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Hill District entrepreneurs receive boost from Urban Innovation21; CMU awards seven startups

Twenty businesses and entrepreneurs in the Hill District are among the first recipients of funding to be officially announced by Urban Innovation21 on Thursday night.  
The grants are the first of three Urban Innovation21 competitions underway that will assist entrepreneurs in the Hill District, Homewood and the Pittsburgh Central Innovation Zone (PCKIZ).  The overall goal is to provide support for community-based, resident-owned businesses while connecting them to the region’s innovation communities.
“We were really overwhelmed by the response and are excited about the work to connect our region’s success to some of its poorest communities in a way that will ultimately provide wealth opportunities for minorities, women and resident-owned businesses,” says Bill Generett, CEO of Urban Innovation21.
The Hill District Grant Competition attracted 62 initial applicants, 60 of whom were African Americans. Applicants participated in workshops and received assistance from Urban Innovation21. The finalists submitted a business plan and gave an elevator pitch as well.
Twenty applicants will receive grants. Artistry Greenscapes won the $10,000 top prize; the winners of the $5,000 grants include: Cameron Professional Services, EnjoYourself, Grace Security, Silq Concrete, Something Borrowed Boutique and The Pittsburgh Spot.
Three companies will receive technical assistant awards to launch crowdfunding efforts and another 10 will receive $1000 each toward a Kiva Zip zero-interest loan of up to $5,000.

In other startup funding news, CMU’s Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund (OFEF) has awarded $300,000 to six startup companies to assist them in growing their business ventures.

The fund, established by CMU alumnus and Flip Video Camera creator Jonathan Kaplan and his wife, Marci Glazer, provides early-stage business financing and support to alumni who have graduated from CMU in the last five years.
Since June 2012, the OFEF has provided support to 16 startup companies from across the country and a variety of industries. The fund is part of CMU’s Greenlighting Startups initiative, which facilitates bringing faculty and student innovations from the research lab to the marketplace.
The recipients include:
NoWait, a seating management system used by large restaurant chains including Red Robin, Texas Roadhouse and T.G.I. Friday’s. NoWait recently raised $2 million in funding led by Birchmere Ventures.
ActivAided Orthotics, developers of a line of postural training designed for the long-term relief of back pain. Their first product, "RecoveryAid" was released in July 2012. 
Aurochs Brewing Company is commercializing a unique formula to brew great tasting craft beers that are naturally gluten-free.
PECA Labs’ Masa Valve is the first valved conduit to be specifically designed for pediatric heart conduit reconstruction. The valve is clinically validated and is currently going through the FDA approval process. 
Pixite’s Unbound service provides a seamless photo management and viewing experience across computers, tablets and smartphones, allowing users to do more organized with their photos while saving time.
StatEasy is a free and easy-to-use platform to high school and collegiate teams to manage statistics and video of their sporting events. The company currently services more than 120 teams.
Tunessence is a virtual guitar teacher in your Web browser through advanced audio software with instructional video that replicates the experience of an in-person lesson in an online setting.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Bill Generett, Urban Innovation21; CMU

Image of the Hill District courtesy Tom Little Photo

Who's hiring in Pittsburgh? Design Center, ShowClix and more

Looking for a job? Each week Pop City reports on company hiring news in the region.
Design Center Pittsburgh is hiring a Community Programs Manager who will be responsible for management and oversight of projects for the grant-making program of the Design Fund. The ideal candidate will provide technical assistance and support around issues of design, planning and policy to community-based organizations.
The position demands a highly organized person with experience in architecture, planning and/or community development and strong program management and communications skills.
The hiring spree continues at ticketing company ShowClix, which is posting seven jobs and four internships for account executives and managers, software engineers. The news at ShowClix is the recent departure of company co-founder and Josh Dziabiak who is moving to Austin, TX, to work for former AlphaLab company Insurance Zebra.
ShowClix has no immediate plans to fill the CEO position and remains committed to Pittsburgh, reports Lynsie Campbell, president. A new funding round is in the works.
Tickets for Kids Charities, a nonprofit that seeks to give underprivileged children in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio access to the arts, is looking for an executive director and administrative assistant.  
The ideal candidate will have have 10 years minimum experience as a senior manager in a nonprofit or business environment and an established record of success in several areas.
The administrative assistant position is part-time, about 20-hours a week, and requires one to two years of experience working in a busy office environment.
Carnegie Robotics, a startup company that builds robots, smart sensors and automation components with a strong relationship with the National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC), is hiring mid-level software engineers for its Lawrenceville office.
The full-time positions requires product-oriented software engineers with superior problem-solving skills, high energy, creativity and strong experience in developing C and C++ software for robotics sensing applications. 
General Dynamics C4 Systems is hiring an Information Designer. GD works on the latest in visualization and collaboration software for the military and commercial partners. The ideal candidate will have a degree in Design and/or Human Sciences or related field plus a minimum of five years of relevant experience.

Sequoia Waste Solutions is hiring a lead developer and two paid-for-hire interns for its O’Hara Township office. The company, which takes a unique approach to waste disposal and recycling as a service, helps companies save money and recycle products. (See related story.)
SnapRetail has a position for a Marketing and Product Management person. The ideal candidate will be an advanced user of Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop and be able to execute and create compelling graphics and work with a team.

Treatspace is hiring a Lead Interface Designer.
Writer: Deb Smit

Pittsburgh shares the SXSW spotlight in March. Join the Pittsburgh Innovation Party!

When it comes to venues, SXSW in Austin may be the hottest ticket in the country, five days of techno-bliss and partying alongside cutting-edge technologies and the smartest entrepreneurs in the world.
This March the city is throwing its own Pittsburgh Innovation Party. Carnegie Mellon University and the Pittsburgh Technology Council have joined forces to stage an officially sponsored event in downtown Austin on Saturday, March 9, from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.
The event, open to all SXSW registrants, will highlight the best of Pittsburgh innovation and include an interactive arcade of projects featuring companies and students. Pittsburgh’s own Tracksplotation will provide live entertainment.  
While Pittsburgh companies and students have always gone to SXSW--and some have thrown their own events--this marks the first time the city has come together to pull off a sponsored event, says Brad Stephenson, director of online strategy for CMU’s Heinz College, a lead sponsor along with CMU’s Human Computer Interaction Institute (HCII).
“The whole gamut of innovation will be represented at this event, from early childhood education to startups to university technology,” says Kim Chestney Harvey, manager director of the PTC’s Creative Technology Network. “Everyone will be down there showcasing innovation from the region and showing off Pittsburgh as a great place to live, work and learn. It’s a great place to get exposure.”
As an official event, the Pittsburgh Party will be promoted through SXSW marketing channels to the more than 40,000 attendees. PTC is currently seeking all innovative projects, partners, companies and sponsors to join the program.
Supporting sponsors include: Alpha Lab, The Entertainment Technology Center, Steeltown Entertainment, CMU University Advancement. The event is also supported by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and the SPARK Kids & Creativity Network.
“It will be electrifying and fun,” adds Stephenson. “We would love to see 1,000 people come through.”
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Kim Chestney Harvey, PTC, and Brad Stephenson, CMU Heinz College

Pop City previews the latest local blogs, apps and n'at

Among the latest Pittsburgh-based websites, blogs and apps to surface in recent weeks:
Treading Art is the region’s latest resource for cultural happenings in the city.
Christine Smith and Melissa LuVisi moved to Pittsburgh after graduating from UCLA, where they met. They were drawn to our region’s thriving arts community and the city’s drive to redevelop and expand.
Their background in business development, museum administration and curatorial management is perfect for reaching out to the creative communities in the city. TreadingArt will highlight the scene, promote cultural happenings and post reviews, photographs, interviews, commentary and critiques.
In the coming year, the duo plan to launch a membership program with access to arts events—underground openings, panels, tours and workshops.
“Eventually we would like to see this transpire into a physical space,” says LuVisi.  “We are truly thankful to have landed in such a receptive and innovative city.”
Look for the Weekend Treadings newsletter and agenda events in January of 2013.
Built In Pgh is connecting the dots for local entrepreneurs and innovators. The website, brought to you by the same people behind the RustBuilt Initiative, is a clearinghouse for the startup community, listing events, forums, job postings and company news.
And here’s several apps and games to keep small minds busy during the holidays.
IOnFuture is a cool way for middle schoolers to explore potential careers in the STEM fields. Considering a career as an ecologist or urban planner? How about an industrial designer or Veterinarian? This gives students an opportunity to learn different activities and hobbies they might try as they explore various career paths in science, technology, engineering and math fields.
The Lemonade Stand is a free educational iPad game that teaches children ages 3-6 about money and work by letting them actually run a virtual lemonade stand. The app was created through Idea Foundry’s Riveted program.
Online reviews comments that it teaches youngsters literacy and math skills while offering kudos for the rocking music.  
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Melissa LuVisi, Kit Mueller

Rail Girls teaches rookie female developers new web tricks (sorry guys)

Want to learn the language of the Internet? Think code is only for computer science geeks and undercover agents? If you’re female and want to get into on the action, Rail Girls is for you (sorry men.)
Rail Girls is an international organization that got its start in Helsinki, Finland, 2010, as a one-time event for women. It proved so popular that the teaching workshops spread to other cities around the globe: Shanghai, Singapore, Krakow, and now Pittsburgh.
The weekend workshop brings small groups of women together and empowers them to acquire the tools necessary to conquer the online frontier, or at least build a website, says Amanda Brown, an organizer of the local chapter.
The classes teach Ruby on Rails, or Rails, an open source, full-stack web application framework for the Ruby programming language. If this makes absolutely no sense to you, it soon will.
The weekend event will be held on Saturday, Jan. 19th, and is free and open to all girls and women. An installation event will be planned for the day before.
“If you don’t have any programming experience, you should be able to follow along and orient yourself. It’s geared toward the beginner level. We really want it to be a growing and learning experience while building community.”
ModCloth is a major sponsor of the event along with Confluence and NuRelm. Innovation Works has donated the AlphaLab space on Carson Street the South Side for the workshop.  
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Amanda Brown, Rail Girls

Pittsburgh fitness entrepreneurs raise the (heavy) bar on CrossFit with social media (hubba, hubba)

Social media is proving an effective tool in building a robust fitness business, especially when it comes to CrossFit training.
Jim Crowell and Josh Bobrowsky, who graduated together from Upper St. Clair High School in the South Hills, opened Integrated Fitness in 2010, first in Bethel Park and then on the South Side.

Jim was working with a hedge fund company in Austin, Texas at the time. Josh, who studied social media at CMU, was going to law school at Case Western.
Both athletes, they loved the passion and drive of CrossFit, an intense conditioning regimen that started in California and has swept the country, bringing serious fitness seekers together for short training sessions that demand all-out physical exertion. Pittsburgh is home to a handful of CrossFit certified gyms. 
The fast-paced sessions are held in the gym and change daily, combining movements such as weightlifting, kettlebells, jumping rope, sprinting and jumping and climbing rope. There’s CrossFit Games as well, competitions that bring athletes together from around the region for intense day-long gameplay.
“CrossFit was a perfect fit for us,” says Crowell. “We’re both passionate about helping people. It's about getting someone in the best shape of their lives, from former athletes to those who’ve never been athletic.”
What makes CrossFit unique is the way it builds community, adds Bobrowsky. To that extent, Integrated Fitness has successfully grown the business with the help of social media, especially YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
The Pittsburgh gym has achieved the distinction of having the most views per month of workout videos of any CrossFit gym in the country. YouTube videos are averaging 700,00 hits a month, boosted by world record lift videos and celebrity interviews at the gym. Bobrowsky, who handles the gyms' social media, has 43,000+ followers on Twitter. 

Social media is a way for people to share with others online and interact with people from the gym, he says. People enjoy sharing their CrossFit scores, posting them on Facebook.
“Not everyone initially wants to share,” he adds. “But as time goes by, almost every person in the gym has at least one workout of exercise that they’re very proud of and they want their picture up there.”
“It’s not about being great CrossFit champions, but creating an atmosphere that creates an engaged community that helps individuals to reach their goals,” Crowell adds.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Jim Crowell and Josh Bobrowsky, Integrated Fitness

RustBuilt strives to amplify the voices of innovation in the Great Lakes region

A new regional initiative to redefine the Great Lakes region and the emerging modern innovation marketplace is underway.

It’s called RustBuilt, although it’s far from a new idea. A handful of organizations in recent years have mounted similar campaigns. There was the Great Lakes Urban Exchange (GLUE), which led a mission to catalyze transformation and reinvestment in the region from western Pennsylvania to Michigan. Renovating the Rustbelt is another, a Cleveland-based initiative that is chronicling the transformation of the Rust Belt to the GreenBelt. And there are others.

RustBuilt is still gaining momentum as an initiative, but it's picking up traction from leaders in the Great Lakes region, most recently the Tech Belt initiative, which is facilitating a dialogue for companies in the Cleveland-Pittsburgh corridor, the city of Buffalo and PLSG. The idea is to bring together leaders in the seven-state region, those who are already hard at work on similar initiatives, and get them on the same page.

RustBuilt takes its cue from the Brookings Institution’s John Austin, a non-resident senior fellow, who has written about the economic strengths and opportunities of the Great Lakes region as detailed in the BI report: The Vital Center, A Federal-State Compact to Renew the Great Lakes Region.

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but want to be able to reveal all the cool stuff that’s going on,” explains Kit Mueller, a seasoned tech entrepreneur and co-organizer of Pittsburgh Startup Weekend. “The more we celebrate ourselves, the better.”

Mueller is joined by Paul Burke, a managing partner of the local startup accelerator Thinktiv, Adam Kelson, an attorney, and Ellen Saxon, a CMU program administrator. Together they want to accomplish two things at first: amplify the region’s voice and convey its dynamic new economy and create a central clearinghouse where entrepreneurs can identify and share opportunities. Seed incubators is another idea that may be launched next year.

RustBuilt is currently in the process of discussing the initiative with regional economic entities, founders and funders in the startup space and others with like-minded propositions underway in the seven target states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, New York and Michigan. 

“The next step is to build content around it. People are already identifying that this is a worthy movement to join,” says Mueller.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Kit Mueller, RustBuilt

Who's hiring in Pittsburgh? Hopital Albert Schweitzer in Pittsburgh, The Aviary and more

Each week Pop City reports on the latest hiring news in Pittsburgh.

Hopital Alfred Schweitzer in Haiti/ Pittsburgh is looking for a Major Gifts Manager. This position is ideal for a fearless and passionate fundraiser who is committed to strategic fund development for nonprofits through traditional and new vehicles of fundraising. The accomplished candidate will work with donors at a national and international level for this respected healthcare hospital in Haiti.
The successful candidate should have five years as a successful gifts officer, a bachelor’s degree and advanced degree preferred, strong interpersonal skills, the ability to travel and more.

The Darpa Robotics Challenge team 'Tartan Rescue' of the National Robotics Engineering Center at CMU is hiring for a Senior Research Programmer position. NREC is developing a complex humanoid platform capable of performing various disaster response activities. The ideal candidate is a strong, self-motivated person who wants to work in a fast-paced environment and push forward state-of-the-art technology.

Celerity, as reported this week in Pop City, is expanding its Pittsburgh office and web team with the hiring of six, mostly software developers and web and mobile analysts. Most of the positions require a software engineering at least three to five years of experience.

The National Aviary is seeking a full-time grant writer who will assist in uncovering private funding sources for new and existing activities and operational needs. The idea candidate should have three years of demonstrable grant writing experience and will report to the Director of Development.

Pittsburgh startup FutureDerm is looking for a science and beauty blog writer and intern. Writers who are interested in learning more about the science behind  skin care, hair care and makeup are encouraged to apply. Writers may be compensated up to $15 per article depending on previous experience.

Have hiring news? Contact Pop City.

Writer: Deb Smit

Steel City Codefest is looking for a few competitive app developers. Sign up now!

Attention app developers! If camping out in the Google offices for two days to create a cool app that provides a civic service to the region piques your interest, this contest is for you.

The Steel City Codefest is challenging developers to take otherwise dry and hard-to-locate government data and turn it into something useful. Perhaps a pay-your-tax bill app? Better yet, a Public Works app for asap snow removal?

The only criteria is it must benefit Pittsburgh residents, governments or businesses.

The contest is the first event born of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s PowerUp Pittsburgh initiative. Early applications are of the essence. Due to space constraints, only the first 100 entrants will be accepted. The contest will kick off on Saturday, Feb. 23rd and close at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 24th and take place at the Google Pittsburgh offices at Bakery Square at 6425 Penn Ave.

Mayor Ravensthal, clearly up for reelection, wants to “create an opportunity for Pittsburgh’s best and brightest minds to connect and use their skills to create apps that are useful to city residents and organizations.”

Prior to the event, there will be a mixer with Mayor Luke. Participants will also be given access to government information on a city, county, state and federal level. Teams of one to six people will have 24 hours to create software applications and will be permitted to stay overnight in the Google Pittsburgh office.

Registration, which is now underway, is $10, which includes food and a tee.

Several winning teams will be selected based on the apps ability to address a clear community need, technical sophistication, user friendliness and artistic merit. Members of the winning teams will receive a Nexus 7 tablet.

Partners include the URA’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Google Pittsburgh, Bakery Square, the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Social and Urban Research, MAYA Design and Traffic 21.

Writer: Debra Smit
Source: The City of Pittsburgh

Birchmere Labs poised to fund two new Pittsburgh digital media startups

Birchmere Labs, the $10 million studio seed fund created by Birchmere Ventures to support digital media startups, plans to fund two Pittsburgh-based companies in the near future.
While the announcement is not yet official, Birchmere Partner Sean Sebastian confirmed that two local startups will be among the first to receive studio funding. 
One of the companies is a digital media technology developed by a professor at Carnegie Mellon. Sebastian declined to provide details on the second, but said both companies would be developed in house initially through Birchmere Lab.
“A CMU professor came to us with an interesting idea that has never been done, but he didn’t want to run the company,” says Sebastian. “We struck an agreement and plan to build a company from scratch around the idea.”
Birchmere Labs operates as a seed studio fund, a novel approach that allows Birchmere to fund established startups through seed monies and support and build new companies through the studio funding. 
“We saw all the internet, media and web 2.0 activity coming, which really didn’t fit into Birchmere IV,” says Sebastian. “It was like putting a square peg into a round hole.”
Birchmere Lab was formed with the help of Sean Ammirati, who joined as a principal partner last August. Ammirati has a national reputation in digital media and mobile technologies. He was formerly the COO of tech blog ReadWriteWeb (now ReadWrite) and CEO of mSpoke, which sold to LinkedIn in 2010.
Last August Birchmere announced a $40 million venture capital fund, Birchmere IV. The fund has invested in eight companies so far, two local companies among them. Uptown-based NoWait received $2 million and Ross Township-based The Resumator received $2.1 million. Both were Innovation Works’ Alpha Lab companies.
While Birchmere continues to invest in the best companies it can find, regardless of geographic location, the recent activity does suggest that local startups might have an advantage.
“While there’s no official edict, the closer we are to an earlier stage company, the less heavy lifting is required,” says Sebastian.
Writer: Debra Smit
Source: Sean Sebastian, Birchmere Ventures 

Astrobotic expanding to the Strip District, prepares to blast off

Astrobotic Technology, the CMU spinoff and a front runner in the Google Lunar X race to the moon, is breaking ground on a new headquarters in the Strip District.
The facility, to be located at the corner of Liberty and 25th streets, will give Astrobotic 3,600 square feet to consolidate its operations in one place, says Jason Calaiaro, CIO. The company is currently housed on CMU’s campus and in Oakland.
The new facility is key to the development of the company’s landers and rovers and to further plans for a mission to the moon in 2015. Plans also call for a crane, called a gravity offloader, which simulate Moon gravity for robots and assist in assembling spacecraft.
“This is a dream facility,” says Calairo. “The crane is an incredible piece of technology.  Imagine strapping yourself into a harness connected to a crane and having the experience of Moon gravity.  We're doing that for robots.”
Last October, Astrobotic unveiled a prototype lunar prospecting rover, Polaris, which will prospect for water, oxygen, methane and other life-supporting volatiles on the moon. 
The company has also won several NASA contracts that are helping to underwrite the mission to the moon and Google Lunar X Race. The Astrobotic-CMU mission, scheduled for October of 2015, is on schedule, says Calairo.
Of the 28 teams entered in the competition, three or four are considered serious contenders and have secured the funding needed to compete, says Calairo. The Astrobotic-CMU mission, which is under the wing of CMU’s Red Whittaker, CEO of Astrobotic, is considered a favorite to win. 
Astrobotic currently employs seven, with another 20 on the CMU side, and plans on hiring several in 2013.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Jason Calairo, Astrobotic Technologies

Pittsburgh Tech 50, and the winners are...

More than 600 people attended the 16th annual Pittsburgh Tech 50 Awards last Thursday, a celebration that marked the last 30 years and the transformation of Pittsburgh as a hub for thriving technology companies.
With music pumping and videos playing, the show celebrated the business leaders that helped lead the way, such as Dick Thornburgh, Tim Parks and Jerry McGinnis, to name a few. "They didn't see it as risk. They saw it as imperative," Audrey Russo intoned in the video. (Watch the 30 year history video.)

Rock star presenters sashayed on stage to the beat, some dancing or playing guitar.

Held at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown, the event also featured a Showcase of Innovation where nominees displayed their products and initiatives prior to the awards ceremony.
And the winners were: 
Advanced Manufacturer of the Year: Calgon Carbon Corporation
Innovator of the Year: Epiphany Solar Water Systems, LLC
Life Sciences Company of the Year: ERT, formerly invivodata, inc
New Media Company of the Year: TrueFit
Solution Provider of the Year: Summa Technologies
Start-Up of the Year: Branding Brand
Tech Titan of the Year: ANSYS, Inc.
CEO of the Year: Scott Pearson, Aquion Energy, Inc.
For a complete listing of all the finalists, click here.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Pittsburgh Technology Council

New Hazlett Theatre sets the stage for some of the hottest new tech startups in town

Some of the hottest new tech startups in the region were unveiled at the New Hazlett Theatre Thursday, tackling everything from learning the guitar online to autonomous boats that monitor water quality.
The companies included the current class of AlphaLab startups and technologies coming out of the region’s universities and the i6 Agile Innovation program.
In its fifth year, Alpha Lab has drawn entrepreneurs to the region from across the country and around the world, Rich Lunak, CEO of Innovation Works, told the more than 200 in attendance.
Going forward, several new programs are on the horizon, Lunak said. Alpha Law will provide legal assistance to entrepreneurs and startups. The Agile Hardware Design Center will be for hardware and manufacturing what AlphaLab is to software company development.
More on that later. In the meantime, check out some of the latest technologies that were rolled out:
Tunnessence draws on advanced studio processing technologies to provide personalized guitar lessons to aspiring musicians. The startup will charge a fee for online lessons.
Fitwits is a learning tool that is helping doctors to approach the delicate discussion around childhood obesity. The tool assists with in-office consultations with children and families during a well-child checkup.
Platypus is a autonomous robotic boat that motors on waterways with sensors that monitor the heath of local waters at a far lower cost than systems that require continuous human oversight.
My CE Manager streamlines and monitors the continuing education process required for all licensed individuals.
Other companies, many of which have been featured in recent issues of
Pop City, included FutureDerm, Aurochs (wheat-free beer), CollegeZen (former College People), treatspace, autoref, Neon, ExpressionBlast, Quant MD, and Panther Learning.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Innovation Works

Dynamics unveils world's first battery-powered credit card--get ready to rack up loyalty points

Pittsburgh-based Dynamics Inc., the mega-award-winning CMU startup founded by Jeff Mullen, unveiled its first credit card this week, a battery-operated system that promises to change the way consumers, banks and vendors use thin plastic.
Called the Dynamic ePlate Visa, the card can multi-task like no other, offering consumers applications that award loyalty points for dozens of perks, everything from travel to games, restaurant meals, groceries and charity donations.
The ePlate provides a revolutionary level of service as a credit card, explains Mullen, Dynamics CEO. Until now, banks have been unable to partner with certain companies and brands—such as seasonal products or artists—on loyalty awards. With ePlate, the consumer can select rewards, at the point-of-purchase, simply by flicking a lighted switch.
The card initially comes with 35 apps for travel, games, entertainment and retail, but many, many more will follow, says Mullen. The system awards points almost instantaneously.
“You can eat dinner and, by the time you get home, you could be watching that movie through that reward,” says Mullen. “That’s the power of the ePlay system.”
With each purchase, the reward data feeds into Dynamics’ data center ln Cheswick. Dynamics' has a nine-acre, 125,000 square-foot office, in a former torpedo factory and Westinghouse site.
“We are going to run out of room fast,” Mullen says.
The company currently employs 71 full-time and 20 part-time employees and plans continued hiring as applications are rolled out. The company is hiring extreme engineers, software developers, administrators, skilled labors and operators.
“ePlate’s integration into the payment systems is so fast the apps will be implemented before you can even put your card back in your wallet,” says Mullen.
The company has raised $40 million in venture funding to date, from Bain Capital Ventures in Boston and Adams Capital Management in Sewickley.
The story of Dynamics began back in 2007 when Mullen was attending the Tepper School of Business at CMU. Dynamics went on to win the $1 million DEMOgod prize as well as several other prestigious competitions.
Pittsburgh gaming company Evil Genius Designs is among the companies partnering with Dynamics. Evil Genius’ game Black Friday utilizes consumer approved purchase data to provide in-game bonuses and power ups to enhance and empower the guests' gaming experience through the Dynamics ePlate.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Jeff Mullen, Dynamics Inc.

Shopping for a new or used car? Autoref seals the deal online, no-haggling required

AutoRef, a car-buying referee, is streamlining the car deal, helping buyers to sidestep the frustration that goes along with negotiating the sale of a new or used car.

The idea was hatched in LA by Mike Pena after he suffered through a sale with his brother. Together with CMU student Todd Medema Autoref was born. The company, which got a boost from CMU's Project Olympus and Greenlighting Startups, is currently in Alpha Lab where a team of seven is poised to expand the service nationwide through more than 5,200 participating car dealerships.

While there is no obvious shortage of car-buying websites out there, none of them actually seals the deal, explains Michael Bailey of Autoref. The website not only gives buyers a no-obligation final offer, guaranteed for 72 hours, but offers financing through the dealership. 

And AutoRef is free. AutoRef customers report spending an average of 45 minutes at dealerships compared to three hours without the site, says Bailey. Customers who have purchased vehicles through the Autoref report saving an average of 11 percent off the sticker price. 

And dealerships and car salesman love it.

“One of the biggest annoyances in the car industry is to have a customer come in, shop around, test drive, and then leave and never come back,” says Bailey. “Salespeople work on commission. Often they’ll waste half their day and have nothing to show for it.”

Here's how it works. Buyers select the make and model of the car and provide their zip code. The site then offers a list of available vehicles at participating dealers in the region. Buyers can compare models, view a Carfax report, view images and ask questions. 

Selected cars then go into your “garage” and up to three cars may be submitted for an offer, with or without dealership financing. AutoRef currently isn’t able to negotiate with a trade-in, but that feature is coming soon, Bailey says.  

When offers are received, usually within a day, buyers have 72 hours to visit the dealers, test drive the cars and respond. In this writer’s experience, the prices on the new cars dropped at by at least $2000 while a used car, which was priced fairly to begin with, stayed the same. 

One of the keys behind the pricing is dealers have the ability to see what other dealers are offering on the same deal. Autoref receives a commission on every car sold.  

“Dealers are used to people coming in and saying ‘the guy down the street can give me a better price,’” says Bailey. “This way dealers can see exactly what the other dealers are offering.”

The company plans to expand significantly this fall and is looking for five to 15 people for its sales and tech team.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Michael Bailey, Autoref
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