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Entrepreneurs : Pittsburgh Innovates

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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

Wanna kick a habit? Ludo Mechanica puts a life coach in your pocket

Wanna kick an annoying habit? Meet your accountability partner.
University of Pittsburgh undergrad James Lomuscio is co-founder of Ludo Mechanica, an Oakland-based startup that is helping professional life coaches assist their clients in quitting unhealthy habits.
LM’s first Android product is called DropKicker, a text message delivery system designed to bring an end to unwanted, habitual behaviors. Dropkicker works as a mobile app, assisting coaches in keeping tabs on clients who want to stop behaviors like eating too many sweets. Or smoking. Or drinking soda.
While the technology is customized to an individual’s needs, it works through gentle (and often humorous) text messages sent throughout the day, missives that try to determine if temptation or denial is winning out. 
People are habitually driven to respond to a text message rather than a push notification, explains Lomuscio. “(A life coach) can’t call to check in on every client several times a day or during the week. DropKicker is an intermediary, a proxy coach.”
Lomuscio, a neurosciences major, has based the system on psychological studies of habit-forming behavior and the effectiveness of certain methods like going cold turkey. A soda junkie himself, he was approaching day 46 without a carbonated beverage during this interview.
As goals are met, the number of text messages may decline. Sneak a smoke, and your proxy coach will buzz you with plenty of feedback. Family and friends are an important part of one’s support team.
For example, turn off the technology during therapy and everyone you know and love will be notified.
“The important thing is to make sure the process feels like fun. We quantify achievement in a funny, fun way,” he says.
Ludo Mechanica has a team of six part-timers and works out of Idea Foundry on Craig Street.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: James Lomuscio, DropKicker

CMU news: Aura's bike lights for night riding and Astobotic's water-drilling moon rover

Industrial design majors Jonathan Ota and Ethan Frier, both avid bikers, understand the need for bikers to be more visable at night.
Studies show that 36% of all accidents occur at intersections, between the hours of 5 and 9 p.m., they say. So when they got a class assignment that asked them put their industrial design know-how to use, they came up with bike lights that can be seen on the road from almost any angle.
Called Aura (formerly Project Aura), the system uses LED lights, glowing white orbs that are rim-mounted to the bike to illuminate the wheels, alerting drivers and pedestrians to the presence of a moving vehicle.
Aura is a new way for cyclists to not only broadcast where they are, but convey how fast they are traveling, they explain. Unlike wheel tape or gimmicky products like lighted shoes, Aura is intended to make bikes pop out at night amid the urban chaos.
“The real innovation is the color changing aspect of the system,” says Ona, who regularly commutes to the Oakland campus. “It offers another level of information to drivers who can recognize more easily what a cyclist is doing.”
The LEDs illuminate red when the biker is moving slowly and white as a biker gains speed.
The pair are developing the prototype through CMU’s Project Olympus with help from a Student Undergraduate Research Grant (SURG) and support from CMU’s Greenlighting Startups. The plan is to raise money to take the design to the next level and commercialization.

In other CMU news, Astrobotic unveiled its prototype lunar rover, the solar-powered Polaris, yet another step in pursuit of the Google Lunar X $20 million prize. Polaris is equipped to search and drill for water on the Moon’s poles, in addition to other sources of potential energy.
This is the first lunar rover developed specifically to drill for water, a feature that was added as a result of scientific research that suggest that water exists on the moon in some form, says Red Whittaker, CEO of Astrobotic and director of the Field Robotics Center at CMU.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Jonathan Ona and Ethan Frier, Aura; CMU

Image of Jonathan Ona and Ethan Frier courtesy of CMU

Pittsburgh startup scene is a Thrill Mill. And then you Hustle (Den).

What began as a backyard BBQ to raise money for local startups has expanded into a new organization and incubator for entrepreneurs.
Thrill Mill was founded to build on the momentum of the first Pittsburgh Business Bout, a competition that awarded $5,000 last year to a young group of entrepreneurs who created an online legal notice search engine called FindNotice.  
This year’s Business Bout, currently underway, is upping the stakes with $25,000 in prize money for the best business plan. The winnings were made possibly through sponsors Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). Submissions are due Oct. 31st
Thrill Mill consists of an annual cycle that begins with a large-scale music festival – Baller BBQ – that will not only showcase national music talent, but local music, art, entertainment and business talent.  Revenues generated by the festival will be awarded to the winner of a Business Bout.

Lucky applicants in the Business Bout may then gain admission to an early stage business incubator, the Hustle Den, opening early in 2013, where entreprenuers will receive free office space, mentorship, programming and investor relationships, for one full year. 

“The security blanket of corporate America is not what it use to be,” explains Bobby Zappala, Thrill Mill CEO. “Startups will become more a part of mainstream growth and certainly this is happening in Pittsburgh. We have all the elements. We just need to encourage those in Pittsburgh to stay here.”
The 5,000 square-foot space was secured with the help of a $750,000 investment from an anonymous donor, says Luke Skurman, of College Prowler and an original founder of Business Bout.
“We want hungry entrepreneurs who are going to go for it,” says Skurman. “All industries are welcome.”
At the conclusion of the cycle, the Hustle Den participants will have an opportunity to pitch their businesses to investors at the next year’s BBQ, and the cycle continues says Skurman.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Bobby Zappala, Luke Skurman, Thrill Mill and Business Bout

GTECH's ReEnergize Pittsburgh is reducing the region's carbon footprint one house at a time

Pittsburgh nonprofit GTECH is rolling out a new public-private initiative it hopes will not only reduce residential waste but also improve air quality and create jobs in Allegheny County.
ReEnergize Pittsburgh is a collaboration of local organizations and nonprofits. The goal is to cultivate the potential of people and communities to do the right thing and support a greener economy and improve the health of their neighborhood.  
“Allegheny County stands to lead the nation in a self-initiated regional strategy to create jobs while improving public health conditions,” says Andrew Butcher, co-founder and CEO of GTECH. 
The initiative will target energy efficiency as a platform for community development, working at a grassroots level to build up community networks and educate homeowners on energy efficiency and the services available. 
The average homeowner spends $2300 annually on energy, explains Butcher. With an energy audit, that homeowner can save $500 a year. 
ReEnergize hopes to target 2000 homes in 20 communities, engaging some 5000 residents, in the pilot year with the goal of removing hundreds of tons of carbon from the environment.  
“All solutions are on the table,” Butcher says. “We’re looking at the best practices around the country; no one solution fits all. We believe actions beget actions. And these actions will yield an upward spiral of community action.” 
The program consists of a website and community outreach. ReEnergizepgh.org is a clearinghouse of local resources and services. An executive director will be hired, along with 16-20 paid ambassadors who will work to develop community networks and build partnerships with local businesses. 
“In order for the market to grow, and for demand to increase, the range of programs needs to be easily delivered to average resident,” explains Butcher. “It really does take a village to do all this stuff. “
More than 30 organizations are already on board: local utilities, governmental agencies, non-profit service providers, small businesses, education and training programs, foundations, and existing public-private collaborations such as the Pittsburgh Climate Initiative and the Breathe Project.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Andrew Butcher, GTECH

Aspinwall firm takes social media marketing to TV with 321Blink the Show

Social media continues to permeate every aspect of our lives. Now it's coming to us through our televisions.
Aspinwall-based 321Blink is launching a TV show this week that it believes will give businesses and nonprofits a boost in disseminating their social marketing messages.
The creative marketing company is producing 321Blink the Show, a 30-minute, hi-def program that will air weekly with a succession of two-minute segments that highlight local businesses and nonprofit organizations through interviews, clever dialogue and music.
The question is, will this be something a discerning viewer will want to watch?
Tripp Clarke and Tim McLaughlin, Pittsburgh entrepreneurs with experience in video and media, think so. The format promises to be interesting and will generate a buzz, they say, as the show is promoted across multiple social media platforms.
From a marketing perspective, businesses will get more mileage for their dollar from TV. They cite a study by the Wharton School of Business that reports that video improves comprehension and retention by 50% and speeds up buying decisions by 72%.

“Television delivered in an entertaining fashion, that’s well shot, in high definition, will have definite appeal,” says McLaughlin.

“The show is a driver to other platforms (like YouTube and Facebook),” adds Clarke. “Those platforms will then drive back to the show.”

321Blink the Show was inspired by the popularity of the Pittsburgh FYI Network of 20 years ago, a program that featured local businesses, says Clarke. Some of the first shows have an MTV meets Pittsburgh feel to them.

The show will air throughout Pennsylvania, beginning on Sept. 28th, on several TV channels including PCNC, Fox 53, and ABC affiliates.

Businesses can use the video as fresh content for their social marketing strategy, or 321Blink can manage it for them, says Clarke. Fresh content will help businesses to rank better in searches while driving web traffic and moving the message.

The company, founded in 2011, employs seven full-time and three part-time. 321Blink also encourages local filmmakers and musicians to contribute.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: 321Blink

Image of Tripp and Tim courtesy of 321Blink

Buy Pittsburgh First unites local industries and everyone wins

Buy Pittsburgh First is not something that will work everywhere, but it’s definitely working in Pittsburgh, says company founder Chantel Goldstrohm.
The Bridgeville-based firm started two years ago as a grassroots movement to entice local industrial businesses to examine their buying habits and support other local supply and service companies. Many want to buy local but don’t have the time or resources to do it, she says.
Goldstrohm grew up in Cecil and graduated from University of Pittsburgh. Her experience in sales and marketing, along with her husband’s work in the industrial sector, led her to realize that with the economic downturn, people in the industrial supply business might be inclined to support one another.
It was a completely new concept when we started, something that had never been done before, she says. “There were nights I couldn’t sleep. We were leading the charge in this realm.”
The success is in the return to local communities, she says. For every $100 spent with a company in Pennsylvania, $68 is recycled back to the community through expenditures, payroll taxes and more. When a company buys outside of the state, only $48 comes back to the region.
That extra $25 has the potential to become a huge source of cash flow to our schools, roads, parks and more. 
“Pittsburgh bleeds black and gold. I don’t know we could have gone anywhere else and gotten the support we have,” admits Goldstrohm. “It’s a win win all around.”
Buy Pittsburgh First employs five and is planning on hiring two in 2013.
The company will hold its first annual Buy Pittsburgh First Expo On Oct. 11th, a showcase of the region’s industrial supply, service and manufacturing companies.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Chantel Goldstrohm, Buy Pittsburgh First

Pittsburgh Craft, a magazine for the discerning beer drinker

As we all know, beer is among the things that Pittsburgh does well.
And now we have a regional magazine to go with it. Launched in 2010, Craft Pittsburgh is embracing the local craft beer industry in response to the resurgence of interest in craft brewing here, says founder and editor Tim Russell. 
Pittsburgh just wasn’t getting its due, he says.
“I want to enlighten everyone, bring in people on the fringe who are just beginning to discover craft beer,” explains Russell. “If people start drinking better beer, it will grow the industry and help everyone.”
Craft Pittsburgh is for connoisseurs to wanna-be better beer drinkers who are interested in following the business, or brewing a batch at home. Stories range from the several well-orchestrated events that happen around beer, including Steel City’s Big Pour and The Reverse Keg Ride, where an empty keg is returned to its neighborhood brewery with the help of more than 100 cyclists. (All in the name of charity, of course.)
The most recent issue (No. 7) relates the wonderful history of beer making in Pittsburgh. Did you know, for example, that long before President Obama was throwing back hotcakes at Pamela’s, President Roosevelt was swilling Duquesne Brewing Company’s “near beer” during prohibition?
There’s also the events and festival listings, cooking with beer, home brewing tips and regular installments from columnist The Drunk Yinzer.
The only problem is that  when the magazine comes out, about 10,000 copies a run, the free hard copies disappear fast. Fortunately, it's also available online.
Craft Pittsburgh officially became a profitable enterprise with the sixth issue, thanks to the support of local establishments and restaurants, says Russell.
“I hope it gets the craft beer community going, because I’d love Pittsburgh to become one of those cities like San Diego or Philadelphia (who are on the forefront of the craft beer movement),” he says. “But Pittsburgh is catching up.”
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Tim Russell, Craft Pittsburgh

Australian company Excel4apps opens office in Pittsburgh, hiring

Australian-based financial software company Excel4apps has opened an office in Pittsburgh and plans to expand here in the coming year.
The company was founded in 2003 in South Africa by two IT professionals who saw value in developing a user-friendly interface that integrates Microsoft Excel more effectively with Enterprise Resource Systems like Oracle and SAP. 
Excel4apps is a solution for those in the finance industry who are using Excel and work with Oracle and SAP, but want to simplify and streamline financial reporting, says Chris Meyer, managing director for the Americas. Meyer and his family moved to Pittsburgh from South Africa. 
The company’s flagship product, GL Wand, allows the end user to create their own formulas to extract information, Meyer explains. The tool is not only plug-and-play, but is highly efficient, secure and allows for the updating of information in real-time.
“We’re an Excel-based reporting tool that leverages the strength of Excel,” he adds.  “You don’t need to be a computer guru or programmer to use the tool.”
Over the last nine years, the company has realized about 30% in annual growth. Excel4apps moved its headquarters to Sydney, Australia in 2008 and has employees in several U.S. cities and offices in the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Australia, South Africa as well as Raleigh, N.C., and Pittsburgh. 
The local office, in the Summerfield Commons in Upper St. Clair, employs three and is the U.S. headquarters for marketing efforts.  The firm plans to hire another six to seven people in the coming year with SAP, IT, computer and finance experience for company support and training positions. Local clients include Industrial Scientific Corp. and Tetra Tech.
“The quality of life in Pittsburgh is what attracted us here,” says Meyer. “Pittsburgh is a strong, well educated workforce. From a hiring perspective, we can attract qualified resources here.” 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Chris Meyer, Excel4apps

Image of the Excel4apps team courtesy of Excel4apps

Pittsburgh designer launches a line of luxury leather bags handmade in Colombia

Beautiful leather tells its own story, Sandra Reiman explains. 

Reiman is the founder and designer of Sandra Cadavid, a Pittsburgh-based startup that is making handcrafted leather satchels, clutches and handbags inspired by the 500 year-old fortress city of Cartagena, Colombia.
Reiman lives in Squirrel Hill with her husband and two daughters, but a part of her has always been with her beloved homeland of Colombia where she was born and lived until the age of seven. 
Her interest in fashion began as a child when she would design concepts for luxury fashion products. Believing a career in the world of fashion to be a difficult and impractical undertaking, she worked at PNC for nine years. But her dream to design never waned.

With encouragement from her husband, and an MBA from Pitt's Katz School of Business, Sandra Cadavid was born.
All the handbags were designed in Pittsburgh and made by local artisans in Colombia, cut from custom-dyed alta gamma leather in shades of brown, black, cognac and white. She named two of the handbags for her daughters Sofia and Isabella.  
Reiman is surprised by how quickly the bags have been selling. After meeting several celebrity stylists and posting a few pictures on Facebook earlier this year, she received 200 orders. 
“Doors just started opening left and right and its been a whirlwind ever since,” says Reiman. “Friends kept sharing it with others and soon I was getting orders across the country. We haven’t had to do any marketing.”
The line will be sold in high-end boutiques across the country, as well as online on the website Boticca.com. The Asian market is next. 
Reiman also hopes to hire several people in product design and web development—with an emphasis on social media—who preferably speak Spanish, Mandarin, Hindi, Portuguese (Brazil) and French.
“I'm trying to build a global brand and feel strongly I can do that right here in Pittsburgh,” she says.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Sandra Reiman, Sandra Cadavid

Image of Sandra Reiman by Natalie Morris

CMU's Chris Harrison named a Top 35 Innovator Under 35 by MIT Review

CMU’s Chris Harrison, a creator of technologies that takes digital devices to unexpected places—like your forearm—was selected by MIT’s Technology Review as one of the world’s Top 35 Innovators Under 35.
Harrison has been finding new ways for humans to engage with technology for several years. In the beginning, there was Skinput, a project that challenged the way we use cellphones, allowing users to dial by tapping a projection of numbers on our skin or a table.
Then there's Lean and Zoom, a system that automatically adjusts the magnification of a computer monitor based on the distance you sit from the screen. This idea has already been commercialized by CMU’s QoLT Foundry.
Touché is a sensing technique Harrison helped to develop as part of a team at Disney Research, Pittsburgh, that enables objects to sense how they are being touched.

“I’m pretty stoked and honored,” says Harrison, who recently returned from a six-week honeymoon in Tanzania. “It’s one of the top awards young scientists can receive early in their careers. It’s a huge honor, as good as it gets.”

Harrison, 28, is a native of England and Ph.D. student in CMU's Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII). The idea is to take everyday devices—a computer mouse or a keyboard—and give it a nuance that makes it easier and more convenient to use, he says.
Harrison sees a future where desktops will become dinosaurs and play a waning role in everyday life. Mobile technologies will be found everywhere, from the workplace and hospitals to our kitchen appliances.

“The big high level tagline is empowering people to interact with small devices in big ways,” he says.
The list of the illustrious 35 was selected by a panel of experts and the editorial staff of Technology Review based on a evaluation of more than 250 nominations. The 35 winners for 2012 will be featured in the September/October issue of Technology Review.
Harrison will join other TR35 honorees in discussing their achievements at the EmTech MIT 2012 conference, at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge Oct. 24-26.

 Writer: Debra Smit
Source: Chris Harrison, CMU

What's next for Yinztagram? The Pittsburgh parking chair perhaps?

Unless you’ve been under a wireless rock for the past week, you’ve probably snapped multiple  pictures of yourself and friends heaving giant Primanti sandwiches over your head--or juggling Rick Sebak’s (like Mitt Romney).
The opportunities to add local color to your life are endless with Yinztagram.
“I really didn't see it becoming as popular as it has become, I thought it would remain an inside joke,” admits Colin Miller who created the app with Deeplocal colleague Matthew Pegula based on a funny idea suggested by friend Drew at Commonplace Coffee. “It’s nice to see that the community has a sense of humor when it comes to the Pittsburgh culture.”
Based on the reactions of friends to the beta version, I knew people would love it but didn't think it would be spread beyond my immediate friends, says Pegula.
The photo app that allows users to juxtapose iconic local images—from Green Belt signs to our own golden arches—on top of personal snapshots has taken Twitter and Facebook by storm. (See the best of pics in this weeks Buzz section.) The Primanti’s sandwich, in particular, has found its way into some rather hilarious situations.
Miller and Pegula sat they've enjoyed their 15 minutes of fame. Stay tuned. The duo has been taking requests and additional photo ops are in progress. Not wanting to give away too much, they revealed the possibility of the classic Pittsburgh parking chair, or perhaps an angle on the Fort Pitt Tunnel.
"We hope to release a version that lets us easily push out new content without having to go through the Apple review process,” Pegula says. “We’ve gotten lots of suggestions and additions and are always looking for more.”

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Colin Miller and Matt Pegula, Deeplocal

Image of Colin and Rick courtesy Deeplocal

Is natural always better? FutureDerm offers smart advice and products on skin care

FutureDerm is banking on intelligent women to take a more scientific approach to their cosmetic purchases. 
Founded by Pitt graduate Nicki Zevola, the startup is two-fold: an online beauty product database that offers recommendations on a wide range of products, everything from boar-bristle hairbrushes to the latest in wrinkle creams. Zevola is also creating her own line of cosmetics that will be sold both online and to spas and salons across the country.
“No one is targeting smart women in the beauty field,” says Zevola, whose company is among the current class of Alpha Lab startups on the South Side. “I want to be the smart voice in the beauty sphere. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it's safer or more effective.” 
Zevola isn’t shy about her aspirations to become the next Estee Lauder. A scientist and researcher in her own right, she believes that the best products stand up to scientific scrutiny. She also hopes to price her products reasonably below what similar products may cost. 
Born in South Korea, Zevola grew up in Baldwin and graduated in 2008 from the University of Pittsburgh with degrees in Biological Sciences, Physics/Astronomy, and a minor in Chemistry from the B.S./M.D. program. She has received numerous research fellowships and awards, including one with the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Institute.
FutureDerm is not about “reinventing the wheel,” she says, but giving consumers the information and science they need to make informed choices about the products they buy. The company launched its first product this summer, a microencapsulated, time-released 0.5% retinol moisturizer. 
A second product will roll out later this fall, a vitamin C and E serum. The product is highly stable because it is dispensed through a single dose pump which prevents it from oxidizing, she says. 
Social media and blogging have proved key in the marketing of the products and education of her clients, she says. The blog, which gets about 200,000 hits a month, was highlighted in Shape magazine.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Nicki Zevola, FutureDerm

Thorley Industries rolls out The Breeze, the play yard that assembles itself; makes Inc 5000 again

Bringing up baby seems to get easier every day, thanks to advances in mechanical technology. But this one takes infant gear to a new level of ease.
Pittsburgh-based Thorley Industries, also known as 4Moms, is rolling out a robotic, one-touch portable crib that pops open without breaking a sweat. If you’ve ever tried this at home with the older technology, you know that getting a portable crib to stand can be as confounding a Rubik’s Cube. 
You know the joke, how many parents does it take to open a pack-and-play? All of them.
Dubbed “The Breeze,” Thorley’s latest entry on the baby gear market is as pretty to watch in action as their earlier products, the power-folding Origami stroller and the gently swaying mamaRoo. It also comes with a removable bassinet and a portable changing bag.
Thorley has raised $20 million led by Boston-based Bain Capital, the private investment firm founded by presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, to expand company product development, invest in supply chain and logistics and initiate global expansion, says Thorley.
With headquarters in the Strip District, Thorley employs 52 and sells its product in retail stores across the country as well as 23 countries overseas. The company recently made the Inc 5000 list at #743 and was listed at #55 in the Consumer Products and Services category.
Watch it.

Writer: Debra Smit
Source: Emily Cappo, Thorley Industries

President Obama's plan to jumpstart the nation's manufacturing sector starts here

What will the creation of a TechBelt Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute mean for Southwestern Pennsylvania and the surrounding region? 
Plenty. It will not only create a national model for the latest in manufacturing technologies, it has the potential to reinvigorate the local economy, bring federal resources to the region, create well-paying jobs and support local workforce development.

Last week the Obama Administration announced the creation of a new public-private institute, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII), to be located in Youngstown, Ohio. 
The institute represents a major win for the region and represents years of groundwork laid by the TechBelt Initiative, a multi-state organization that has been working to reinvigorate the regional economy through technology-based opportunities. 

This is about accelerating product development and making manufacturing firms more efficient in a global economy, says DeWitt Peart, co-chair of the TechBelt Initiative representing the Allegheny Conference.
 “This is our most significant win and why the tech belt was formed, to bring more federal resources into this mega region,” he says.
Selected through a competitive process, the award comes with $30 million in federal funding that will be matched by $40 million from a local consortium of businesses, universities, community colleges and nonprofits organizations from the TechBelt region of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
“Our proposal’s demonstration of an existing collaborative effort via the TechBelt Initiative is what set us apart from all of the other proposals in the nation,” says Gary Fedder, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University.  “This institute will become a blueprint for how these institutes should be organized and run.”

Fedder is a member of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, a group formed by President Obama several years ago and charged with exploring ways to stem the loss of manufacturing jobs in the country, support innovation and safeguard national security.   

Obama’s plan calls for establishing a national network of 15 manufacturing innovation institutes (NNMI) around the country that will serve as regional hubs of manufacturing excellence and encourage more investment. Close proximity to colleges and universities, centers of innovation, is key to the plan. 
The funding will support the innovation infrastructure needed to establish additive manufacturing technology throughout the region. Often called 3D printing, additive manufacturing creates components using digital blueprints, and involves a process of layering thin layers of materials on top of each other, a more energy efficient process. 
The process is widely used for making goods composed of plastics, polymers and metals for the defense, aerospace, automotive and metals industries.    
“This demonstrates that putting the parts together is greater than the whole,” says Peart. “That everyone is willing to share in this is the wave of the future.”
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: DeWitt Peart, TechBelt Initiative; Gary Fedder, CMU
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