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Meet Zico Kolter, the CMU prof who is rethinking how we gauge our energy consumption

What if an algorithm existed that breaks down your energy bill appliance by appliance?

That's the idea behind the research of Zico Kolter. Kolter believes that if the average consumer understood exactly how much energy their fridge, washer and dryer and lights added to their overall energy consumption, they would work harder at conserving energy. 

A native of Boston, Kolter attended Georgetown (undergrad) and Stanford (grad). As an assistant professor in CMU’s Computer Science Dept. and Institute for Software Research, he is offering a new course this fall that will explore the ways machine-learning can address this idea.

Kolter says machine-learning is the answer to a clearer understanding of energy consumption. Energy is the driving force of human society. If people could actually see where it goes everyday, they could potentially reduce their consumption by 15%. And that's a conservative estimate.

Businesses and industries could achieve a 25% reduction, he says. 
His research team—civil, electrical and chemical engineers—are  busy at work on new computational approaches. Kolter hopes to collaborate with a large energy company in the near future, as well, and put advanced consumer energy technology to the test.
“Source separation is hard to tackle, but can be done,” he says. “The big take home is we want to give people information about their consumption. It costs money to develop new sources of technology. It’s relatively cheaper to be more efficient with the energy we are generating.”
The right algorithms can work to support alternative forms of energy like wind and solar, he adds.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Zico Kolter, CMU

Two Pitt studies: The future of Twitter. Are your "mutual friends" putting you at risk?

Two recently published studies by the University of Pittsburgh have interesting implications for users of Twitter and Facebook. 
A study of Twitter suggests that if the social media site fails to continue to attract new users, it will devolve into a platform for corporations and celebrities that will resemble television or radio broadcasts.
The Facebook study, on the other hand, warns that Internet attackers are infiltrating our personal and private information on Facebook through our “mutual friends.”
The Twitter study is coauthored by Andrew Stephen at the Katz Graduate School of Business and Olivier Toubia at Columbia University. The idea was to unmask the motivation behind some of the most prolific tweeters on the social media site, says Stephen.
In other words, do high-volume tweeters tweet to broadcast their thoughts and share their opinions with a wider audience? Or are they simply looking to increase their social status by accumulating followers?
In the end, they found that while mid-range Twitter users were encouraged to post more in an effort to gain a larger audience, high-end users went in the opposite direction, reducing the number of daily tweets as they gained a larger following.
“As they get more followers, they want to be careful about what they post,” explains Stephen.  The results indicate, therefore, that higher volume users are more interested in amassing followers than using Twitter to broadcast their views.
When it comes to commercial, corporate and celebrity users, however, this finding does not apply. Those with corporate-celebrity status continued to post continuously regardless of how many followers they had.
As long as new users continue flowing into Twitter, which is presently the case, Twitter will remain a voice of many, the researchers agreed. If the number of new users drops, however, Twitter will become a channel for high-end users like corporations and celebrities who will fill it with packaged programming.
As for Facebook, a separate Pitt study published in Computers & Security revealed that that hackers are finding they way through security settings on Facebook through “mutual-friends.”  
The same problem exists for LinkedIn and Fouraquare, says James Joshi, coauthor and associate professor of information assurance and security in Pitt’s School of Information Sciences.
While Facebook allows users to block hackers from a public search, the block proves inefficient if a mutual friend isn’t using the same security settings.
“Being able to see mutual friends may allow one to find out important and private social connections of a targeted user,” said Joshi. “An attacker can infer such information as political affiliations or private information that could be socially embarrassing.”
The information could also be used to create false identities that appear even more authentic than the actual user.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Andrew Stephen, James Joshi, University of Pittsburgh

The 2013 Data Award winners included a few surprises and a surreal atmosphere

The Pittsburgh Technology Council’s 5th Annual Design, Art and Technology (DATA) Awards celebrated, as it does each year, the intersection of art and technology design with a lineup of the region’s most creative startups.
This year's event gave off a surreal glow, although maybe it was the fog machine and the light filtering through the stained glass windows into The Priory’s Grand Hall on the Northside.
“It’s a great event for showcasing innovations with an art twist and sharing it with a wider audience,” said Paul Fireman of Fireman Creative whose firm took away a DATA in the Media Arts category.

“There were a lot of companies this year that I hadn’t heard of and that's a good thing because it means the group of participating companies is growing.” 
New this year was an interactive element that allowed the public to vote and determine the winners, along with a jury of experts.
The public voting was an important piece, said Audrey Russo, president of PTC, giving the artistic and creative communities a voice in the process.
“We are continually pleased with the breadth and number of individuals, and organizations, that actively participated,” said Russo. "I believe this space serves as the preamble to an imminent, seismic change in skill development and education.  Plus, we always have a ton of fun supporting those who build and execute big ideas.” 

The 2013 winners were:
i-CON: Apps & Information Architecture Award – Highmark + United Concordia: Chomper Chums

Next Generation: Kids & Creative Technology Award – The Center for Creativity: TransformED

Maker: Design & Art Award – Teletrix: Radiation Training Simulators

Media Arts: Interactive + Multimedia Award – Fireman Creative: Ricky’s Dream Trip
Joystick: Gaming Award – Schell Games + Yale University: PlayForward

Student Award – Carnegie Mellon University: Floria

People’s Choice Award – WQED Multimedia + SLB Radio Productions: iQ Kids Radio

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: PTC

The story behind Aquion Energy, the promising sustainable energy storage solution

Growing up, Jay Whitacre had a dream. He wanted to work for NASA, a dream he realized upon receiving his doctorate from University of Michigan when he landed a job with the Jet Propulsion in California.
Life was good and the work was exciting, for awhile, he says. Then he began thinking about the global energy crisis and started doing the math. He realized the demand for energy would well exceed the energy the world had in ready supply, he says.
With that, research commenced on a sustainable, scalable, cost-competitive energy storage system and Aquion Energy was born. The year was 2008. It came together with assistance from a company in California that agreed to allow the research to take place at CMU.
“Many universities don’t allow this kind of interaction, which I think is a mistake,” Whitacre told an audience at a recent Project Olympus Open House on CMU’s campus. “This is a decade long project, based on speculation and risk. It’s a long drawn out process.”
As the research ensued, the need to integrate renewals like wind and solar with the energy grid through an energy storage solution became apparent. The search was on for a system that not only proved to be environmentally adaptable, but promised a long life and was completely reliable.
“Energy technology is all about the cost,” he adds. “We had a lot of technical things to overcome.”
In April, Aquion announced a $35 million round of venture funding with backing from several investors including Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates who believes in the need for a “battery miracle” to support the growth of renewable energy.  Gates has funded three battery-startup firms to date.
The company was also named one of 50 Disruptive Companies 2013 by the MIT Technology Review.
The Aquion solution uses seawater and magnesium oxide, creating a utility-scale, temperature tolerant technology that can endure 5,000+ charging cycles with 85% efficiency. The sodium-ion solution makes the batteries environmentally-friendly, minus the toxic chemicals contained in acid and alkaline-based batteries or the problems associated with lithium ion units.

Apparently, it's also edible, according to the Wall Street Journal.
With a battery factory underway on the former Sony site in Westmoreland County, Aquion hopes to roll out the first batteries within a year. The plant is expected to generate 400+ skilled manufacturing and engineering jobs. The company headquarters, based in Lawrenceville in an old railcar building, employs 127 people.
The dream now? Build it in Pittsburgh and replicate the factory in other parts of the world, says Whitacre.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Jay Whitacre, Aquion Energy

113 Industries accelerates innovation for Fortune 500 companies

113 Industries, through the power of big data, is working with Fortune 500 companies to accelerate the pace of R&D in Pittsburgh and beyond.  
Founded in 2010 and based on Technology Drive in Oakland, the scientific research firm is capitalizing on the concept of “open innovation,” the cooperative sharing of intellectual property available to improve research activity.
Trillions of dollars in intellectual property sit on the shelves of universities, companies and federal labs, just waiting to play a role in the next great breakthrough product or technology, says Razi Imam, CEO, co-founder and adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at CMU. Through its internal platform, the company casts a wide net to tap this available research.
"We give Fortune 500 companies the opportunity to rapidly innovate and introduce breakthrough products to give them a competitive advantage," explains Imam. 
A chemical company, for example, might need a coating material to prevent the corrosion of the product under certain conditions. A food company, at a loss for the right chemical ingredient, might be in search of an ingredient to improve the health benefit or taste of a product.
113 Industries’ goal is to help customers reduce their R&D costs and the time it takes to develop and market new products, giving them an advantage in their marketplace.
Seasoned entrepreneurs, Imam and his partner Anupam Singh exited from their last company, Landslide, before the company was sold in 2012. Their new company name comes from the lowest chemical element on the periodic table.
The firm's team of multidisciplinary, scientists-in-residence, researchers on staff who work to connect the dots on research, is unique, they say. 
Pittsburgh has many great companies. Pushing R&D forward will not only help spur innovation but create jobs in the region, they say. “This is a big part of why open innovation is taking off,” Singh says. “It doesn’t need to be invented within your organization. It's something we're trying to foster and encourage in the region.”
“We want to give back to the region,” adds Imam. “We love Pittsburgh. This will give our region a true shot in the arm for revenue growth and an economic boost.”
Coming up: 113 Industries will co-host the Open Innovation Summit in Pittsburgh this summer and speak at the INPEX 2002 Open Innovation Conference in June.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Razi Imam, Anupam Singh, 113 Industries

How is the Pittsburgh Tech Sector doing? A new report tells all at the 3 Rivers Venture Fair

The 3 Rivers Venture Fair kicks off at PNC Park this week, bringing investors together with emerging new companies in the region.
New this year is a comprehensive report of trends and highlights in Pittsburgh during the last five years, 2008-2012. 
“Optimizing Opportunities, Investment in Pittsburgh’s technology sector” is sure to spark the interest of any stakeholder considering an investment in the region, says Rich Lunak, CEO of Innovation Works, the largest seed-stage investor in the region.
The report provides fresh content and insights on investment trends in the region’s growing technology sector. The data is culled from both IW and Venture Source and Ernst & Young compiled and validated the figures. It will become a staple offering at the 3RVF beginning this year.
Among the most noteworthy highlights was the total scale of the regional impact and the value of the exit transactions, says Lunak.
In the last five years, 217 technology companies attracted more than $1.3 billion in investment from venture capital firms, angel investors, strategic investors, accelerators, seed funds and other sources.
At the same time, Pittsburgh saw 28 companies make successful exits for a value of $2 billion, remarkable numbers considering the country was in a recession, he adds.  
Many of those exits involved deals estimated at more than $95 million, including the acquisitions of Vocollect ($190), M*Modal ($130) and Carnegie Learning ($97 million).
“It was also nice to see that Pittsburgh bucked the national trend that saw number of total deals and dollars go down,” Lunak adds. “Pittsburgh deals were up significantly.”
“The sheer number of firms making investments was eye opening to me,” adds Lynette Horrell, managing partner, Ernest & Young. “Our firm is focused on trends; looking at this data in a comprehensive manner is very beneficial to us.”
The report also identified several challenges. Indigenous venture capital funding decreased steadily from 2006 to 2011, meaning entrepreneurs have had to work harder to raise capital here, Lunak says.
Several new funds have been launched, the largest being a $40 million fund in 2012, which has helped to reverse this trend.
Lunak and Horrell will introduce the report at the 3 Rivers Venture Capital Fair at 2 p.m. this Thursday, April 11th.
Among the other takeaways:
Despite a slowing on a national level of both the number of investment deals and amount of funding, the Pittsburgh region saw a 54% increase in the number of fundraising rounds. The overall amount of funding, however, increased only slightly from 2011.
In 2012, there were 190 deals in the region totaling $329.1 million in funding. In 2011, there were 123 deals totaling $326.9 million in funding.
Software companies, including consumer and enterprise software, received the largest portion of VC funding in the region in 2012, followed by medical devices, energy technology and health care IT.
The diversity of these sectors speaks to the broad base of technical talent in the Pittsburgh region. The breakdown is as follows: enterprise software (24%),  consumer software (22%), medical devices (14%), energy (8%), biotech (7%), healthcare IT (7%) and electronics (5%).
Of the funding received by the tech sector during the last five years, three-quarters of the total came from VC firms. The second largest share was provided by angel investors followed by corporate investors and seed funds and accelerators.
Nearly two-thirds of all the funding received consisted of smaller rounds featuring angels or seed funds and accelerators as the lead investor.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Rich Lunak, IW; Lynette Horrell, Ernst & Young

Haunting documentary-style video game Atomic Zone recalls the bombing of Hiroshima

The first atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945.
Inspired by survivor testimonials and actual photography of the bomb site, CMU Entertainment Technology Center grad students have created an interactive documentary video that recreates the explosion site and depicts the deadly aftermath that killed more than 100,000 people.  
Atomic Zone might be the first post nuclear Hiroshima educational tool on the effects of nuclear weaponry, says Rodrigo Cano, one of six students who worked on the project as part of a class with Professor Scott Steven last fall. The other students are Nick, Noreen, Anabelle, Eric, Jason.

The video game was created for the Dept. of Defense to prepare military personnel for the realities of radiation during the aftermath of a nuclear war. It was funded by the Army’s Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC).

Atomic Zone is a 3-D simulation of both the natural and human destruction that occurs after a nuclear blast. Visitors walk through the blast zones and listen to stories told through photographs and haunting music of how so named “Little Boy” nuclear bomb wiped out the inhabitants of the city.  
The animation is graphic; the students rendered the landscape using historical materials and maps to tell the story authentically. It is not recommended for anyone under a high school age.
“This is something that people are slowly forgetting about,” explains Cano. “Especially the younger generation. Maybe this will help them to remember.
“Most of the feedback has been positive,” he adds. “Many people were surprised by the imagery we used. Some were surprised by the different effects of fallout.. We tried very hard to stay a political of the issue.”
Many ETC class projects have gone on to become game simulations, such as PeaceMaker, a simulation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Rodrigo Cano, Atomic Bomb

The latest made-in-Pittsburgh apps cover everything from fertility to swapping clothes

While apps may be so yesterday, they just keep coming. Here’s a roundup of some of the latest ones rolling out of Pittsburgh.
In a unique spin on tracking a woman’s fertility, local software company TRA Partners has released an app to help men stay abreast of their partner’s ability to conceive. Called Rhythm Daddy, it allows guys to follow their partner's monthly cycle, sending them funny updates through texts or alerts, whether a couple hopes to get pregnant or wants to “dodge the bullet.”
Share Closet is an idea in development by two Pittsburgh women. The app, to launch later this year, will allow friends to share and swap clothes with one another or sell items they no longer need.
Can you say goodbye, parking tickets? ParkIt Pittsburgh came out of Steel City Codefest as a parking app that connects users with the city’s new metered parking system, a handy tool if you’re down the street and need to give yourself more time. Pay for parking anywhere in the city using your phone, see your remaining time allowance and receive notifications when you’re running low.
This one was created out of sheer laziness: Flippoo allows user to flip unwanted tasks to anyone who is looking for a little extra money. Pitt marketing student Alec Davis created the app as a way to make campus living easier. Need someone to grab a library book for you and drop it off? Flippoo it.

From the team that brought us HitchedPic, the app for those heading toward matrimonial bliss, comes a new release called Baby Patches, to capture and share all the beautiful moments with your baby. 

Clique Vodka has launched a new DrinkyPal app. As with their previous app, users who are enjoying a night on the town can access a list of the nearest taxi companies and hotels, a safer alternative to drinking and driving. Now you can also book a hotel room directly from your phone and call the taxi company directly.
Here’s one for the busiest of professionals who needs to prioritize who can and cannot reach them. Selective Disturbance comes to us from 4C Design Works in Pittsburgh. Touted as a “business productivity app,” it integrates with iPhones' Do Not Disturb feature and allows users to pick who can and can’t get through while blocking the rest of the noise. It also syncs with Microsoft Exchange contacts.

And finally, Pittsburgh's own weather app, Swackett, turned two with the release of an iPad app featuring models wearing American Eagle outfits.

Now, can we do something about this weather?

Writer: Deb Smit

Wombat Security offers tips to keep your online business safe from the darker cyber forces

Hackers say they can teach a monkey to hack a computer in a few hours, which is disturbing news to anyone who makes a living online.
Having recently suffered two cyber attacks—an email and Twitter account—I sought advice from a cyber savvy friend at Wombat Security Technologies in Oakland, a CMU spinoff and expert in the area of cyber security training and filtering solutions for businesses and employees.
Phishing attacks rose a whopping 59 percent in 2012 from the previous year, says Amy Baker, marketing director. Phishing is the fraudulent act of sending emails that pretend to be from a legitimate company or person but are actually breaking into and confiscating your personal information.
“It’s just one of many problems,” she says.
Wombat Securities shared a few key tips on the top ways to safeguard your online business culled from their vast training library.  
Just because you Google for something doesn’t mean you will land on a legitimate website. Check urls and learn domain names. There are many dangerous websites in cyberland. CNN.net, for example, is not the same as CNN.com.
Don’t allow your browser to remember your passwords; they can be retrieved by other people. And don’t save credit card information on websites.
Be alert for emails that address current events or the scandal of the moment. Many contain links that lead to websites with malware.
Don’t assume your friends or colleagues are sending you safe links or attachments. If you receive a suspect link from a friend or colleague, delete it immediately. If your email is infected, change your password right away. You might need to shut the account down and create a new one.
This is an important topic, Baker says. If you think you have a great password, think again. Lists are circulating in cyberspace with the top passwords of all time and yours could be on it, especially if it contains the word “monkey,” the numbers 123456 or the letters qwerty.
Vary your passwords across sites. Create online banking and purchasing passwords that are different from general website passwords. Strong passwords are key: the strongest ones contain at least eight letters and include uppercase letters, symbols and numbers.
The hardest passwords to crack are password families and ones that string multiple words together, like redcar and bluecar or mojomama and mojopapa with a few numbers and symbols tossed in.
Social Media
Cyber criminals are having a heyday with your social contacts. Everything you post on social media, no matter what your privacy option, is in the public domain. People have lost their jobs from a tasteless or thoughtless post, says Baker. Set boundaries on your online persona.
Wombat’s co-founder Lorrie Cranor recently published a “Guide to Facebook’s Privacy Options” in the Wall Street Journal, a great read for anyone wishing to stay abreast of this fast-moving area of social media.
Don’t share information that sets you up for identity theft: your birthday and year, place of birth, address.
Text Messaging
Beware of sms-phishing: fake text messages that look like they’re from your bank or a company but are really just trying to harvest your passwords when you follow the link and login.
Make sure the apps you download are legitimate. Check reviews for malware ratings. Amazon and Apple apps are generally safer than apps from noname stores.
Beware of free WiFi
When you use a public WiFi network that’s unprotected, anyone can eavesdrop on your conversations. Look for password protected sites. If you must use an unprotected network, only visit websites you know are secure and don’t enter sensitive information like passwords.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Amy Baker, Wombat Security Technologies

Looking good Pittsburgh. PittsburghTODAY report highlights the state of the region

PittsburghTODAY released its 2013 Today & Tomorrow report and the news across many sectors is enlightening.
With the economic recovery still underway in much of the country, Pittsburgh is the only benchmark region out of 15 that has experienced job growth and housing price appreciation. In addition, the labor force is at an all-time high and young people are returning and staying in the region.
Southwestern Pennsylvania continues to be one of the most affordable places for moderate-income families to live. A Brookings Institution study says so too, listing Pittsburgh as one of three cities in the U.S. to have recovered from the deep recession that began in 2007.
The region, however, has work to do in several areas, including transportation, the environment and issues pertaining to diversity, particularly in helping African Americans in the region to achieve the same quality of life as whites.
Among the highlights:
Population: It has been official but bares repeating: the region is attaining and attracting young talent. The region’s population of 20- to 34- year-olds grew by 7% over the last five years and is expected to grow another 8% in 2020. Three decades earlier the region was losing more than 50,000 people than it was attracting, mostly young adults.
Jobs: Jobs grew by a non-seasonably adjusted 1.7 percent in the seven-county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) from November 2007 to November 2012. Certainly not robust, but it was better than any of the Pittsburgh TODAY benchmark regions. Pittsburgh was the only region to post job growth over that period.
Tourism: Visitors to Southwestern Pennsylvania pumped $8.1 billion into the local economy in lodging, recreation, retail, food and beverage, transportation and other spending during 2011,the latest year the full data was reported. This is a 9.6% increase over 2010.

Housing: Pittsburgh was the only region in which the 5-year housing prices rose from 2007-2012.
Environment: While fine particle pollution is slowly decreasing, and met federal air quality standards for the first time in 2011 since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, smog and sewage spills and the health of our rivers remains an issue.
Fracking: Across the region, a survey shows that far more residents are convinced of the economic potential of the Marcellus Shale gas industry than are against drilling for it. More than 70% of those surveyed believe that gas drilling is boosting the local economy.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: PittsburghTODAY

The CMU Ball Cam: Watch any sport from the perspective of the ball

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a ball flying through the air, here's your chance.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo have collaborated on a camera and embedded it in the side of a foam-encased football, giving spectators a ball’s-eye view of what it’s like to spin through the air at great speed. (Watch it.)
Right now, it looks like your last migraine.
CMU researcher Kris Kitani agrees that the camera is far from ready for primetime. But he thinks it has tremendous potential with further development to be both useful and entertaining.
“If we can get stable video to the audience it could provide another way that spectators can enjoy football,” he suggests.
BallCam was developed as part of a larger study of digital sports. While other researchers have created multiple, throwable cameras that produce static images or stabilized video, this is the first system to use a single camera with a narrow field, which generates a more dynamic, wide-angle picture.
Stitching software is often used to discard the upward frames and stitch together the remaining frames to eliminate the distortion caused by the ball’s rotation.
The researchers are considering several possibilities. BallCam could be used as a training tool to capture information that might be useful to coaches or trainers. Or it might add interesting special effects to TV or movie productions.
Or perhaps it can be a mobile phone app that gives users a physical jolt every time a long pass by Ben Roethlisberger is caught.
Kitani’s last project was a mobile app that assists the vision impaired. With training, researchers found that images could be created with music to help people recognize basic shapes through different musical sounds.   
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Kris Katani, CMU

SBA's Winslow Sargeant meets with Pittsburgh small business innovators March 12-13

An important (and free) two-day forum will take place in Pittsburgh this month that will highlight the region’s innovation sector and solicit bold ideas to drive economic success across the country.
The Small Business Administration will host Small Business and Government: Maximizing Entrepreneurship, Driving Innovation on March 12th and 13th.  Winslow Sargeant, Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the SBA, will be the keynote speaker both days.
Sargeant, a former venture capital executive with a background in engineering, is a presidential appointee and a national voice for small businesses.
Pittsburgh was selected as the first place to initiate this latest conversation in Region Three because it is considered a “rock star” city that is hitting its stride in the technology and innovation sector, says Ngosi Bell, Region Three advocate for the SBA.
“Pittsburgh has gone through a renaissance. Cities are looking at it and learning from a community that has rebuilt itself on so many levels,” says Bell. This includes the creation of not just a vibrant technology and innovation community, but a region that is leveraging technology to develop lifestyle solutions.
“You have a wonderful continuum of innovation that covers many aspects of human life, which makes it conducive to this kind of conversation,” she adds.
The two-day forum will include five panel discussions each day, all focusing on a different technology sector: life sciences, health care, manufacturing, energy, young entrepreneurship, high tech Innovation, information tech and urban entrepreneurship, advanced tech and manufacturing, chemical, women and minority entrepreneurship.
The event is free and open to the public. It will be held March 12-13 at the University of Pittsburgh Joseph Katz Graduate School of Business in Mervis Hall from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. For tickets, click here.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Ngozi Bell, SBA

Winston Sargeant courtesy of Innovation Works

Tech Bytes: startup incubators, data mining, $17 million and more

It was a busy week on the local startup scene. Among the highlights:
* Innovation Happens was held at the Alpha Lab office in the South Side, bringing five startups together with business leaders in Pittsburgh. The goal of the program is to introduce local startups to local companies, which is a win-win for the region in helping to build great businesses, says Sean Ammirati, partner, Birchmere Ventures. The companies included: Community Elf, Acrinta, WebKite, Appcertain and Legal Sisters.
* Birchmere Ventures plans to make a big announcement later this week regarding the first local startup selected for Birchmere Labs, a seed and studio fund.
* More than 200 people attended the grand opening of Hustle Den, the new East Liberty incubator for entrepreneurs. Project Aura claimed the $25,000 prize for Thrill Mill’s first Business Bout, two CMU design students who are working to make the streets safer by illuminating bicycle tires in an array of colors depending on how fast the bike is traveling.
* Cohera Medical, the company that is bringing absorbable surgical adhesives and sealants to patients, helping them to heal and recover faster from large flap surgeries, has secured an additional $17 million round through private investors. Cohera will use the funds to expand into the European markets.
* Big Data is changing the world.  Learn all about it from a panel of local experts on how they are involved with 'big data' and what changes and opportunities they see emerging at the next MIT Enterprise Forum on Feb. 20th starting at 5:30 p.m. The panel, moderated by Raul Valdes-Perez, founder of Vivisimo, includes Mickey McManus, president and CEO of Maya Design, Saman Haqqi, a leader in the efforts to create the “Big Pittsburgh Data Mill,” John Dick, CEO of CivicScience and Susan Bachman of Management Science Associates.

Writer: Deb Smit

WQED and Saturday Light Brigade bring unique children's radio service to the airwaves

A new children’s radio service, developed in Pittsburgh, is bringing the timeless charm of radio to children and their families along with the latest in educational programming.
iQ Kids Radio is a collaboration of WQED and SLB Radio Productions, a family-friendly, commercial-free service that mixes education and entertainment for listeners for 24-hours each Saturday.    
The concept is unique, leveraging the assets of PBS to provide trusted radio programming and the authentic voices of children, explains Larry Berger, executive director of SLB Radio, producer of the long-running Saturday Light Brigade.
The service is an expansion of the popular Saturday morning show. The programs were carefully developed, researched and vetted in terms of educational standards, he adds.

Programming features youth-created music, storytelling and news/commentary. Kids will learn during the day, boogie down with DJ Daddy Dance Party in the late afternoon and fall asleep at night to bedtime stories.
Soothing classical music plays through the night into the early morning hours.
"Kids and families need an alternative to what is currently available on the radio," says Berger.  “We’re really looking to present authentic children’s voices in a way nobody has.”
The voices of the children is a unique aspect of the program. SLB works with thousands of children a year to record their original stories, says Jennifer Stancil, executive director of educational partnerships for WQED and co-director of the service.
“I think kids radio represents what public media can and should be doing to encourage kids to listen imaginatively,” she says. “Commercial-free radio (for children) isn’t a niche but a roaring highway that not many are filling.”
iQ Kids Radio airs between midnight Friday and midnight Saturdays. Listeners can tune in by visiting the website or streaming through the free TuneIn Radio app for smartphones and tablets.
The service will be free during the pilot phase of the project. It was made possible through seed funding from Junior League of Pittsburgh, a founding partner, with additional support from The Grable Foundation the James McCandless Charitable Trust.
Feedback is welcome through wehearyouiqkidsradio.org
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Larry Berger, SLB, Jennifer Stancil, WQED

If you thought Yinztagram was hilarious, check out the wedding app HitchedPic

Ever wonder what guests would do at a wedding given free rein of a photo app?
The same guys that brought us Yinztagram have developed HitchedPic, a mobile app that allows the wedding guests to stage their own zany pics while the happy couple is working the room.
Picture countless photos of friends alongside the bride’s beloved pooch or feline. Or locations dropped in the background, such as a college dorm. Or the honeymoon.
Matthew Pegula and Dimitry Bentsionov, formerly of Deeplocal, are building a company, Workshirt, around the idea of unique photos for all occasions. You might recall their first foray into this space, the hyperlocal app that captured people lifting giant Primanti sandwiches over their heads?
Currently in Alpha Lab, the app is launching on iPhone today. An Android version is on the way.
“Through our research, we found the best photos are the candid ones taken by guests,” explains Bentsionov. “If we can provide a way to funnel all those photos to the bride and groom, all the better.”
“People like to edit and augment photos,” adds Pegula. “So we asked ourselves, how can we bring that together and help couples document and capture the biggest day of their lives?”
Couples sign up on Facebook, pay an annual fee and upload stickers with locations and props they want in the picture. Ideally the app should be used to document not just the big event, but also the plethora of events leading up to the big occasion. The engagement party. The tux fittings. 

The photos are kept private, shared only with guests or a specified mini social network. The idea is to move pictures out to other forms of social media like Pinterest.
HitchedPic hopes to receive feedback and fine tune the details. Beyond that, there’s no limit to the apps that can be created for births, birthday and sporting events.
 “It’s ongoing,” says Pegula. “Taking what we’ve done and making it robust and scalable.”
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Matt Pegula and Dimitry Bentsionov, HitchedPic
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