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Need free tax help to get through the tax season? Call The Beehive

It’s around the corner, that mind-numbing exercise in monetary aggravation, the deadline to file taxes.

But there is help. Low to medium income families are first encouraged to contact the United Way Helpline at 412.255.1155, a central clearinghouse for all the local non-profits in the region available to assist families with incomes up to $40,000 and individuals with incomes up to $20,000.   Local, state and federal taxes are prepared and filed by IRS certified volunteers and appointments are available.  Appointments are still available!

A free tax prep website is also available. The Beehive, offers a free web based filing service for households with incomes of up to $56,000.  Just click on the money tab and look for the Filing Your Taxes link. 

Or click here for another free service.

Research-based Fitwits and Nitwits teach children about obesity

Food-inspired critters, Fitwits and Nitwits, are helping to educate Pittsburgh youngsters and beyond on good health and the dangers of obesity.

Developed by the Carnegie Mellon University School of Design and UPMC Saint Margaret Family Health Center, the Fitwits program hopes to prevent childhood obesity—a major health problem for children in the U.S.—through an educational approach that reinforces the message in three ways: through family doctors, schools and communities and families.

“We see the program as a very holistic way of thinking about health,” says Kristin Hughes, associate professor at the CMU School of Design. “They (children) see the Fitwits in school and then they might receive the Fitwits health intervention from their primary physician.  Now, with the program taking place at Giant Eagle, kids receive the message in public spaces where we again reinforce some of the same messages.”  

Funded through The Heinz Endowments, the interactive program includes fun activities, lessons and games using animated cartoon characters. The innovative strategy was collaboratively designed by doctors, designers, researchers, community members, foundations and, most importantly, with the help of 5th grade students in Pittsburgh.

Fitwits will debut with a storewide scavenger hunt on March 28th at the Centre Avenue Giant Eagle Market District from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Families are encouraged to bring their children along with their stickers from the Sticker Hunt Game that was implemented in the classrooms of five area schools.

“We would really like the see the intervention work on three levels where we can take Fitwits into other cities and have schools, health centers and communities support the program and grow this idea of networked communities,” says Hughes.

For more information or to play the Fitwits trivia game, visit Fitwits.org.

To receive Pop City weekly, click here.

Writer: Natalie Coccia
Source: Kristin Hughes, CMU School of Design

Photograph courtesy of Fitwits.org


Sima Products launches VIVO Live!—watch Pittsburgh CEO for Cities in action!

A new Pittsburgh-based technology will connect Pop City readers to tonight’s Pittsburgh CEO for Cities salon on the nation’s Stimulus Package and what it means to Pittsburgh.

At 6 p.m. on Feb 25th viewers can watch and participate through a live stream of “A Stimulating Conversation,” a discussion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Several federal, state and local leaders and representatives will be on hand; Ellen Kight of PPND will moderate. The event is by invitation only.

The live stream is made possible by Sima Products Corp., an Oakmont-based innovator of consumer electronics accessories. Sima will debut its patent-pending Vivo SD streaming kit, a cable system that enables anyone—the most novice of videographers—to share important moments live. The system is compatible with most digital camcorders and will go on sale at Best Buy this spring for $99.

“People can really share their lives with people all over the world,” explains Ilana Diamond, president. “For families with relatives in India or China, this is a way to share family events, weddings, a soccer game with those a thousand miles away.”

Vivo is just one of many innovative products available through Sima Products. Founded in 1973, the company offers more than one hundred products for video, home theater and home safety sold in 20 countries worldwide. Manufacturing is outsourced to Asia.

Among the coolest products is a 144-inch inflatable Home Theatre Kit for showing movies in parks, block parties or a backyard party. And there’s a smart cable, tying together all the electronic chargers you may ever need in a one handy piece.

Sima Products has grown from seven employees to 25 today.

 “One of our goals for this year is to raise our image in Pittsburgh,” says Diamond. “There’s such great technology coming out of our region, it’s unbelievable.”

Join the CEO for Cities Live from Pittsburgh conversation at 6 p.m. on Feb. 25th by clicking here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Ilana Diamond, Sima Products Corp.


Image courtesy Sima Products Corp.

SW Pa’s new Business Quick Guide puts help just a click away

Finally, a quick and easy online quide to 150 non-profit agencies offering business development assistance to the region.

The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, Duquesne University’s Small Business Development Center and Small Business Councils have come together to create the10-county region’s first, one-stop, searchable database, the Business Quick Guide, to help business owners and entrepreneurs.

“This provides an easy way for entrepreneurs and new businesses not in Pittsburgh—who are considering coming to the region— to look at and access the resources available here. Most business decisions are made online, it ‘s demanded by the marketplace,” says Dewitt Peart, PRA president. “The beauty of it is that it won’t be static.”

Assistance agencies are organized alphabetically and listings include telephone numbers and links to agencies’ websites.  Color codes identify specific types of help or services offered in four main categories: management assistance, funding sources, specialized services and business/trade organizations. 

Online users can customize their searches by selecting those assistance areas that interest them.

The Business Quick Guide is accessible as a searchable database or can be downloaded as a PDF at www.pittsburghregion.org and at www.smc.org. The database and the PDF will be updated regularly throughout 2009 to ensure accuracy.

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Spark lights the creative, high-tech spirit of children and young families

A new Sprout Fund initiative, Spark, hopes to ignite a youthful exuberance for technology in the region, making Pittsburgh one of the best places on earth to be a kid.

Spark provides funding for projects and initiatives that will energize children ages birth to eight in the creative use of technology and the media.  Individuals, organizations, teachers, startups, artists—everyone, actually—will be challenged to think about early childhood education and technology in a new,exciting way.

“We want to use technology to empower and engage children and promote interaction between kids and the adults in their lives,” explains Jocelyn Horner, Sparks program manager.

Projects need not be technically daunting, she adds. It can be something as simple as finding a new way to use digital cameras in a preschool class. “We want to turn technology on its head and use it in a powerful way for kids.”

Spark offers support through two funding streams, Micro Sparks and Super Sparks. Micro Sparks provides $500 to $15,000 for small-scale, first time projects; Super Sparks are once-a-year, up to $50,000 awards to support broader initiatives.

The initiatives may involve health and wellness, recreation and environment, arts and culture, school and learning, and out-of-school and family time. All should be transforming and affect a lasting change around the challenges and opportunities that face children.

The three-year program is supported by the Grable Foundation. The program kicks off with a launch at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh on March 3rd.  The deadline for applications is April 3rd.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Jocelyn Horner, Sparks, The Sprout Fund

Image courtesy The Sprout Fund

Send a text, catch a bus with Port Authority pilot program

The Port Authority of Pittsburgh is reaching out to young riders in an effort to improve the region’s transit system.

RouteShout allows riders to access bus arrival times from their mobile phones. The pilot program, launched by Pittsburgh’s deeplocal, is being beta-tested at 22 stops near areas that primarily serve college students.

Just look for the orange signs at select stops, each labeled with a unique code, explains Judi McNeil, spokesperson. A rider simply texts in the code and instantly receives arrival times for the next buses, a process that pulls timetable and location data from the Port Authority’s database.

Additional features, in the works, hope to turn the region’s bus stops into living kiosks of information.

“If this helps to lessen the 5000 calls coming into our service center every day—people asking when is my next bus—this is something we may want to expand,” says McNeil. “As funding allows, riders will see a greater focus on technology, especially in the Oakland area where the Web-savvy folks are.”

The Port Authority, in the midst of a major upgrade of the region’s transit system. hopes young riders will offer feedback on its service. An online survey, “Don’t Just Sit There, Tell Us What You Think,” encourages younger riders to offer suggestions and suggest new ideas.

New programs underway include smart card technology, the use of a debit card instead of paper tickets for regular riders. City students would be able to use their university IDs to ride.

“There’s a huge focus on green commuting as a way to reduce traffic congestion, pollution and the carbon footprint,” says McNeil. “If we focus on young adopters, there’s a good possibility they will continue to use public transportation for the rest of their lives.”

To receive Pop City weekly, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Judi McNeil, The Pittsburgh Port Authority


Onorato captures large web audience with cyber town hall meetings

Got a pressing question you’d like to ask Allegheny County executive Dan Onorato?

Onorato will host his second cyber town hall meeting, “Ask Onorato,” an opportunity for citizens to direct questions and receive answers live each month via streaming Internet video. The meeting will be streamed live tomorrow, Feb. 12th, during the lunch hour at noon and is getting a great response from constituents, county insiders say.

During the first cyber meeting, Onorato addressed hard-hitting questions on why property assessments have increased, the need for better public transportation and the consolidation of city and county services.

 “We received great questions during our first webcast,” says Onorato, who hopes to offer the forums each month at different times so a wide range of citizens can participate.

Questions can be e-mailed to askonorato@alleghenycounty.us prior or during the webcast.

To view the first webcast, click here. The cyber town hall meeting will also be archived on the Allegheny County’s Web site for viewing at any time.

To receive Pop City free each week, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Kevin Evanto, Allegheny County

Photograph copyright Brian Cohen

Need a loan? Pertuity launches innovative social finance platform

Times may be tough, but online financial services company Pertuity Direct is alive, expanding and rolling out its latest product.

Social lending has evolved and grown dramatically in the last two years, explains Kim Muhota, chief executive and founder. Tighter restrictions in the lending market have created a unique opportunity for Pertuity, who matches good borrowers with low rates.

This month Pertuity launched its next generation social finance platform, a process that eliminates the cost of a traditional bank as middleman. Pertuity does all the credit underwriting. Rates on a fixed rate loan range from 8.9 to 17.9 percent.

“When you really focus on what’s driving consumer nervousness, it’s the worry that banks aren’t going to lend,” explains Muhota.

“Our model better positions us to serve the larger marketplace. The automated, seamless process feels very familiar to consumers. This is for people who are comfortable transacting online, who don’t need the handholding.”

Financial analysts love the product too, he adds. “Many look at our model as the next evolution of social lending.”

Pertuity makes investments through the National Retail Fund, a mutual fund that matches lenders with a diversified group of approved, credit worthy borrowers. Unlike other models, the loans are a three-year fixed rate. They can be used for everything—debt consolidation, small businesses, school tuition or home improvements.

Pertuity makes its money through fees charged on the money transacted back and forth. The process is private; there’s no public posting of personal credit information, no bidding, says Muhota.

In addition to its corporate office in downtown Pittsburgh, Pertuity has opened an office in Vienna, VA. An Innovation Works company, the firm spent the last year hiring a management team and has 12 total employees.

To read about Pertuity's Dare to Compare in Pop City, click here.

To receive Pop City free each week, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Kim Muhota, Pertuity Direct
 
Image courtesy Pertuity Direct

New homegrown green building products get boost from GBA

Keeping the region on the frontline of innovative green product development is the key behind the latest round of grants from the Pittsburgh Green Building Alliance.

Five local recipients received a piece of the $240,000 pie as part of the Green Products Initiative this month. The program is the first of its kind to target product manufacturers in the U.S. and the region.

Thar Process Inc. and Carnegie Mellon University received $80,000 to develop an energy-efficient air conditioning system that will use a natural refrigerant and eliminate the need for ozone depleting refrigeration systems.

Bedford Reinforced Plastics Inc. and the University of Pittsburgh received $100,000 for commercialization of plastic composites that use renewable and recycled raw material, are highly durable and provide better thermal insulation than steel for construction.

GTECH Strategies received $20,000 for a residual silt from water treatment as a growing medium for landscapes and green roofs.

Carnegie Mellon also received $20,000 to develop a wearable bio-sensing comfort controller that will measure a person’s comfort level and help control their thermal environment.

“Through our program, GBA invests in innovative green building products and technologies that enhance our region’s reputation and competence, while positioning Pennsylvania as a hotbed of green building capacity,” says Aurora Sharrard of the GBA.

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MyGov365.com gives Pittsburgh first dibs on powerful political tools


In this era of digital social media and  technocratic presidents comes Pittsburgh-based MyGov365.com.

A social media political platform, MyGov365 seeks to connect citizens with government and political professionals. The company is launching a beta version in the 10-county Pittsburgh region to illustrate the benefits of having powerful tools that search legislative data and provide candidates with direct feedback and links to voters.

“Regular citizens have to go to many different websites to connect the dots, then they need a lawyer to tell them what it all means,” says Jay Resio, president and founder. Resio pitched the idea in 2007 as PoliticsCorp and renamed the company last year. “This is a non-partisan site across all affiliations and all levels of government.”

Resio hopes to sign up local politicians, campaigns and organizations in the coming month to participate in the beta process. The City of Pittsburgh will have access to critical data intelligence and feedback reports, which will enable decision makers, from council members to the mayor, to create legislation that is truly relevant to the constituents of the city, he says.

“This gives users the ability to see the legislative process, voice opinions on various bills and be more active,” Resio says. “Our goal is to keep everyone who registers engaged from the start.”

“MyGov365 makes it easy for people to search information in ways that will empower them,” adds city councilman Bill Peduto. “It takes away the middle man, the media, and is a good example of how technology can better assist democracy.”

The site is free to citizens. A state and national launch will follow.

MyGov365 employs seven and has received funding support from the Idea Foundry and the Pittsburgh Central Keystone Innovation Zone.

To receive Pop City free each week, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Jay Resio, MyGov365.com

Image courtesy MyGov365.com







Pittsburgh virtual grocer GoodApples.org rolls out home delivery

Founder John McClelland admits he didn’t know the first thing about farming when he started GoodApples.org, a virtual farmers market based in the Strip District.

The company launched in 2005 with a handful of employees, 25 products and one truck. Today GoodApples is the largest online grocer in Pennsylvania with 30 employees, 270 corporate accounts and a fleet of vehicles that delivers fresh, organic and locally grown groceries to 30,000 customers from here to Harrisburg.

This month the company rolled out home delivery for a charge of $6.95 on orders more than $60.

“Everything in our business is mission critical,” McClelland explains. While most grocers buy in bulk, store the goods and then sell, GoodApples moves the goods directly from growers and suppliers into the hands of buyer. “The most attractive aspect of what we do is the freshness and quality of the food.”

McClelland’s background as a software consultant gives GoodApples an edge in managing inventories and Internet data. Initially the company focused on developing corporate accounts, providing online shopping services and wellness programs to company employees. “There’s lots of opportunity in the Pittsburgh wellness market,” he adds. “We hope to expand this nationally.”

Last summer GoodApples rolled out a pilot project to provide inner city neighborhoods with fresh produce. A priority is placed on offering locally grown produce; 40 percent of the produce sold comes from PA farmers. While the economy has slowed business a bit, the company continues to grow with revenues in 2008 of $2.5 million, up from $1.2 million in 2007.

“Our mantra is if we can get it local, we will sell it local,” says McClelland. “We will always work with the local farmers and take what they have. We’re an online natural food market, a true shopping experience.”

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: John McClelland, GoodApples.org

Image courtesy Good Apples

Signs of the times? Green Sign Experts opens earth-friendly shop

When Pittsburgh’s Highmark went in search of green signage for their building, Audra Azoury saw it as a business opportunity.

“At the time it was difficult to find anything green in any price range,” says Azoury, an Art Institute graduate and graphic designer. “I could see there was going to be a need for this. I’ve always been passionate about the environment. With signage, there is so much waste.”

So Azoury partnered with parent cimpany AdVision Signs Inc., a full service sign company, and opened Green Sign Experts in Robinson Township, a wholesale outlet and the region’s first earth friendly signage shop that promotes the use of all-natural, toxic free materials, serving builders, architects and the construction industry.

Plastic letters are made from extruded sheets of cellulose acetate butyrate (CAB), a renewable resource, rather than a petroleum-based product. Other alternative or reusable materials are promoted like paperstone, cork, bamboo, wood, richlite, glass, metal and kirei.

Azoury admits that not all the signs are as environmentally friendly as they could be, but it is a process. More and more green materials are coming on the market everyday.

“A year ago I couldn’t find CAB, but today it’s available locally,” she says. “It’s baby steps. The more there is a need, the more manufacturers will begin to invest money in the creation of these products.”

Green Sign Experts is working with Artemis in Lawrenceville and the Green Building Alliance to help build the business. “Being in a green city like Pittsburgh, I’m hoping that I’m in the right place at the right time, “ she says.

To receive Pop City free each week, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Audra Azoury, Green Sign Experts

Image courtesy Green Sign Experts

Pittsburgh’s startup web portal gets a facelift

Pittsburgh’s entrepreneurial web portal, Help Startups, will launch a series of new features this month including new widgets and video.

An additional grant from the Benedum Foundation will give local entrepreneurs new tools in the coming weeks as each enhancement is rolled out, says Gary Rosensteel, executive director of Help Startups and a principal at NuCoPro.

“We’ve created an environment for startup companies to receive more exposure,” says Rosensteel. “Companies will be able to post press releases, videos and articles. If we want to build up Pittsburgh, it is going to come from our startup community.”

In addition to a vibrant new look, site features include:

·    More information made available on the Home page
·    Entrepreneurial news assembled from a number of other web sites via RSS feeds
·    Widgets that you can grab to share Help Startups information on your site
·    Expanded User Profiles can be viewed by other users, including listings of social network connections
·    Companies can post Press Releases, highlighted on the Home page
·    A dynamic link is provided to Yet2.com where you can search through thousands of innovations that are available or that companies are seeking
·    Featured Companies and Videos will regularly be updated on our Home page

Help Startups was launched in 2007 with the help of the Heinz Endowments and Benedum Foundation.

Image courtesy HelpStartups.com

Join Pittsburgh Rootscamp, an unconference for progressive political organizers

Waging a campaign for clean air, a political candidate or a new high school? Pittsburgh RootsCamp is the unconference for the times.

RootsCamp was initiated by The New Organizing Institute, a progressive movement that promotes a sustainable society and participatory democracy by building power through the support of diversity. The day will be facilitated by founder Michael Morrill, creator of Keystone Progress, an online advocacy organization that seeks to unite the voices of progressive political groups in  Pennsylvania.

RootsCamp tends to attract politically-minded people for a day of grassroots learning and organizing, explains Lizandra Vidal, convener of the Pittsburgh conference. It’s a participant driven forum that offers an “open space” format that unfolds as the day wears on. Activists, organizers, leaders and politicians come together to share and learn in a fast-paced environment. No spectators or tourists allowed.

“The coolest part about it is that it’s an un-conference,” Vidal explains. “It’s built on the people who are there.”

RootsCamps have been successfully held in 8 cities in the U.S. and more are planned around the country. Pittsburgh RootsCamp will be held on Saturday, Jan. 24th at the United Steelworkers Building. The cost is $10, which includes lunch.

For more information, click here.

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Image courtesy Pittsburgh RootsCamp

New Pittsburgh website posts 2009 resolutions for the world

Digital scribes from around the world are posting their hopes for the new year on a website created by Pittsburgh eMarketing company Elliance.

…that the massive earthquakes in global financial systems will have a silver lining: re-adjust values and intentions regarding social justice in ways that lead to a more fair world…

…people will stop listening to the media who are driving all of the bad news and making it worse than it is. I hope people start to think for themselves…

…that they invent hot dog-flavored water…

Elliance developed the Twitter-like repository for short sentiments, hoping to draw positive energy and create momentum. What began as a holiday expression for friends and family has taken on a life of its own, fanning out through social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook.

“The goal is to create a nexus of good thoughts and wishes for the coming year,” explains Geoff Barnes, senior information architect. “It’s a small site, a reaction to the darkness, cynicism and panic in the world. We’re putting it out there like a magnet and seeing how many people respond.”

2009hopes.com has several fun gadgets too. Click on scroller and the hopes of the world come to you. Visit the map and learn what those in other countries have to say. Click on cloud and view an abstract tapestry of mixed up messages.

“The economy has been really rough and people are looking for a hopeful thing in this time of great transition. This channels good energy and good vibes and hopes and prayers of people,” says Abu Noaman, CEO. “If you start committing it to electronic pen—all the forces of the world conspire to get you there.”

To add your energy, click here.

To receive Pop City weekly, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Geoff Barnes, Abu Noaman, Elliance


 
Image courtesy Elliance

145 Shadyside Articles | Page: | Show All
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