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OpenCurriculum. Bringing educational content to developing countries...and Pittsburgh.

When it comes to assisting with the education of children in developing countries, programs like One Laptop Per Child only go so far, says Varun Arora.
 
Arora is founder and executive director of OpenCurriculum, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit startup that is developing an open source platform for education designed for countries where textbooks are scarce and quality teaching curriculums are nearly nonexistent.
 
“You can give every child a laptop, but teachers don’t know how to teach using the laptop,” says Arora. “There is no content that is locally relevant, no access to higher quality learning materials.”
 
OpenCurriculum hopes to change this through its open source, searchable platform for teachers that allows them to upload lesson plans and share materials they’ve created to make a profit.
 
The monetized aspect of the program is a work in progress, says Arora.
 
The textbook industry is a tightly controlled industry in many countries, he explains. Open content is coming out of the need to democratize educational curriculums and make them available to the millions of people who have no access to this information.
 
OpenCurriculum got its start in 2011 with a team of six people, mostly graduates from CMU and University of Pittsburgh. Arora grew up in the Middle East and studied in CMU’s campus in Qatar before moving to Pittsburgh and receiving his master’s degree at Pitt. The team is working out of Thrill Mill in East Liberty.
 
The plan is to target two countries initially, South Africa and Nepal, both of which have a thriving system of affordable private schools. Building relationships with educators in these countries is key, helping them to realize the benefits of sharing and selling educational programs they’ve developed.
 
Obtaining and providing access to educational programs developed locally is important because of their established success. Once OpenCurriculum gains traction in a country, a satellite office will be established.
 
“The platform works very much like Wikipedia,” says Anup Aryal, the startup’s self-proclaimed chief evangelist. "The collaborative aspect is key. The time has come for content to be decentralized so more people can purchase and benefit from it financially and professionally.”
 
OpenCurriculum will offer the same opportunities to public schools in the U.S., especially school districts with limited educational resources. The startup will launch its platform on August 1, 2013 in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, allowing teachers to collaboratively create and share materials with one another.
 
“This is the land of innovation, technology and education,” says Arora of Pittsburgh. “This has tremendous potential here. Our (greater) hope is to localize and partner with local organizations and grass roots communities.”
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Varun Arora and Anup Aryal, OpenCurriculum

State tax credits approved for tech startups and film production. Will entertainment be next?

If tax credits work for the movie industry, why not spread the love to gaming companies and tech startups?

That was the idea behind two separate tax credit proposals circulating at the state level, one that would boost early stage tech investments and the other, an expansion of the current film tax credit, aimed at attracting investment to permanent gaming development centers in the state. 

While the Innovate in Pennsylvania Tax credit was signed into law last Sunday, the Digital Entertainment Tax Credit didn’t quite make the cut. 

The Innovate in PA Tax Credit was introduced by state Sen. John Blake, D-Lackawanna. The credit will be activated once the 2013-14 budget passes and will increase funding to Ben Franklin Technology Partners, the state initiative that funds tech accelerators such as Innovation Works and the PLSG. 

The program works through credits that will be purchased by insurance companies from the Dept. of Community and Economic Development and will be used against insurance premium liabilities in 2017. About $100 million in credits will be sold, generating close to $85 million for tech investments. 

Ben Franklin Technology Partners will receive half of the proceeds, the PA Venture Capital Investment Program will receive 45 percent, PLSG on the South Side will receive the remaining 5 percent. 

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi introduced Senate Bill 1035 for a new Digital Entertainment Tax Credit. Similar to the film tax credit, the digital entertainment credit would have created an incentive to attract investment and establish permanent gaming development centers in Pennsylvania. The measure failed.

The Pittsburgh Technology Council heavily campaigned for both measures. While the passing of the Film Credit and the Innovate in PA Credit were great news for the region, PTC will continue to push for digital entertainment tax break, which would go a long way toward supporting startups coming out of CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center.

“We’ve been at the helm of this for awhile and saw this as a natural fit. We’re very optimistic that the next time around we will see a positive manifestation of this outcome,” says Audrey Russo, president of PTC. 

“As the largest game company in Pennsylvania, Senator Pileggi's proposal was very exciting for us as it represented a big step toward actual legislation,” says Jake Witherall of Schell Games on the South Side. “It’s unfortunate the proposal didn't make it into the final state budget that was passed last Sunday.  That said, it is still progress and we would hope to see it get passed the next time around.”

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Audrey Russo, The Pittsburgh Technology Council, Jake Witherall, Schell Games

Take a walk and recharge your batteries with Pittsburgh startup SolePower

Pittsburgh startup SolePower is taking power walking to a new level.
 
The energy harvesting startup and graduate of Innovation Work’s AlphaLab has created a portable battery that fits comfortably into the insole your shoe. A short walk of two to five miles is enough to generates power to recharge your iPhone and other small electronics.
 
Founded by CMU grads Matt Stanton and Hahna Alexander, SolePower began as a design project at CMU. The duo are mounting a Kickstarter campaign now, hoping to raise $50,000 to put the finishes touches on the prototype and take the final product to market.
 
SolePower was designed to withstand the elements. It’s waterproof and weather resistant and built to withstand 100 million steps, which is probably more durable than your favorite walking shoes.

“To start we’re targeting outdoor enthusiasts,” says cofounder Matt Stanton. “We think there’s also a huge military market.”

While competition in this space abounds, SolePower has several advantages, Stanton says. The light weight of the insole and the fact the device is not solar and dependent on whether are a bonus.
 
“Other batteries are bulky and heavy,” he says. 
 
The product has potential for first responders and relief workers in the midst of natural disasters. Avid walkers, campers in the wilderness, even business people on the go will appreciate the simplicity of a walking recharge.
 
“It’s amazing how many people around the world have cell phones but have no regular access to power,” says Stanton.

The startup employs three full-time, six total. Plans call for expanding to a new office in Oakland above Fuel and Fuddle in July.  Manufacturing should get underway in 2014 with the help of IW’s new AlphaGear program, which assists startups that are going into manufacturing.

“AlphaLab helped us on the business side to orchestrate a full business plan and get it to market,” he says.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Matt Stanton, SolePower

The story behind TrueFit's acquisition of Gist Design in Pittsburgh

Cranberry-based TrueFit is gearing up for major growth following the news that the firm has acquired downtown-based Gist Design.
 
Bringing two Pittsburgh companies together really is a true fit, as the name implies. TrueFit assists companies by bringing disruptive new innovations and products to market. Gist is all about the creation of beautifully designed products, says Christopher Evans, vice president of TrueFit.
 
“This speaks to the collaborative nature of Pittsburgh. It’s a great win,” he says.
 
Gist, founded in 2002 by a team of designers from CMU’s School of Design, has worked with some of the world’s leading technology companies including Samsung, Precor and Kodak. 
 
The two companies have worked together on several projects. TrueFit tapped Gist’s design and research savvy on projects with BodyMedia, recently acquired by Jawbone, and Watson Institute in Pittsburgh.
 
We found that we were comfortable working together in the tech space, especially mobile apps and commercial web applications, Evans says. Going forward, the firm plans to focus on opportunities in the healthcare tech space.
 
TrueFit, currently based in Cranberry Woods, plans to move and expand its downtown footprint; hiring is expected. The company will keep the TrueFit name and its message of innovation. The firm plans to open new offices in key cities around the country.
 
“This is the beginning of a period of tremendous growth if we play our cards properly,” says Evans. “This really just scratches the surface of what we can accomplish. It’s a wonderful opportunity; we are very committed to the region.”
 
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Christopher Evans, TrueFit

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 Pittsburgh Thinkathon takes shape. Several ideas to push the region forward.

Local government goes open source with a nationwide event that will be held the weekend of June 1-2.
 
The Pittsburgh version is Thinkathon, part of the National Day of Civic Hacking, an event that will bring together software developers, entrepreneurs and interface designers to collaboratively build and invent new solutions from publically released data.
 
It’s not much different from the codefests, hackathons and innovation events that go on in our region, explains Paul Burke, cofounder of innovation consultancy and commercial accelerator ThinkTiv.
 
What sets it apart is it draws on the government’s robust database, which will open the door for the creation of new cool tools we can all use.
 
“There’s a lot of buzz around data initiatives calling for government to open this up and make it available,” says Burke. “The city and county’s goal is to go faithfully into this process and build bridges that will improve the region.”
 
The weekend is shaping up around several ideas. Among them are the creation of mobile apps and online tools to provide logical solutions for transit. Another is a platform that will assist the parks department with inventory control and/or tools to reserve public resources.
 
Another idea is to generate a solution around bike routes. Or a consumer services solution that takes a fresh look at previous platforms that have been developed to help the Public Works department identify potholes, plow streets or manage the parking meters.
 
Thinkathon came about out of a collaboration between Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office, Allegheny County, Pittsburgh DataWorks and BuiltinPgh and RustBuilt.
 
Burke is joined in the undertaking by Kit Mueller. Both are co-founders of Rustbuilt and BuiltinPittsburgh, organizations that are working cooperatively to encourage the growth of the region’s innovation community.
 
Mueller, from Sewickley, and Burke, from upstate New York, met over a cup of coffee in Pittsburgh and decided to join forces and begin looking for ways to support the region’s growing startup community.
 
The event will leverage the expertise and entrepreneurial spirit of those outside federal, state and local government to drive meaningful, technology-based solutions for federal, state and local government, says Burke. It also offers participants a chance to work with other creative thinkers and be a part of a nationwide effort to improve government through technology. 
 
We want to make sure Pittsburgh has an opportunity to shine alongside the other participating cities across the county, says Mueller.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Paul Burke and Kit Mueller, Thinkathon

Innovation Works celebrates milestones, announces regional energy alliance with NETL

Strip District-based 4Moms was the setting for the Innovation Works annual meeting last night, a celebration of milestones achieved by the region’s early-stage investment firm.
 
The largest crowd ever—500 by all estimates—milled about the headquarters of the growing high-tech, baby gear company, now at 88 employees. The treat of the night was a tour of the digs and a sneak peak of what’s to come: a robotic car seat, a lighter weight stroller and an infant chair with the gentle sway of a mother.
 
Those of you who believed that startups could fuel the region’s economy are here tonight, Henry Thorne of 4Moms told the crowd. When small companies grow into large companies and succeed, jobs are created. 
 
The theme, “Made by Entreprenuers,” told the story of some of Pittsburgh’s brightest new companies. Apply for a job today and chances are the listing is generated by The Resumator. IBM’s data analysis efforts are taking place in their Squirrel Hill office, once the startup Vivisimo. threeRivers 3D is making strides as one of the nation’s highest volume manufacturers of 3D scanners. FutureDerm, an AlphaLab startup, sold out of its first product in just three weeks.
 
“We have to feel really good that Pittsburgh is on the right track,” said Rich Lunak, Innovation Works CEO and president. Especially with a company like 4Moms that is building a consumer brand that may one day rival Apple.
 
Prior to the meeting, Lunak shared a major announcement. A new alliance has been formed in the region to commercialize technology coming out of the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) with several collaborative partners. Lab research will be conducted in Pittsburgh; the alliance will be headed by NETL and Michele Migliuolo, commercialization alliance manager with IW. 
 
Looking back, this was a good year for job growth and revenues earned by the current crop of companies, Lunak reflected. New products were launched. Strategic partnerships are underway that include a new manufacturing accelerator, AlphaLab Gear. 
 
Looking forward, the agile hardware sector will be a real strength for the region. While software and Internet companies are a strong sector locally, expect energy and advanced materials to make their mark, he said.
 
Among the other highlights:
 
IW invested $4.8 million in technology companies in 2012. By comparison, IW invested $4.9 million in 2011 and $4.6 million  in 2010.
 
IW’s seed fund and accelerator companies accounted for 65% of all Pittsburgh companies raising venture rounds, and were successful in attracting nearly $209 million from VCs, angels, corporate/strategic investors and other sources.
 
Of the follow-on funding, $99 million (45%) came from venture capital and the other largest share of $73 million (35%) came from angel investors.
 
583 jobs were created in the region and retained attributed to IW assistance.

Watch the Innovation Works video. Read the 2012 Annual Report here.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Innovation Works



Digital Dream Labs, the next Nintendo for educational gameplay?

Educational games should be fun as well as instructive, which is what Digital Dream Labs is all about.
 
Founded by an ambitious trio, all grads of Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center, the team got its start in the museum space with an interactive table installed at the Children’s Museums of Pittsburgh and Houston. The startup is currently in Innovation Works' Alpha Lab. 
 
“Our initial goal was to build a game that would be, one day, the Nintendo of museum gaming,” says Matt Stewart, co founder of the company. He is joined by Justin Sabo and Peter Kinney.
 
The team is in the throes of creating a consumer version of its museum game. To move it along, they have launched a Pilot Program for Pittsburgh, giving local kids, ages four to 12, a chance to offer feedback and purchase it at a discounted price.
 
The game is expected to go on sale for $100. Beta testers will pay $80. In return for  play testing, beta players will get their name in the game credits and receive a free retail upgrade when the product goes on the market.
 
The toy-to-tablet educational platform calls on players to use logic, sequencing, teamwork and fine-motor skills to master the puzzle through digital action. The skills learned are the basis for computational thinking, says Sabo.
 
The game, tentatively named “Cork the Volcano,” is played as an add-on to an iPad or Mac. The hardware includes a block tray and puzzle pieces. As children play, they learn to write simple programs with the puzzle pieces as they solve logic puzzles. The ultimate goal is to save the island; timing is key.
 
“We’ve been trying to figure out how to bridge tech and education in a meaningful way,” says Sabo. “It will definitely change how people look at educational games for children.”
 
The plan is to build momentum and make a big splash at Toy Fair 2014.
 
Watch it in action!
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Matt Stewart, Justin Sabo, Digital Dream Labs

Image courtesy of Digital Dream Labs. From From left to right: Justin Sabo, Corinne Charlton, Matt Stewart and Peter Kinney. 
 

BirdBrain Technologies, cool kits that make robotics learning fun

School projects today certainly aren’t what they used to be. They are way more exciting.

With do-it-yourself robotic technology from BirdBrain Technologies, a CMU spinout, it won’t be long until the stationary diorama is transformed into an action-packed drama.
 
Founder Tom Lauwers is creating kits with all the electronics one needs to build a robot and become an aspiring roboticist. It will take high school projects to the next level.

Originally from San Francisco, Lauwers has spent the last five years working on his doctorate in product design at CMU’s CREATE Lab, tinkering with robot kits and electronics. His goal is to create educationally relevant tools that get high school and college students excited about the world of robotics.
 
His first product, Finch, was a stingray-shaped robot that detects orientation and entertains students while teaching them the finer points of interactive programming. It is currently being used as part of high school science curriculums.
 
The Hummingbird kit is low-cost hardware and software system that allows students to build expressive and communicative robots out of arts and crafts materials. Lauwers points to a project on the table, made from not much more than circuitry and wiring, a few cardboard boxes, foam board and construction paper.
 
“It’s intentionally made not like a toy so people feel empowered to mess with electronics,” he explains “It’s not magical or hard. Once you have something anyone can buy, people will use it in ways you don’t expect.”
 
BirdBrain is manufacturing the kits in China. Many are already being used in public and private schools.
 
The company is one of many up for an award at the 2013 DATA Awards on Thursday night, May 16th, on the North Side. General admission tickets for $25 are available starting at 7 p.m.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Tom Lauwers, BirdBrain Technologies

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

Innovation news: BodyMedia sold and staying. ALS research breakthrough. $1.6 million for malaria

This week in innovation news:
 
+Pittsburgh-based BodyMedia was acquired by San Francisco-based Jawbone this week. The match appears to be a perfect fit, pun intended. Jawbone is the creator of a lifestyle tracking wristband and app as well as the JAMBOX family of wireless speakers and headsets. BodyMedia is known for its wearable health technology, especially its armband to support weight loss. Body Media employees will remain with the company and in Pittsburgh, says a company spokesperson.
 
+Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine announced the results of a new study that shows promise for future ALS research. The results, published by the journal of Neurobiology of Disease, show that mice injected by the hormone melatonin developed symptoms of ALS later and lived longer than mice who were given a placebo. While the implications of the research and how it will translate in human terms are yet unknown, the results are a promising development on the ALS research front.

+Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) and the University of Notre Dame have received up to $1.6 million in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a program that is part of an international consortium to eradicate malaria. The new VECNet Cyber-Infrastructure Project (CI) will support an effort to unite research, industrial and public policy efforts to attack one of the worst diseases in the developing world.

+Lauren Resnick, distinguished university professor of psychology and cognitive science at the University of Pittsburgh, was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Class of 2013, one of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies. Resnick is the 11th Pitt professor to be elected to the academy, an organization whose membership includes scholars, scientists, writers, artists, musicians, philanthropists, and civic and corporate leaders from around the globe.

Writer: Deb Smit

Cast your vote for the next DATA winner, the coolest art tech party in Pittsburgh (you're invited)

The 2013 Data Awards return to the Grand Hall at the Priory, one of the biggest innovation celebrations of the year in honor of the coolest design and tech projects in the region.

Nearly 50 companies are in the running for the region's highest (and only) honor for great art, entertainment and design technology, sponored by The Pittsburgh Technology Council.

New this year, the general public, that's you dear reader, will get a vote on the top projects. 

From now until the polls close on May 1st, readers may vote once for a project in each category. The public vote will be tabulated and weighted along with the decisions made by a industry professionals, says Kim Chestney Harvey of the Tech Council, 

Also new this year, tickets are offered at two price points. The early evening will be dedicated to the awards ceremony and presentations, which will end at 7 p.m. After that, the interactive exhibition party begins. The public, and non-PTC members, will be admitted for $25.

“It’s all about engaging the public and pulling interest from beyond the business community this year,” says Chestney Harvey. "It’s really important to keep the community element, which is what the DATAs are founded on.”

As for the contenders, there are many new names and technologies. While a few favorites from years past are back—Schell Games and Lightwave—many are new. There’s SloGo. An intriguing entry from Slippery Rock called “God Particle.” Walking Thumbs’ Blab Cake.

The student category, also new this year, has eight entries from CMU.

The evening’s presenter will be Bill Stankay,  journalist, author, filmmaker and former CNN Bureau Chief. Pittsburgh’s own Chip Walter will host the Awards Gala, drawing on his own explorations of human creativity and curiosity.

Cast your vote today!  Polls close May 1, 2013.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Kim Chestney Harvey, Pittsburgh Technology Council

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

Pittsburgh entreprenuers jump in the Shark Tank at the 3 Rivers Venture Fair

Fourteen of the region’s smartest early-stage tech startups jumped into the 3 Rivers Venture Fair Shark Tank last week to compete for venture capital prizes.
 
Mark Cuban couldn’t make it, but a panel of experts was on hand firing the tough questions: Frank Demmler of Innovation Works, Will Indest of Draper Triangle Ventures and Chris Skarlin of Edison Ventures.
 
All of them were products of years of academic research from  University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. In the end, the audience cast the winning votes. 
 
First prize went to Qeexo, a CMU spinout, for a smartphone that is revolutionizing cellphone touch. Chris Harrison, an MIT Review Top 35 Innovator last year, is the force behind the tech. You might recall him dialing calls on his forearm and tabletops several years back.
 
Qeexo distinguishes between fingers and knuckles with 99% accuracy. A knuckle swipe, for example, executes one command, like a right mouse click. The company is in talks with several major manufacturers and is based in San Jose, Calif., with an R&D office at CMU.   
 
LightSIDE was second, a software platform that is ushering in the age of written papers graded by robots. The software uses machine learning to assess student essays. In addition to giving students instant feedback on their papers based on key concepts, LightSIDE hopes to lighten the load on teachers bogged down by traditional grading methods.
 
CE Agent, third place, developed at University of Pittsburgh, helps licensed professionals to track their continuing education credits.
 
Two other audience favorites deserve mention. The first is Topical Drug Delivery Therapy for Skin Cancer, a long-winded name for a band-aid to treat non-melanoma skin cancers. The tech was developed by a scientific team at the University of Pittsburgh.
 
And finally SolePower, an energy-harvesting startup with a shoe insert that recharges your phone (or other portable electronics) when you’re in the middle-of-nowhere.    
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: 3 Rivers Venture Fair
 

Active online? Check out your Social Fingerprint

What is the Internet saying about you?
 
An accurate social media profile is critical in today’s job market. But how to manage the wild west of online content and ensure that the information out there is accurate?
 
Social Media Information (SMI) is rising to the challenge, an information solutions company working out of the Riverside Innovation Center. SMI rolled out Social Fingerprint in 2012, a simple online tool that gives anyone a read on potentially incriminating and embarrassing online posts.
 
SMI has more recently released two business to business products: EPLOY, a pre-employment screening tool to help companies find and retain the best employees; and EGLE, software for legal professionals and insurance analysts to investigate suspicious claims, criminal histories and reduces fraudulent insurance claims.   
 
A premium product to help people with profile or reputation management may be next, says Chris Gormley, CEO, formerly of Pittsburgh companies FreeMarkets, Tiversa and Omnyx.
 
“People should have the ability to monitor their own reputation,” he says. “We think there’s a big market for this.”
 
Gormley recently addressed college students at Pitt, prolific users of social media who might want to think twice about what they post on Facebook. Thirty-seven percent of employers today are using social media to research job candidates, he says. Facebook and LinkedIn are the most popular, used 65% of the time.
 
Industries that use social media the most when hiring are IT (52%) and Healthcare (28%). Of the remaining companies, 11% say they plan to start using it soon, he says.
 
So before that happens, one might want to try Social Fingerprint.
 
As a frequent user of social media and an online writer, I signed up, offered a few details and began receiving daily lists of potentially damaging information on myself.
 
Several problems popped up, all of which were false positive, fortunately. Here’s what Social Fingerprint had to say:
 
My name was closely linked with the words guns, riot, police and charges. Turns out it was a Pop City story, written by me, on “Behind the Scenes at the G-20.”
 
My name was found with the words roasted, served and hash. Another Pop City story about readers’ favorite dishes in Pittsburgh.
 
There was a mugshot that wasn’t me, whew, but one Debra Jeanne Smith who was charged with second degree murder for stabbing her boyfriend in Florida.
 
Most interesting was a site called Instant People Finder, which knew all my names, before and after marriage, and listed every place I’ve ever lived, all five, and my correct age.
 
Okay, I’m sleeping at night for now.
 
“You have to know what’s out there,” says Gormley. “You want to control your own online brand and know how to manage that. “
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Chris Gormley, SMI
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