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Squirrel Hill : Innovation & Startups

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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


 
Image courtesy Elliance


Looking for work? Pittsburgh website posts 30,000 well-paying jobs

If you’re looking for a job—and many are these days—the Allegheny Conference on Community Development lists 30,000 job openings on its job search portal, the Imaginemynewjob.com website.

Wielding a powerful, spider search engine, the site reaches out and gathers all the online job postings within a 71 mile radius of the city. Listings are drawn from Monster, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and individual company websites; duplicate postings are eliminated, explains Dewitt Peart, executive vice president of economic development and president, Pittsburgh Regional Alliance.
 
“Despite the recession, there are opportunities here,” he explains. “We’ve diversified our base and there’s strength in our diversification. Pittsburgh may be a place you want to consider if you’re looking for a job.”

While Imagine doesn’t offer a breakdown of jobs by type, more than 25,000 are full-time positions and more than half pay $40,000 per year or more. A free service, the website allows job seekers to search for positions based on location, salary range, title, company and job type. Users can establish customized accounts, join the network “Linked In,” listen to podcasts and read more about the region.

October marked the third straight month that Pittsburgh reported strong employment figures, a growth rate of 0.6 percent that was well above the rest of the country, which fell by –0.1 percent.

Launched in September, more than 28,000 people have visited Imagine and stayed more than six minutes. The conference launched a marketing campaign in the Washington D.C. corridor this fall.

 “We’re getting hits from all around the word. The word is spreading and we’re being referred,” Peart adds.

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Dewitt Peart, Allegheny Conference on Community Development

Image courtesy Allegheny Conference


Pittsburgh gets a new venture fund for life science startups

Two prominent business leaders have launched a new venture capital fund to help fuel the growth of the life sciences industry in the region.

Peter DeComo and Gary Glausser have joined forces with Corridor Venture Partners, a targeted $50 million fund that will assist early stage biomedical research in the region with gap funding, money to fuel established startups as they advance to the commercialization stage.

“This region is rich in medical device companies,” says an enthusiastic John Manzetti, president and CEO of Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse. “It’s nice to have a strong life sciences based firm with local partners who know a lot about the community and life sciences in general, and these guys do.”

Both DeComo and Glausser will leave their current jobs by the end of this year to devote time to the enterprise.

DeComo is the CEO of Renal Solutions, which was sold in November 2007 to Fresenius Medical Care of Germany. He will stay on as a consultant to Fresenius  and will continue to serve on the boards of ALung, Thermal Therapeutics, ClearCount and PLSG.

Glausser will remain as a partner with Birchmere Ventures but devote full-time to the new fund. He has more than 25 years of experience as a financial manager, investor and venture capitalist and has served on the boards of Precision Therapeutics and Renal Solutions, to name a few.

There is investment money out there, says DeComo. “This will bring homegrown venture capital to the region, focus on life sciences and hopefully create successful companies that will stay here, employ more people and create wealth.”

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Peter DeComo and Gary Glausser, Corridor Venture Partners, John Manzetti, PLSG

Peter DeComo (left) courtesy of Renal Solutions and Gary Glausser courtesy of Birchmere Ventures


My Mobile Witness is your free personal bodyguard

Imagine walking through a dark parking lot and feeling as if you’re being followed. Quickly, you snap a picture of the person behind you before you reach your vehicle. The picture is instantly sent to officials, dated and stamped in case the unthinkable happens.

Pittsburgh-based My Mobile Witness has developed a groundbreaking mobile cell phone technology that may revolutionize personal security and provide law enforcers with irrefutable evidence should you meet with a worst case scenario. Armed with a cell phone, subscribers send phone pictures or texts of suspicious situations--like a license plate or person--to a secure server before something happens.

The information is stored for 6 months before it’s destroyed, evidence that is available immediately to law officials in an emergency. Unlike dialing 911, it allows users to non-invasively register a concern without engaging an official response.

The idea was developed by Pittsburghers and Hempfield High School friends Marc Anthony and Scott Bullens. They were opening a real estate office when they began pondering the nature of the business—how agents, particularly women, meet with complete strangers in isolated locations.

With the help of Ron Knight, a former FBI agent who participated in such high profile crimes as Waco, Columbine and Ruby Ridge, they developed Witness and launched it in October. Photos are assessable only to law enforcement officials through Fusion Centers, federally funded data centers set up after 9-11 to assist in the coordination of digital traffic.

“I’ve had cases in my career where the outcome could have been significantly different if we’d had this tool,” explains Knight, chief security officer. “There’s no more compelling evidence than a photograph. I’m sending my 18-year-old son off to college and he is signing up whether he likes it or not.”

If the tool takes off, cell phones might become critical leverage in certain situations, helping to deter crime, he adds. “If people knew it was out there, some crimes might not occur.”

A virtual company, Witness employs 8 technical employees and several law enforcement consultants. The company hopes to hire and open a Pittsburgh office in the near future.

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Writer: Deb Smit

Source: Marc Anthony and Ron Knight, My Mobile Witness






Pittsburgh’s FlashBox preserves better party memories

If you thought reality TV was riveting, imagine your wedding or event captured by  Pittsburgh-based Flashbox Media.

Developed by three Carnegie Mellon alumni, FlashBox is a portable, interactive kiosk, strategically positioned at a party, that captures video and gains momentum as the evening wears on. By the end, there’s no telling what the video footage may reveal, especially if alcoholic beverages are being consumed.

Co-founder Michael Mandel, chief technology officer, piloted the beta version at his own wedding. “It wasn’t until I got the video back that I realized how different (the footage) was (from a professional videographer),” he says.

“There is no pressure, no one walking up and pointing a camera in your face. You get a cross-section of the wedding you normally don’t get to see—relatives singing songs passed down in the family, friends telling stories, just talking. When I look at this in 20 years, I’ll say, yeah, this was what it was really like to be there.”

The kiosk preserves better memories by capturing the essence of the occasion rather than a deer in the headlights performance, the creators say. Individuals or groups are encouraged to revisit the kiosk with commentary, skits or songs. The final product is a professionally packaged and edited DVD in a keepsake case, a point of pride for the FlashBox makers who have professional television production backgrounds.  
 
Currently only available in the Pittsburgh region, FlashBox markets its technology directly and through local bridal fairs and wedding planners. In the first year, the company booked about 45 events, mostly weddings, bar and bat mizvahs and milestone birthdays and anniversaries. The company hopes to attend 100 to 200 events in the coming year.

To see FlashBox in action, click here.

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Michael Mandel, FlashBox Media


Image courtesy FlashBox Media

The hottest gift for the holidays is giving--a Pittsburgh roundup

No gift quite equals the gift of giving, especially in difficult economic times.

Which is why this year’s hottest gift may be to a favorite charity or green enterprise. May the following list guide you to charitable ways in Pittsburgh to make a difference this holiday season.

Neighbor-Aid is a special emergency fund created to support nonprofit organizations struggling to meet the demand from families and individuals as a result of the financial crisis. Administered by the Pittsburgh Foundation, Elsie Hillman, the United Way of Allegheny County and others, donations will help those struggling to pay rent, mortgages and utility bills.  To donate online, click here.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is raising money to build and sustain Pittsburgh’s community libraries through a contribution to Libraries for LIFE. The Richard King Mellon Foundation has agreed to match every dollar raised for the capital campaign up to one million dollars. For more information, click here.

Investing in Pittsburgh Cares is an investment in the Pittsburgh community. Your tax-deductible donation can help to build a kitchen for a community center, provide a healthy lunch to low-income seniors, or offer a scholarship for a student to participate in our Pittsburgh Young Leaders Academy. For more information, click here.

Join Sustainable Pittsburgh and help to promote a greener, more sustainable Pittsburgh. Click here for details.

…and then in a twinkling, peace filled the air. Happy Holidays one and all!

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134 Squirrel Hill Articles | Page: | Show All
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