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Shadyside startup is changing the way we assess writing, receives Gates Foundation grant

When it comes to online learning, there are programs galor to assist with math and science. Few, however, address reading comprehension and writing ability.

Shadyside startup LightSide is building tools to delve into this more ambiguous subject area, using machine learning to instantly assess writing for both academic and business settings.

The CMU spinout and Project Olympus startup is well on its way with the help of a grant for $25,000 from the Gates Foundation. LightSide was among only 29 companies chosen as part of the Literacy Courseware Challenge.

CMU graduates Elijah Mayfield, David Adamson and Carolyn Penstein Rosé first began working on the idea while at school as an open source platform to assist academic researchers and social scientists.
When it comes to assessing writing, machine learning tools work well for some aspects of the process, but not so well for others, explains Mayfield, CEO, and a recipient of a 2011 Siebel Scholarship and named a “Global Shaper” by the World Economic Forum.

Making sure students have the right concepts, are stylistically correct and follow grammatical rules are areas that computers handle easily. Creativity and spontaneity is not as easily addressed.

“It’s not just a magic wand,” Mayfield says. “Software relies on patterns of training examples.”

While a final product is still a year away, LightSide is consulting with individual clients to help them leverage the beneifts of machine learning. Several are heavy weights in the assessment industry, College Board and CTB McGraw Hill.

“It’s all about empowering the student and making sure they know what the strongest and weakest elements of their writing are,” he says.

LightSide employs seven people and is hiring.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Elijah Mayfield, LightSide

Pittsburgh Mini Maker Faire, a carnival of kid-friendly innovation and mind-bending robotics

The Pittsburgh Mini Maker Faire, a family-friendly carnival of spectacular innovation, brings its impressive mix of new crafts and old world technologies to the North Side this weekend.
There’s even some high-tech mind reading art to make.
More than 65 regional makers will be on hand on Sunday, Aug. 18, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Buhl Community Park at Allegheny Square by the Children’s Museum.
Displays and hands-on activities abound, spanning the gamut from 3D technology to robotic exhibits, Indie crafts, power wheel car races, floating origami, SparkTruck and LED wearables.
The Girls of Steel Robotics Team, a winning high school science team, will demo their Frisbee shooting, pyramid-climbing robot Eve.
It’s not your every day walk in the park, to say the least.
Pittsburgh startup Beyond Theory Robotics is one example of just how high the bar is set at this third annual Faire. Shane Adams and Chase Dudley, co-founders, are offering a hands-on experience of the raw power of the human mind.
Beyond Theory is developing a robotic prosthesis for arms and hands that is controlled by human thought. Seeing it is believing it, they say. Those on hand will witness their brainwaves in action as signals are transmitted to a smartphone where they will create an abstract work of art.  
“People will really enjoy having a piece of artwork derived from their brain waves,” says Adams.
The startup plans to enroll in AlphaLab Gear this year, Innovation Works’ new hardware accelerator.
“We hope to be inspirational to other makers in the community. Children don’t always get this kind of exposure in their schools,” Adams adds.
The Pittsburgh Mini Maker Faire is a collaboration of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and HackPittsburgh and primary event sponsor MAKE magazine.
The day is made possible with the support of The Spark Fund, The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, Pepsi, Agora Cyber Charter School and pairNetworks.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Pittsburgh Mini Maker Faire; Beyond Robotics

Who's hiring in Pittsburgh? Heinz History Center, School of Rock, Eaton and more

Each week Pop City reports on the latest in company and hiring news.
The Heinz History Center and Sports Museum, the Fort Pitt Museum, and Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village have a range of full-time and part-time job opportunities: development events manager, museum shop and visitor services assistant manager, security officer, events associates and a part-time customer service associate.
The new School of Rock in Wexford—you heard right—is looking for talented instructors in voice, piano, guitar, bass and drums. The school, founded in Philadelphia, has expanded to 100 schools in five countries.
Eaton Corp. is hiring a senior software developer for its electrical sector headquarters who will serve as a lead analyst in IT.
Allegheny County Economic Development has an open for a project manager 1 position and authorities administration manager. 
Looking to get into manufacturing? VEKA, the German maker of PVC profiles used for windows and doors, has selected Fombell, Pa., for its U.S. headquarters. The facility will bring 38 new jobs to the region so stayed tuned.
Tucker Auto-Mation is expanding its operations with a 10,000-square-foot facility for its headquarters and manufacturing in Beaver County. Twenty-five new jobs will be in the offering soon.  
Pittsburgh-based The Resumator is looking for a director of business development to power the company forward through a broad array of activities.
Vandalize says it's turning the keyword universe into one of crowdsourced tags. What does this mean? Check out the listing for a full-time technical co-founder and CTO; college students need apply.
Have hiring news? Email Pop City and include the links.
Writer: Deb Smit

Resolution Hope and TrueFit create a serious app to rescue victims of child sex trafficking

Many people don’t realize that child sex trafficking is a massive industry in the United States and one of the fastest growing crimes in the world, says Brian Shivler.

They think it’s an overseas problem, he adds. Yet the U.S. is among the top three sex trafficking destinations in the world. The Super Bowl has become the single largest human trafficking episode in this country.
The Wexford resident and father of two girls hopes to change this through an organization he founded called Resolution Hope. The nonprofit began by raising money through two concerts at Stage AE.  

Resolution Hope also teamed with Pittsburgh-based innovation company TrueFit and recently launched an app that is designed to motivate people to become more vigilant in the reporting of suspicious and potential trafficking activity. 

The idea is to empower people to report what they see on the streets, says Shivler. 
“When you’re dealing with these criminals, time is of the essence. It’s designed to not just educate but empower citizens right away,” says Christopher Evans of TrueFit. “These are experts in moving children.”

The app is called 13A, which is the national campaign to end sex trafficking in America. A 99-cent download includes a powerful video, a checklist of what to look for and a “make a report” button, which sends reports directly to Polaris, the national sex trafficking hotline, and the Dept. of Homeland Security Human Trafficking Tip Line.

The app also allows users to take and store videos and pictures.

“This is one way we knew we could empower people and help the law enforcement community,” Evans adds. “One of their biggest challenges is getting real time info in the field. These are people who have dedicated their lives to this.”
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Brian Shivler, Resolution Hope; Christopher Evans, TrueFit

LaunchPGH, a comprehensive online guide to the city's startup scene

Navigating the groundswell of entrepreneurial activity in Pittsburgh is easier with the arrival of LaunchPGH, an online resource that has streamlined a wide range of information for the startup community.  
The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and Powerup Pittsburgh created an easy to navigate, visually appealing portal for entrepreneurs, investors and developers looking for information on startups, incubators, accelerators and networking opportunities in Pittsburgh.  
“Our hope is to make it easier and more dynamic for entrepreneurs in the city to gain access to not only organizations but also people,” says Tom Link, director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the URA. “Our goal as an economic development organization is to help small businesses grow, all the co-working spaces, accelerators and meetup groups.”
The mobile-friendly website is divided into three circles—Biz, Buzz and Burgh—providing users with event and company listings, fun facts and a photo gallery. One of the most dynamic features is the Startup Genome, a map that puts the entrepreneurial activity on a city map and includes sliders for details like company size and money raised.  
Over time, the information will grow and become more comprehensive as more startups and entrepreneurs sign on, notes Link. So far 118 companies are listed along with the names 236 rising entrepreneurs.
The website was designed by Wall-to-Wall studios with the help of an advisory panel including entrepreneurs and business leaders with a vested interest in creating a more robost environment for entrepreneurs.

It was intentionally designed to work best on an iPad or on a mobile phone, giving anyone a quick read of where to go and find investment opportunities, says Link.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Tom Link, LaunchPGH

c-leveled opens a new startup incubator in Bloomfield for serious entrepreneurs

C-leveled came into being in 2009 during the economic downturn, a time when businesses were looking to resolve issues to survive, says Denise DeSimone, founder and CEO.
A seasoned entrepreneur, DeSimone had had successes. She had helped to build Unicorp., a speech recognition tech company, from the ground up as CEO; within two years it reached a global market with revenues exceeding $74 million.  She was also the CEO of Advanticom. 

She received a regional Ernest & Young 2008 Entrepreneur of the Year  and was on Pennsylvania’s Best 50 Women in Business for 2009. She wanted her eighth company to give back in some way, a sort of entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs. 
The company started out by offering financial consulting tools and executives as a service to high-end companies that couldn’t afford to hire a CFO. For example, when Oakland Raiders’ Shawntae Spencer, a Woodland Hills High School grad, suggested an idea for a personal concierge app, c-leveled helped to develop and launch MetroMe, a one-stop shop for concert tickets, dinner reservations and more.

“It became really apparent that we needed not only a space where we could be more efficient, but one that would foster collaboration and creative thought,” says DeSimone.

This month the firm, which employs 16, opened a private incubator for startups in its Bloomfield office, a space that offers a wide range of services to both budding and established entrepreneurs, from business strategy to brand designs, logos and social media consulting.

It's a launch pad for serious entrepreneurs who have at least two companies under their belt, she says.

“We’re not just assisting with ideas, but doing the work. We’re writing the business plans.  Telling someone they need a pricing strategy to someone who has never done it before is like telling them to write ‘War and Peace,’” she says.

C-level also has a $1 million seed fund to get companies off the ground. 

“It has to be a great idea, a good market and a good entrepreneur,” she says. “There’s a lot of entrepreneurial spirit here, a lot of great ideas coming out of Pittsburgh from people of all ages,” she adds. “If we could figure out how to make it all work together more efficiently, we could do something really cool.”

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Denise DeSimone, c-leveled

Style Truck, a mobile boutique for designer fashion, pulls up in Pittsburgh

Style Truck hit the road running this month, a boutique on wheels outfitted in adorable shades of lavender and pink. 
Just what is it? In my wildest dreams, Style Truck rescues me from my worst wardrobe malfunctions; unfortunately for me, that’s not the point. 
“It’s a good idea,” says Jackee Ging, owner and driver, pondering the idea. “If I knew that I could get a parking spot every Wednesday near Market Square, that would be great.”
An entrepreneur at heart, Ging started her business in response to a trend that puts mobile boutiques alongside food trucks as among the coolest up and coming businesses. Having worked in business and retail, it seemed a perfect fit, she says. Mobile boutiques are very popular in California, Minneapolis and Boston.
Style Truck offers designer fashion at affordable prices for professional women on the go, she explains. Ging is working with several small clothing designers and two local jewelry designers to convey a wide range of looks and an array of fabrics, including organic threads, bamboo and cotton.
Not all of it is professional wear, she admits. She couldn’t resist some funky tees.
Style Truck also carries accessories and handmade pieces by Honey In the Wood in Uniontown and Design by Samantha in Mt. Lebanon.
The boutique plans regular stops at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille in Warrendale, especially for their manicure martini ladies' nights, as well as Urban Cottage in Lawrenceville, a home décor boutique. She's also on tap as a judge for "Project Runway Unconventional Materials Challenge" and pulling in for the Yoga Fest in Point State Park.
Not everyone understands what she’s up to when she shows up, she admits.
“People look at me like I have 10 heads when I tell them it’s a food truck with clothes,” she says. “I don’t have my elevator pitch down yet.”
Ging is planning on teaming up with local boutiques and private individuals to offer wine and cheese parties, ladies’ nights and charity events.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Jackee Ging, Style Truck

Can I afford this? BudgetSimple teaches us to strategically chip away debt

With so many online tools to make budgeting household expenses easier, can it get any simpler?
BudgetSimple thinks so. The AlphaLab startup, which started as an Excel spreadsheet for friends, proved so popular—growing from 60,000 to 114,000 users in no time—co-founder Phil Anderson decided to try turning it into a business. He joined the South Side startup incubator and began tweaking the platform and developing a mobile app.
While there are many financial products on the market, most are complicated and cluttered, he says. The key to BudgetSimple is the simple act of logging transactions and acknowledging expenses and spending patterns; it works much the same way a weight loss app identifies the small ways we cheat ourselves every day. 
“Just the act of thinking about it is helpful,” he says. “You’re forced to think about everything.”
While the tool is free, an upgrade ($29 to $39 a year) provides a mobile app and reminders and scheduling tools. A new version will be rolled out in several months, allowing users to automatically track and categorize all transaction through a read-only, third party provider. The reporting feature, which creates a pie graph of your monthly spending, is cool and free. 
“It's the simplicity that seems to be the thing that gets people to stick with us,” says Anderson. “While other programs are telling you where your money went after it's too late, we're trying to give people actionable advice based on financial planning best practices.”  
Anderson, originally from Baltimore, is joined by co-founder Dimitry Bentsionov of Pittsburgh. Anderson formerly worked for Vivisimo, Lunametrics and the Pittsburgh startup Levlr.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Phil Anderson, BudgetSimple

CMU's DrawAFriend makes magical artists of us all, pushes gaming forward

Those who struggle to sketch anything with a pencil will agree that drawing with a finger on a smartphone is useless. But research is changing that.
CMU researchers have resolved what they call, the “fat finger” problem with a crowdsourced solution that subtly corrects the digital strokes and improves picture quality. To accomplish this, they first created a mobile game, DrawAFriend, and began collecting thousands of smartphone generated images.
Creating a mobile game app allowed us to generate a massive database for large-scale analysis of human drawings, says Adrien Treuille, associate professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon. 
DrawAFriend requires players to sketch and guess friends and celebrity profiles like Ben Affleck and Angelina Jolie. In its first week, the game generated 1,500 sketches a day, subsequently collecting more than 17,000 images.
The images contained important, stroke-by-stroke information about how each was created. The scientific goal was to automatically correct a person’s drawing strokes while preserving their artistic integrity, making it “invisible to the user, so people wouldn’t even be aware the correction is taking place,” says Alex Limpaecher, a doctorate student in CMU’s Computer Science Department.
“The point is you feel like it is your drawing, just slightly corrected. Every time you put your finger on the screen, there’s a slight ambiguity in what you want to do. We chose to resolve that ambiguity in the most beautiful way,” says Treuille. “It’s a magical thing.”
While the solution has obvious implications for gaming, the bigger picture is even more intriguing. For one, scientists are learning how to better and more creatively collect massive data sets. Everything in life comes down to nudging ourselves toward greater perfection, says Treuille. Imagine parking a car that makes minute corrections to perfectly guide it into a space.
Limpaecher presented the team’s findings this week at SIGGRAPH 2013, the International Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, in Anaheim, Calif. a preliminary exhibition of some of the world’s greatest emerging innovations.
In addition to Treuille and Limpaecher, the other team members were Nicholas Feltman, a Ph.D. student in computer science, and Michael Cohen, principal researcher in Microsoft Research’s Interactive Visual Media Group.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Adrien Treuille, Alex Limpaecher, CMU

In case you're wondering, the DrawAFriend sketch is Angelina Jolie

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
352 Entrepreneurs Articles | Page: | Show All
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