.com with "Hiring" in the subject line. Hit us up on Twitter @popcitypgh if our job listings put you on the path to success.

WPXI-TV is seeking a motion graphic designer and graphic artist for their Marketing Department’s Creative Studio team. Responsibilities include conceptualizing, designing, animating and executing visual effect graphics. 

The station group that includes WESA and WYEP is hiring a director of development to manage annual individual giving and alternative revenue streams such as vehicle donations and corporate matches. Requirements include a Bachelor's or Master's degree and six years of relevant development and fundraising experience.

Automated Health Systems, Inc (AHS), a national health services management company headquartered in Pittsburgh, is hiring multiple positions, including a technical recruiter and IT coordinator.

Carlow University is looking for a full-time software applications support analyst and a full-time IR data analyst.

Highmark is hiring a senior decision support analyst (Job number 74340) to assist in the development of projects and data analysis. Candidates must have three years of experience in research, data analytics or statistical analysis.

Paid Internships

Giant Eagle has numerous paid internships available in the Pittsburgh area.

The civil engineering and architectural design firm Larson Design Group needs a summer site intern at their Cranberry Township offices. College juniors and seniors are welcome to apply.

Check out last week's listings for more opportunities.

To receive Pop City weekly, click here.

Web Design Day to showcase Pittsburgh talent

This summer, one conference will showcase the local web design and development community with a full lineup of speakers, workshops, and networking events.

Founded in 2009 as part of Refresh Pittsburgh, Web Design Day gathers individuals from Pittsburgh and beyond who work to make the web a better place. What started as a one-day local conference with around 100 people at Left Field Meeting Space has since grown into a two-day endeavor that attracts around 350 people and some of the biggest names in the industry. Even as the conference grows, however, it continues to provide a fun, intimate atmosphere where attendees can learn and network.

"We’ve heard awesome stories of people who have met their future bosses and colleagues at Web Design Day, a few folks who made career changes to web design, and even a speaker who moved back to Pittsburgh after getting to hang out with our awesome community," says G. Jason Head of Refresh Pittsburgh, who organizes Web Design Day with his wife and partner, Val Head.

Web Design Day will begin on June 11 with two full-day pre-conference workshops, one at Left Field Meeting Space on the North Shore and one at The Beauty Shoppe in East Liberty. The conference will take place on June 12 at the New Hazlett Theater in the North Side, where guests can enjoy plenty of activities, as well as an after-party that includes food, music, and hands-on screen printing of T-shirts and posters. The events also include a variety of speakers -- including Adaptive Web Design author Aaron Gustafson, brand and content strategist Margot Bloomstein, and many others -- who will offer their expertise and input on a variety of subjects.

"We put a lot of thought into carefully curating a well-balanced and diverse speaker lineup," says G. Jason Head. "We base our selections on what areas people are interested in, popular and relevant topics in our industry, speakers that we have seen and were impressed by, all focused around providing a day of relevant take-aways that will leave our attendees inspired."

New this year, Refresh Pittsburgh has developed a way to bring in community members who may not otherwise attend. The organization partnered with MailChimp, Think Through Math, and Girl Develop It Pittsburgh to provide 14 free scholarship tickets to students, low-income residents, and others unable to afford conference tickets, which range in cost from $215 to $499. As G. Jason Head explains, the free tickets are a way to ensure that Web Design Day includes people from a wide array of backgrounds.

"Diversity is important to us, and we feel a more diverse audience provides a better experience for everyone," says G. Jason Head. "We realize that the cost of attending industry conferences can be prohibitive for some people, and we want to do what we can to make it easier for someone to attend and have a good experience."

Visit the Web Design Day website to register for the conference. Those interested in applying for the scholarship tickets can do so on the Scholarship Program page.

Former Steeler partners with Pitt to launch new sports medicine company

When it comes to dealing with injuries, elite athletes have access to the best in rehabilitation technology. Now with the help of a retired football great, the University of Pittsburgh hopes to make the same grade of treatment available to the public.

Former Pittsburgh Steeler and businessman Charlie Batch, along with his three partners, joined with the University of Pittsburgh and its Innovation Institute to launch a wellness, fitness, human-performance, and rehabilitation-focused company. The Pittsburgh-based startup, called Impellia, will develop and commercialize technologies from Pitt and around the country.

To Evan Facher, director of enterprise development for the Innovation Institute, Batch's influence will help their commitment to improving public health and furthering the city's image as a hub for emerging technology and science.

"Because of the profile that he has and the good work that he's done, he can open a lot of doors for the company and the university as well," says Facher.

As part of the new relationship, Batch and the rest of the Impellia team -- which includes tech-savvy business professionals Richard Walker, Dave Morin, and Ed Kim -- completed option agreements for three distinct Pitt innovations. Physical therapists can help improve their patients' physical rehabilitation with the joint-function monitoring tool, interACTION. For knee injuries, there's PIVOT, a program that can quantitatively assess the pivot shift test, a clinical exam for diagnosing anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. And the Versatile and Integrated System for Telerehabilitation (VISYTER) software platform provides a secure, integrated system that allows doctors to make diagnoses remotely with high-quality videoconferencing, access to electronic health records, and other tools.

"If you put all these things together, you have a company that can really do some novel rehabilitation and sports medicine," says Facher.

The inventions were edged toward commercialization by Pitt faculty members and the Innovation Institute, which is dedicated to promoting and fostering innovation, commercialization, and entrepreneurship. But as Facher explains, the process still requires an outsider like Impellia to come in and market the technology. To that end, he believes that Batch and his team bring a level of expertise that will help transform Pitt research into real innovations for years to come.

"In the past, they've taken university technologies and been successful at developing them," says Facher. "So it's a team that we believe in and would like to continue to do more with and build off of."

Who's hiring in PGH? Grow Pittsburgh, Point Park University and more

Each week, Pop City scours the web to bring you exciting career opportunities in Pittsburgh. Employers, if you have a job opening or internship you would like to promote, please email innovationnews@popcitymedia.com with "Hiring" in the subject line. Hit us up on Twitter @popcitypgh if our job listings put you on the path to success.

Management Science Associates (MSA) is hiring a UX researcher and a UX prototype developer to join the user-centered design team in their Information Management Solutions (IMS) division, which has been offering data and insight solutions to the consumer packaged goods industry since the early 1980s.

Niche, a local start-up that rates neighborhoods, schools and colleges, is hiring for multiple positions, including a front-end engineer and a senior software engineer.

Point Park University needs a full-time safety coordinator to oversee all Cinema Department productions. Candidate must have experience working on location production shoots, and have knowledge of cameras, lighting packages, grip and gaffing duties, and on-set safety procedures. Position requires a Bachelor of Arts or Master of Fine Arts in film production or related area.

Chatham University has an opening for a full-time Assistant Professor of English. Requires a doctorate in literature.

The Center for Theater Arts, a Mt. Lebanon-based nonprofit that offers professional performing arts classes to children and teens in the Pittsburgh area, is hiring a part-time director of development. Requirements include a Bachelor of Arts and five-plus years in development and fundraising.

Grow Pittsburgh is hiring a part-time site coordinator for its Garden Resource Center (GRC), a recently-opened tool lending library and materials depot. Candidates must possess some knowledge of organic gardening practices. Applications are due by March 2, 2015. 

The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh has two new part-time openings for an education programs specialist and early childhood program specialist.

Paid Internships

The Pittsburgh Steelers needs two marketing interns for the fall. 

The Allegheny Land Trust is looking for a Chartiers Creek Watershed intern for the summer. The deadline to apply is April 1, 2015.

Check out last week's listings for more opportunities.

To receive Pop City weekly, click here.

WindStax and Aquion Energy add more battery life to wind turbine systems

Two Pittsburgh companies prove that sometimes the best partners are the ones you find in your own back yard.

Strip District-based wind turbine manufacturer, WindStax, recently teamed up with Aquion Energy, a sustainable battery company located on 39th Street in nearby Lawrenceville. WindStax will integrate Aquion’s trademark Aqueous Hybrid Ion (AHI) batteries in their turbine microgrid systems, which will enable them to store more wind-generated energy.

While WindStax has already installed a dozen microgrid systems using traditional battery technologies, the Aquion partnership signals a move toward creating an overall cleaner energy source. Made with safe saltwater electrolyte and nontoxic materials, the AHI batteries are more eco-friendly than lead acid or lithium ion batteries, and produce a low carbon footprint throughout their lifespan, which, as WindStax founder and president Ronald Gdovic points out, could last for many years.

“Partnering with Aquion Energy allows us to offer our customers these environmental benefits while also greatly improving the performance and life of the batteries in our microgrid systems," says Gdovic. "In some cases we anticipate a five-fold increase in life -- possibly up to 20 years."

Founded in 2012, WindStax has worked to bring wind power to residential and commercial consumers by designing easy to use, self-contained systems. There's also the reliability factor, as their turbines are built to operate even in low wind conditions, while their generators are able to store up to several days worth of clean electricity.

Though WindStax is a young company, using Aquion demonstrates their foresight in preparing to grow and change with the industry.

"We recognized long ago that the next big thing in electricity generation will be improvements in battery technology," says Gdovic. "So we designed our turbines to charge a number of different batteries. For us, adding the Aquion battery option only took a small change in the charging profile -- an easy integration."

The first WindStax/Aquion microgrid system will debut in Braddock this March. WindStax is also offering the AHI battery as an option to current customers who wish to upgrade.

Who's hiring in PGH? Astrobotic, Qeexo and more

Each week, Pop City scours the web to bring you fulfilling career opportunities in Pittsburgh. Employers, if you have a job opening or internship you would like to promote, please email innovationnews@popcitymedia.com with "Hiring" in the subject line. Hit us up on Twitter @popcitypgh if our job listings put you on the path to success.

Astrobotic, a space logistics company specializing in affordable commercial space robotics technology, is hiring multiple positions, including a director of marketing and communications, a senior software engineer, and an avionics engineer.

Astrobotic recently accepted a third Milestone Prize from the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition. The $1 million victory, in addition to two previous wins, brings the secured prize money total to $1.75 million.

“These three Milestones are big for us,” says Astrobotic CEO John Thornton. “It’s acknowledgement of a lot of tough work.”

Based in the Strip District, Astrobotic formed in 2008 shortly after the XPRIZE competition was announced. Since then, the company has competed with five other teams by showing off various components of their commercial robotic lunar rover.

The recent achievement brings Astrobotic closer to its goal of sending a robotic rover to the moon in 2016.

Community-based organization Larimer Consensus Group is seeking a neighborhood improvement specialist. Requirements include a valid driver’s license, access to a vehicle, and the ability to work occasional evenings and weekends. Please send current resume and up to three professional references to the Larimer Consensus Group Hiring Committee at mmaeda@kingsleyassociation.org.

PennFuture, a statewide public interest membership organization, is hiring a full-time director of outreach. The qualified candidate will manage PennFuture's issue campaigns, organize coalition efforts, and maintain relationships with policymakers, members of the organization, and the public. PennFuture is also looking for a donor relations intern.

Qeexo, a company that specializes in touchscreen technology, is hiring multiple positions, including a project manager and a software engineer, for its Pittsburgh office.

Mobile commerce platform Branding Brand is hiring for multiple positions, including a communications and events coordinator, a project manager, and a software engineer/web developer.

Dick's Sporting Goods is hiring an assistant graphics designer to work on the development of packaging, collateral and product branding. Requires a B.A. in graphic design and four years of design experience.

Pittsburgh Bike Share, a nonprofit citywide bike sharing system, needs a director of operations and a director of marketing and community relations.  

Check out last week's listings for more opportunities.

To receive Pop City weekly, click here.
 

Solarize to kick off Allegheny program in Point Breeze

Pittsburgh residents interested in converting to solar power can now turn to a new program for help. On Feb. 8, Solarize Allegheny, a community-supported solar campaign, officially kicked off in Point Breeze with a celebration at Pino’s Restaurant on Feb. 8. That event, along with a workshop taking place at the St. Bede School on Feb. 11, launches a 20-week long project to bring solar energy to the neighborhood.

The program, which is called Solarize Point Breeze, was made possible through a partnership between the Point Breeze Organization and Solarize creator, SmartPower, a national nonprofit dedicated to increasing the adoption of solar technology in participating communities across the country. Solarize Point Breeze also marks the first phase of a plan to expand and double the number of solar installations in Allegheny County over the next two years.

“Solarize campaigns are successful because we tap into the social networks and interest in clean energy that already exists in the community,” says SmartPower Vice President Sharon Pillar. “The Point Breeze Organization is leading the Solarize Point Breeze effort and connecting the campaign to their contacts and in turn, the effect ripples throughout the community. “

As Pillar explains, Solarize Allegheny will provide residents with solar information and resources by engaging them where they live, work and worship. Those interested in adopting solar power are then connected directly to local, pre-screened, qualified solar installers who will offer competitive bids. With the help of the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment  Authority, the program will also find financial assistance, such as zero down or zero interest loans, for qualifying homeowners.

Solarize has already proven successful in other states, including Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and Arizona, where each community campaign spawned an average of 30 to 40 installations. The most successful two-year program, Solarize Connecticut, covered 52 communities and converted more than 1,900 homeowners, which constitutes one-third of all the residential solar power in the state.

“Solarize is so successful because it taps into a rapidly exploding interest for people to produce their own energy, to save money on their electric bills and to help the environment,” says Pillar.

Besides Point Breeze, Solarize Allegheny will also branch out into Moon Township, South Fayette Township, and the Etna and Millvale boroughs. The next phase will begin in late spring when the program selects and launches in another four or five local communities.

Those interested in learning more about Solarize Allegheny can register for the Solarize Point Breeze launch party or the Solarize Point Breeze workshop through Eventbrite.
 

Local industry leaders needed for EY Entrepreneur Of The Year awards

EY, a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services, has officially requested nominations from western Pennsylvania and West Virginia for the 29th annual EY Entrepreneur Of The Year awards. The program seeks the world’s most innovative entrepreneurs and celebrates their ability to strengthen or transform successful enterprises.

"The unique award makes a difference through the way it encourages entrepreneurial activity among those with potential, and recognizes the contribution of people who inspire others with their vision, leadership and achievement," says Kim Gillespie, who, along with Darrel Smalley, serves as co-director of the western Pennsylvania and West Virginia awards program.

Award winners are selected in a number of industry categories, including Distribution and Manufacturing, Energy, Family Business, Financial Services, Construction, Retail and Consumer Products, Services, and Technology, by a panel of independent regional judges. Contestants are evaluated on areas such as entrepreneurial spirit, the ability to overcome obstacles, financial performance and growth, innovation and new approaches, company culture, leadership, and impact in the community.

The winners will be announced at a black-tie gala on June 19, 2015, at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. They will then go on to compete at the national EY Entrepreneur Of the Year awards taking place in Palm Springs, Calif., this coming November.

In 2014, more than 25 western Pennsylvania and West Virginia leaders were selected as EY Entrepreneur Of The Year award finalists. Past local award winners include Rob Daley and Henry Thorne of the baby product company 4moms and Laura Shapira Karet of the grocery store chain Giant Eagle.

"We are inspired every year by the countless entrepreneurs in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia who are driving growth, creating jobs and making a positive impact on our communities," says Gillespie.

The deadline to apply for the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards is March 6, 2015. Entrepreneurs may nominate themselves or be nominated by peers or other business leaders.  

Astrobotic and CMU work toward moon landing with Google Lunar XPRIZE

A trip to the moon isn’t cheap, but thanks to some generous prize money, one local company is another step closer to getting there.

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Astrobotic, a space logistics company specializing in affordable commercial space robotics technology, recently accepted a third Milestone Prize from the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition. The $1 million victory, in addition to two previous wins, brings the secured prize money total to $1.75 million. It also makes Astrobotic and CMU the first team to win all three Milestone prizes.

“These three Milestones are big for us,” says Astrobotic CEO John Thornton. “It’s acknowledgement of a lot of tough work.”

Based in the Strip District, Astrobotic formed in 2008 shortly after the XPRIZE competition was announced. Since then, the company has competed with five other teams by showing off various components of their commercial robotic lunar rover. The third Milestone Prize came after they demonstrated their visually guided lunar landing system, which underwent numerous tests last year at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The system -- which Thornton refers to as an “astronaut in a box” -- uses imaging software to ensure safer, more precise touchdowns and dramatically reduce the risk of crashes.

Astrobotic also received recognition for the lander’s “green” propulsion system. As Thornton explains, their propellant poses far fewer risks than the traditionally used hydrazine propellant, a quality that allows for more on-the-ground testing.

“If [hydrazine propellant] is spilled into the air, it could kill you on a parts per million level,” says Thornton. “Whereas the propellant that we use is still toxic, but much less so, which makes it easier to test terrestrially.”

The recent achievement brings Astrobotic and CMU closer to their goal of sending a robotic rover to the moon in 2016. The team will also go on to compete for the $20 million grand XPRIZE, as well as bonus prizes.

If they win, Thornton hopes to reinvest the money in Astrobotic’s commercial operation, a sort of “FedEx or UPS to the moon” that delivers lunar payloads for companies, governments, universities, nonprofits and individuals. While the funds would add to millions in NASA grants and contracts that the company has already received, it still compensates for a portion of the amount required to create and run the service.

“The prize money is fairly small compared to the cost to get there, so it’s not a money-making proposition,” says Thornton. “The goal is to build the business, so if we were to win the prize, we would put that right back into the company to support the commercial operation of the business."
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