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Friendship & Penn Ave Arts District : Innovation & Startups

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Iontank: Bringing the imagination to life through interactive technology

Iontank, a specialized design studio based in Friendship that develops custom-built interactive hardware and software solutions for just about anything you can imagine, is looking to grow. In fact if you're a technically minded artist or a creative coder, Iontank might just be the place for you. A typical day at the office might include tossing around ideas involving “giant robots, fire and lasers,” says Rob de la Cretaz, technical director.

"Due to the nature of our business, growth is a weird thing," says de la Cretaz, who joined the company two years ago when there were just three employees. Now there are five and while the company is looking to expand, they want to be smart about how they are doing it, keeping the dynamism of their business in mind.

Iontank devises imaginative concepts and guides clients around the country through the prototyping process and into production. Director Stephen Streibig founded Iontank in 2001. Today, the crew includes disciplined techs and artists that boast a complete mastery of pixels, hammer drills and soldering irons.
“Pittsburgh is where we have chosen to live because we love the collaborative spirit of the creative folks that live here,” says de la Cretaz. “We are always open to collaborating with local artists and entities. We have an extensive war chest of technical toys and we don’t mind sharing.”
While the sky is the limit, much of Iontank’s work revolves around remarkable projects that leave jaws agape via installations, events and the trade show industry. For example, Iontank collaborated on the world’s first audience-driven interactive fireworks display alongside fireworks giant Pyrotecnico and VICE’s electronic music and culture channel THUMP. Commissioned to celebrate the launch of Samsung’s Galaxy S4 on Manhattan’s Pier 84, the project has been called a game-changer in the pyrotechnic industry.
Iontank built a phone app that integrated seamlessly to a pyrotechnics firing board and allowed hundreds of participants to customize and view the launch of actual fireworks at the touch of the screen.
“Seeing the looks on peoples’ faces when they realize they just fired a real firework made for an incredible project,” says de la Cretaz.
“The whole process was very collaborative and could never have happened in such a crazy time frame without the support of the experienced techs and logistics personnel at Pyrotecnico. . . We are used to working under pressure and know how to plan for all kinds of contingencies, but there is nothing quite like having huge batteries of live fireworks on the other end of your mouse,” says de la Cretaz. “Click and bang.”
Though Iontank can’t disclose specifics about current projects in the works, de la Cretaz says the team is building off the momentum of the interactive fireworks project and buzzing with ideas to harness the energy of a crowd to create exciting experiences.
“The concept of allowing a large group of people control their entertainment through innovative means instead of simply subjecting them to a predetermined composition is a very exciting prospect for us,” says de la Cretaz. “We are in the process of developing several prototypes to explore this territory.”
He describes his dream project as one that involves a client who is open to new and exciting ideas, a realistic budget and the shared understanding that amazing experiences normally take longer than four weeks to pull off.
“We’re always curious and hungry to develop new experiences,” says de la Cretaz. “There’s no doubt that there’s a healthy cross-pollination taking place between the worlds of advertising, architecture, design and digital artistry. We look forward to pushing those boundaries even further and to shaping a wondrous and unexpected future.”

Looking good Pittsburgh. PittsburghTODAY report highlights the state of the region

PittsburghTODAY released its 2013 Today & Tomorrow report and the news across many sectors is enlightening.
With the economic recovery still underway in much of the country, Pittsburgh is the only benchmark region out of 15 that has experienced job growth and housing price appreciation. In addition, the labor force is at an all-time high and young people are returning and staying in the region.
Southwestern Pennsylvania continues to be one of the most affordable places for moderate-income families to live. A Brookings Institution study says so too, listing Pittsburgh as one of three cities in the U.S. to have recovered from the deep recession that began in 2007.
The region, however, has work to do in several areas, including transportation, the environment and issues pertaining to diversity, particularly in helping African Americans in the region to achieve the same quality of life as whites.
Among the highlights:
Population: It has been official but bares repeating: the region is attaining and attracting young talent. The region’s population of 20- to 34- year-olds grew by 7% over the last five years and is expected to grow another 8% in 2020. Three decades earlier the region was losing more than 50,000 people than it was attracting, mostly young adults.
Jobs: Jobs grew by a non-seasonably adjusted 1.7 percent in the seven-county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) from November 2007 to November 2012. Certainly not robust, but it was better than any of the Pittsburgh TODAY benchmark regions. Pittsburgh was the only region to post job growth over that period.
Tourism: Visitors to Southwestern Pennsylvania pumped $8.1 billion into the local economy in lodging, recreation, retail, food and beverage, transportation and other spending during 2011,the latest year the full data was reported. This is a 9.6% increase over 2010.

Housing: Pittsburgh was the only region in which the 5-year housing prices rose from 2007-2012.
Environment: While fine particle pollution is slowly decreasing, and met federal air quality standards for the first time in 2011 since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, smog and sewage spills and the health of our rivers remains an issue.
Fracking: Across the region, a survey shows that far more residents are convinced of the economic potential of the Marcellus Shale gas industry than are against drilling for it. More than 70% of those surveyed believe that gas drilling is boosting the local economy.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: PittsburghTODAY

An app for those nasty potholes; Deeplocal sells transit app RouteShout

Just in time for the spring thaw comes a new weapon against  Pittsburgh potholes, a smartphone app that tracks their location and subtly takes the city to task for leaving them unattended over time.

Carnegie Mellon University's RODAS Project--that's Road Damage Assessment System--gives GPS-linked smartphone users the tools to snap pictures of potholes and upload them on Facebook. The photos are then automatically tagged on an online map, marked by bright red dots, creating a virtual overview of potholes to alert officials (and drivers) where the potholes are.

The project, started last summer, was the original idea of Chilean Heinz grad Veronica Acha-Alvarez and inspired by a similar successful project in Chile. The Chilean app offers contests, (subtly timed with local elections) to identify the largest potholes.

"We are creating a secure, independent source of information about potholes that can be used to alert government agencies and to monitor their response," says Robert Strauss, professor of economics and public policy in the H. John Heinz III College.

Widespread publicity this week drove more than 800 hits to the site in one day, he adds.

Involving the community in identifying and monitoring the pothole problem is the primary goal of the project. The team also is considering other ways citizens may assist, including an adopt-a-pothole program that gets the community more involved with repairs.

"Kind of like a  pet rock," says Stauss.

"PennDOT found it interesting," he adds. "This new public database is a new tool people can use to monitor what road crews are doing and to judge the efficiency of government."

In other app news, Deeplocal's award-winning transit technology, RouteShout, was acquired by Atlanta-based RouteMatch Software Inc., developers of traveler information systems. Financial terms were not disclosed.

RouteShout, which marks the first sale of a Deeplocal asset, allows riders to access up-to-the-second transit arrival times from their mobile phones. It will provide the "missing link" of real-time arrival data needed for intelligent transit systems, says Tim Quinn of RouteMatch.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Robert Strauss, CMU; Deeplocal

Sprout Fund supports 20 new biodiversity projects with $190,000; PLSG on the move

Good news for the region's biodiversity and life sciences industry.

PLSG received $500,000 in funding that will help to establish a life sciences campus on the South Side at the River Park Commons Business Center.

The funding comes from a Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant from the state. The new campus will provide space for four to six wet-labs in addition to the existing 9,000 square feet of life sciences labs. PLSG will also move its office to the campus.

"The demand for this campus is significant as an increasing number of new biotechnology companies are being launched throughout the nation, and geographic clusters to house these new, start-up companies are highly competitive," said John W. Manzetti, President and CEO.

In other news, 20 biodiversity projects received $190,000 this week as part of a new initiative to support the stewardship of Southwestern Pennsylvania's natural resources.

The Sprout Fund and The Pittsburgh Foundation hope to jumpstart community-based biodiversity projects in the region through the Spring Program. The funded projects were selected from among 75 applications, says Dustin Stiver of The Sprout Fund.

"These projects offer an exciting array of innovative solutions to the many environmental challenges we face," says Stiver. "With diverse objectives and creative approaches, they give promise that the biodiversity of our resource-rich region can be preserved and enhanced for generations to come."

Six biodiversity projects received $20,000 awards including:

BioShelter and Food Systems Center at the Garfield Community Farm, where a permanent bioshelter will extend the farm's growing season and offer educational opportunities to the nearby elementary school;

Green Roofs for Bus Shelters in East Liberty, introducing flora and fauna into the urban environment through a living green roof on Penn Avenue;

Heritage Seed Bank and Nursery for seed banks and educational opportunities in the preservation of native heritage or heirloom edible plants;

Native Appalachian Garden, part of Pittsburgh Botanical Garden, cultivating woodland species of the region;

And Take a Hike: Backyard Biodiversity for a traveling presentation that will lead elementary school children on an exploration of the Earth's biomes at the Carnegie Science Center.

The other 14 recipients receiving $5,000 awards are include outdoor classrooms for children, ecological gardens, artificial chimney habitats for neotropical migrant birds, rain gardens in schoolyards with the help of Nine Mile Run Watershed Assoc. and native plant restoration projects.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: PLSG, Dustin Stiver, The Sprout Fund

Innovation Works’ latest AlphaLab a powerhouse of online startups

Innovation Works’ welcomed its third wave of AlphaLab  startups this month,  a powerhouse group that has raised the bar and attracted entrepreneurs from across the country.

“We are very excited about the potential of this new AlphaLab class,” says Jim Jen, director. “Many of them have already made significant progress on developing their products and they have hit the ground running to build their businesses. The high quality of this group demonstrates the continued momentum of the AlphaLab program.”

A national model for accelerating the growth of next generation software, entertainment and online technology companies, AlphaLab's six startups are well on their way to commercial success.  

Fooala helps restaurants to create their own online Web sites with applications that offer access to the menu, prices, reservations and delivery options. Fooala started with Carnegie Mellon’s Project Olympus and includes members from Duke University.

GearHeadz, which plans to go by trade name CloudFab, helps to sell the idle time of digital manufacturing equipment. As founder and CEO Nick Pinkston explains, an engineer that needs a part for a prototype would call GearHeadz, which collects the specs and searches for the best price.

“We’re creating novel parts that don’t exist,” says Pinkston. The service provides obscure pieces that could be used in everything from medical device prototypes, hobbiest projects, race car equipment and fake teeth.

LeftRight Studios is creating unique mobile games exclusively for the iPhone. The first title, smackBOTS, is an arcade style robot fighting game that will include a customization feature to add weapons, armors and robot heads. Half the team moved to Pittsburgh to take part. The game is available now, click here.

NavPrescience is developing an advanced navigation device that predicts a driver’s route and, unlike other tech out there, helps to avoid unanticipated hazards. The startup is a Quality of Life Technology Foundry spinoff from Carnegie Mellon.

Vivo is a web-based video broadcasting service that provides users with a private, customizable environment for sharing events. Vivo was instrumental in the simulcast of two recent CEO for Cities events in Pittsburgh (for the Pop City story, click here) and has consulted with Pittsburgh City Council about telecasting meetings life.

Zipano Technologies empowers users of social networking sites and other information sharing services to better control and manage their personal information. The platform offers the user options on privacy preferences and enables the user to monitor with whom his information is shared.

To receive Pop City each week, click here.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Terri Glueck, Jim Jen, Innovation Works; Nick Pinkston, GearHeadz

Image courtesy of Innovation Works

Pittsburgh aspires to be the most tech-savvy city in the country

The e-democracy race is on and if Councilman Bill Peduto has his way, Pittsburgh will blow the door of city government wide open and leave cities like Boston in the dust.

Peduto invited several Pittsburgh-based tech companies to City Hall this month to discuss using a mix of homegrown technologies to promote a unique blend of tools that would help constituents to better track goings on.

Among those who came to the table were online social political network MyGov365, searchable video data company Panopto Inc, web-based broadcaster Vivo and the Carnegie Mellon developer of YinzCam technology, which allows mobile phone users to watch replays of Penguins action inside the arena.

This is just the beginning, says Peduto. The discussion won’t be limited to these companies.

“Pittsburgh can be a model of e-democracy for the world. We want Pittsburgh (government) to not only be on the forefront, but to offer leverage to our own Pittsburgh-based companies to use the city as a test market to sell their products worldwide.”

Pittsburgh has $52,000 to webcast council meetings, which should be enough to cover the webcast and more, Peduto says. The city plans to award a contract to begin providing webcasts and searchable video by the end of this month.

Other proposed initiatives include an iPhone application for city government, a searchable database of all council votes and records offered by MyGov365 and offering online access to community meetings.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Councilman Bill Peduto, City of Pittsburgh

Image courtesy Councilman Bill Peduto

Getting ready for the G-20 Summit--weigh in now!

When leaders of the world’s most important emerging-market countries come to Pittsburgh this fall, what will they need, see and experience?

Suggestions poured in this past week during three public brainstorming sessions. Not able to attend?  Share your ideas and sign up for potential volunteer opportunities at the Pittsburgh G-20 Partnership Web site by clicking here.

“We’ve gotten some really great ideas, things we hadn’t thought of,” reports Kevin Evanto of Allegheny County. “Many say they want the city to gleam, a display of flags of all the nations, to welcome people in their native language.”

One gentleman suggested inviting illusionists to walk the streets because no one needs a translator to understand the language of magic.

Other thoughts? Pittsburgh must live up to its green image with sustainable opportunities and recycling offered everywhere, at hotels, on the streets, in parks. Stage a special light-up or festival of lights, get the ethnic communities involved, improve signage and enlist university and high school students to volunteer.

“We’re still waiting to hear from the White House on many issues, but we want to be as prepared as possible so when we get direction, we can act,” Evanto adds. “We want to be in a position to respond to the White House right away.”

The county plans to create an online media center so when 3,000 reporters descend, they will find a Web site filled with story ideas and local opportunities.

To receive Pop City free each week, click here.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Kevin Evanto, Allegheny County

Marcellus Shale: drillers move in, environmentalists rally for tax and habitat relief

The largest gas deposit in North America, a reservoir lodged in rock 6,000 feet under the ground, is luring big gas drillers from around the world to our region.

It’s also causing concern among environmental groups across the state.

Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas recently opened a regional office in Pittsburgh to better position the company for Marcellus Shale business, a deposit that spans four states and may contain 50 trillion cubic feet in natural gas estimated at $1 trillion. 

Pittsburgh is the firm's new North Region office; the company’s offices in Charleston, W.Va. and Denver, Colo. will close by the end of the summer and more than half of the impacted staff will move to Pittsburgh, according to the company.

Environmental concerns about the drilling have prompted local groups to rally for a state severance tax on the drillers, money they believe should go to restore and preserve local habitats and urban streams, such as the restored Nine Mile Run Watershed in the East End.

In addition to the tax, PennFuture and others want to place a portion of the funds in the state's Environmental Stewardship Fund, which would reinvest in parks, habitats, waterways and open spaces.

The Marcellus Shale gas deposit runs from upstate New York, across most of Pennsylvania and into West Virginia and eastern Ohio. Most states charge drillers a small tax in exchange for extraction rights.  Pennsylvania should do the same, say tax supporters.

If approved, the tax could generate more than $100 million next year and $600 million by 2013, says Joylette Portlock, Western Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture.

PA Republican senate leaders are against the tax. Now is the time to contact legislators before the drilling is well established, Portlock told an assembled group at East Liberty Presbyterian Church last week.

“There are tremendous environmental impacts of drilling on the local economy,” added Hannah Hardy of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. “This is the best way to ensure that there will be benefits to our community.”

To join PennFuture in support of the severance tax, click here.

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Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Joylette Portlock, PennFuture

Image courtesy flickr.com

Internships galore, find them and get 'em here

Looking for that perfect intern or internship? The Regional Internship Center of Southwestern Pennsylvania is an indispensable resource.

RIC is an online, local clearinghouse for internships in the region, connecting talented and eager college students with businesses, explains Regina Anderson, director of RIC.

This month the center launched a new streamlined Web site with a complete listing of available jobs-in-training, including resume help and networking suggestions. The site serves as a one-click location where students can connect with opportunities and businesses can recruit talent.

RIC also plans to expand its reach in the next several months to include other parts of the state.

“We’re very unique in terms of the kind of support we provide,” she says. “We directly address the brain drain by helping to attract and retain talent in the region.”

It’s not too late to find work for the summer, notes Anderson. While RIC currently lists internships for the fall, openings are posted on a year-round basis.

More than 400 students participate in the RIC summer program each year. In today’s job market, a student can’t have too many internships, she adds. Those who take advantage of multiple opportunities have an advantage over student job-seekers who’ve only done one internship during their college career.

The cost to participate is $50, but many companies agree to cover the fee.
The RIC is supported by 70 educational institutions in the region and is a program of Coro Pittsburgh. The program is sponsored by the Alcoa and Benedum foundations as well as The Heinz Endowments.

To receive Pop City free each week, click here.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Regina Anderson, RIC

Image courtesy Coro Pittsburgh

Fill ‘er up—Howard Hanna jumps on board the Delta non-stop to Paris

The Howard Hanna Company has stepped up support for the non-stop Delta flight from Pittsburgh to Paris with the purchase of more than 100 reservations for company employees.

For the past 20 years, the real estate Hannas and Hanna Travel have rewarded their sales agents with incentives, three levels of trips they can earn based on their annual production. Top sellers will receive a trip to Paris aboard the Delta non-stop, five nights and six days during March of 2010.

“I feel it is imperative we all support our new service from Delta to make sure we retain a valuable airport here to encourage local businesses to grow within the region,” says Helen Hanna Casey, president of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services.  “We want to make it easy for people from everywhere to be able to get here easily!”

The Allegheny Conference has pledged more than $4 million to Delta through the year 2012 in support of the direct flight, should revenue fall short.

“Nonstop air service sends a clear message to the world: The Pittsburgh region is open for bilateral business and foreign direct investment,” says Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

“Regional businesses can now efficiently connect with their global clients, and it’s equally efficient for those abroad looking to do business or invest here to connect with us. Using the service is the only way to ensure that our region doesn’t lose a critical business advantage.”

To receive Pop City free each week, click here.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Helen Casey Hanna, Howard Hanna; Dennis Yablonsky, Allegheny Conference

Image courtesy flickr.com

Call us Green County, Car Free Fridays and other sustainable news

Allegheny County will use $8.1 million in federal stimulus funding to conduct energy audits of county municipal buildings and offer energy-saving upgrades to County-owned municipal facilities.

Duquesne Light will partner with the county on the audits, which will include a review of lighting systems, heating and air conditioning, computer systems and the overall thermal envelope. About $2 million will be spent on the upgrades; eligibility will be based on the percentage of low and moderate income population in each municipality.

Another $5.8 million will be spent on conservation projects at the Courthouse, County Office Building, Jail, Shuman Center and Kane Regional Centers. The reduced energy consumption should save taxpayers an estimated $500,000 annually, the county says.

Allegheny County has also hired Jeaneen Zappa as the region’s first sustainability manager. Zappa will work with County departments and the Green Action Team to identify ways to improve the region’s ecological footprint.

The greening of the county “will result in significant energy conservation projects in local government facilities throughout Allegheny County, which will translate into savings for taxpayers and jobs for local workers,” says County Executive Dan Onorato.

In other green news, BikePGH hopes to clean the local air this summer by expanding its Bike to Work Day to an every week event. Car Free Fridays will start on June 12, a city-wide initiative to encourage commuters to leave their cars at home once a week and walk, bike or take public transportation. The event is sponsored by Port Authority and Mullen.

And Pittsburgh’s first green concert series is back, bigger and better than ever. The free, outdoor Solar Concert Series will feature 13 shows powered by a solar-energy sound system. For concert information, click here.

To receive Pop City free each week, click here.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Dan Onorato, Kevin Lane, Allegheny County; Bike Pittsburgh

National program turns Pittsburgh high school students into entrepreneurs

If Bob Fragrasso had his way, all high school students would graduate with strong entrepreneurial skills.

We need to help students learn critical thinking in a way that teaches them to care and engage in the business world, says Fragrasso, president of Fragrasso Financial Advisors, one of several underwriters of the 2009 George W. Tippins’ Regional Youth Entrepreneur Business Competition that wrapped up this month.  

“It’s a tangible program that brings together math, critical thinking and human relations. Not every student will turn into Bill Gates, but every student is touched,” he adds. “It makes them more incisive about who they are and where they are going. I’d like to see the entire school system go this way.”

Fragrasso is one of three dozen local business leaders who participated in the competition, which is in its third year. The event,sponsored by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), provides entrepreneurship education opportunities to young students from low-income communities.

Since 1995, NFTE has served more than 6,000 students at private, public and charter high schools around the region. Twenty-one finalists presented their business plans in May for innovative companies and products. Three finalist were selected: 

First place, $2000 winner Lana Baslan is a graduating senior at Allerdice. Baslan is founder and CEO of Tres, a Arabic, Spanish and French translation service for her east area community.

Second place: Tressa Nemcik, a graduating senior from McKeesport High School, the CEO of Just Baby It!, a custom design business for infant “onesies.”

Third place: Amber Key, a freshman at Pittsburgh CAPA High School, CEO of Birdhouse Greeting Cards, a custom greeting cards business targeted toward teens.

Baslan and Nemcik will compete in the NFTE National Competition this October in New York City.

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Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Bob Fragrasso, Fragrasso Financial Advisors; Jerry Cozewith, NFTE

Image courtesy NFTE
From left to right: Tressa Nemcik, Amber Key, Lana Baslan and middle school winner Michael Vaughn of Cardinal Wright Regional School. 

Get your game on with deeplocal’s Pickupalooza

On blue summer days when there seems to be no one around to play, Pickupalooza.com is your friend.

Deeplocal has developed a new Web site that matches people and sports and locations around Pittsburgh. Simply go online, pick a game—tennis, soccer, basketball, whatever— that matches your interest, schedule or location and teammates materialize instantly.

Better yet, organize your own game.

“It’s about getting out there, meeting new people in the city and having fun,” explains Heather Estes, director of product evolution. “It’s often hard to meet people with the same interest through the bar and club scene. Everyone wants to play tennis, go for a bike ride or play a sports game. Pickupalooza is a perfect solution.”

The site is generating lots of playing interest, says Estes, who played soccer with 16 Pickupaloozas at Schenley Park on a recent weekend. Friends can send the participation link to friends and post it on Facebook or Twitter. If clouds roll in, players receive alerts on game changes and cancellations.

The most popular games are flag football, soccer and tennis so far, but a move is underway to add board games, tai chi, even Ultimate Frisbee. Players don’t need to register, but those who do create a profile with a game history, upcoming games and neighborhoods where you played.

“We want to connect with different organizations in the city, like sports leagues and city parks, and pass the word around,” says Estes. “We want everyone to know we exist.”

To receive Pop City free each week, click here.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Heather Estes, deeplocal

Image courtesy Deep Local

Pittsburgh’s Technology Collaborative funds nine companies $1.5 M

The Technology Collaborative, the Pittsburgh-based economic development organization that supports the growth of world-class robotics, cyber-security and digital technology, has awarded $1.5 million to nine companies and one Carnegie Mellon University project.

Eight are Pittsburgh-based and two are Philadelphia-based companies. All the projects are underway and will be completed by 2010.

“We received a record number of proposals which is indicative of the funding challenges faced by early stage companies across the country,” says David Ruppersberger, president and CEO of TTC. “The good news is that this particular group of awardees looks very promising in terms of their potential commercial success and economic impact on the region.”

The funded local companies include:

Acutronic USA and Virtus Advanced Sensors who submitted a join proposal to test and develop technology for the next generation MEMS intertial sensors based on Virtus’ proprietary technology. (For the Pop City story, click here.)

Bossa Nova Concepts, Oakland-based designers of robotic toys and games for young children, to further develop and test robots that complement characters in a virtual world.

Gradient Labs, pioneers of an approach called Spatial Computing and developers of a suite of products for several industries. A new Facebook application will offer enhanced media management, viewing and sharing to Facebook users.

HyperActive Technologies Inc., provider of restaurant automation solutions that detect and track vehicles arriving to the site, to develop a project to create and test a new platform.

Interbots LLC, developers of emotionally expressive robotic toys for children, to develop new product software.

MobileFusion will further develop its SmartFusion platform, a defense tool that locates people, cars and chemical plumes, allowing users to make real-time decisions.

Silicon Vox Corp., a Carnegie Mellon startup, to help bring high-speed speech recognition technology to market.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: David Ruppersberger, TTC

How can we do better? Regional Visioning Project embraces the bigger picture

A grassroots regional visioning process is underway, a process that helped to enhance world-class cities such as Turin, Italy, and Calvary, Canada.

The Regional Visioning Project is a two-year process that hopes to give the entire region—from leaders on down to citizens, students and retirees—a voice in what the 30-county, four state region around us might look like if we the people come together and rethink such challenges as water quality, transportation and regional job retention.

The ultimate goal? A regional to-do list that will inspire a brighter future.

“I view the beginning as a listening phase where we will connect to as many people as possible,” says Allen Kukovich, former state senator and representative who was appointed executive director of the project and its 55-member steering committee. “You can’t improve people’s quality of life unless you have a groundswell of support. We hope to reach 20,000 people and build a consensus on issues.”

Among the first matters of business is a contest to give the project a name, a moniker that reflects the essence of a region that includes parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland. The project got underway in 2006 and takes its inspiration from the successful model used in places like Italy and Charlotte, NC.

Join the public forum on May 20th to learn more about it at CityLIVE! at the Hazlett Theater on Pittsburgh’s North Side. Panelists will include Mayor Valentino Castellani of Turin, Italy, Maureen McAvey of the Urban Land Institute and Kukovich. The event is free and open to the public.

“The biggest challenge I see is to engage people in this process who haven’t been part of a regional visioning conversation, making them feel valuable and important and making sure the conversation that comes out of this is relevant,” says Candi Castleberry-Singleton, chief inclusion and diversity officer for UPMC and moderator of the CityLIVE event.  

The visioning project is made possible, in part, through $2 million in funding from five local foundations including the Benedum Foundation, Grable Foundation, Pittsburgh Foundation, RK Mellon Foundation and The Heinz Endowments.

To RSVP for the CityLIVE! event, click here.

To receive Pop City free each week, click here.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Allen Kukovich, Candi Castleberry-Singleton, Regional Visioning Project

Image courtesy Regional Visioning Project

Real talk about city-county consolidation on June 5th

A major public forum and a cast of community leaders will come together to jumpstart the conversation on a city-county consolidation plan this June.

The Pittsburgh Foundation and the University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics will co-host a public forum to encourage a community discussion and promote proposed options on the long-debated merits of making the two geographical and political entities one.

The Future of City/County Collaboration on June 5th hopes to initiate a broad public education campaign, including a series of conferences and town hall meetings that will facilitate unrestricted discussion and bring decision-making information to the widest possible audience.

Guest speakers will include community leaders from Charlotte, Miami and Louisville, together with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Chief Executive, Dan Onorato.

“The issues are too important to ignore,” says Grant Oliphant, president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation. “It would be irresponsible for us as a community not to consider bold and different ways of managing government, especially in the present economic climate. Our hope is to help the community have that conversation.”

The forum hopes to attract a broad range of community representation—civic and business leaders who can make the partnership happen. Among the agenda topics are enhanced government cooperation, functional consolidation, a full structural merger, federated metropolitan government and more, says Terry Miller, director of the University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics.

The Future of City/Community Collaboration will be held from 8:00 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. on Friday June 5 at the Heinz History Center, 1212 Smallman Street.

To receive Pop City free each week, click here.

Source: Grant Oliphant, The Pittsburgh Foundation; Terry Miller, University of Pittsburgh

Get the latest election returns, follow the money, get your dog tags--all online

Allegheny County has launched several online initiatives that follow the money and promote greater political transparency.

And there’s a new Web site to renew your pooch’s license too.

Local residents can track election results as they come in (click here), monitor the flow of federal stimulus funding to the county (click here) and review  campaign finance reports filed by municipal, school district, county candidates and political committee (click here) all with the click of a browser.

Need to renew your dog license? The process is now streamlined online (click here).

“Ever since Dan took office we’ve increased our effort to offer services and information online,” explains Kevin Evanto, county spokesperson. “The idea is to make government more open and transparent to residents and taxpayers. We plan to offer a lot more services online in the future.”

Residents who wish to follow campaign money can do so without the hassle of driving downtown, parking the car and standing in line. Campaign reports will be posted and accessible to the public within 72 hours of each filing deadline and will remain online for 5 years.

Care to track the stimulus spending in our region? A complete breakdown of funds and projects is available.

“More than $377 million in federal stimulus funding has already been appropriated for infrastructure, job training, education, health care, housing, energy efficiency and other programs in Allegheny County,” notes Dan Onorato. “These dollars will create thousands of jobs, bolster our economy, and help residents get back on their feet.”

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Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Dan Onorato, Kevin Evanto, Allegheny County

Image courtesy flickr.com

Join the Pittsburgh walking challenge, win a trip to Nemocolin

Pittsburgh is stepping its way to fitness this month with the 3rd Annual “Ready, Set, Walk!” Challenge.

“We have a very walkable downtown and we want to encourage people to get out and see it,” says Lucinda Beattie, vice president of transportation for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. “The mission is to reduce pollution, decrease traffic congestion and encourage people to integrate walking into their daily lives.”

Participation is easy. Click here to fill out an online registration form and attend one of the three 2009 kick off events on June 1 where you will receive a walking resource kit. Pick up locations are Schenley Plaza, the Mall at Robinson or Market Square in Pittsburgh. Participants will receive a free t-shirt and pedometer to track the miles.

Once a week, log onto the website and record your steps to qualify for a random weekly drawing for fabulous prizes including an iPodShuffle and a $1,000 gift certificate to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. A celebration of walkers will take place on June 20th with more prizes for top walkers from each neighborhood.

The Challenge, part of America On the Move, is presented by the Airport Corridor Transportation Association, the Oakland Transportation Management Association and the PDP.

Check the website for updated information on packet pickup and to make alternative arrangements.

But why wait till then to start walking? Next week marks Pa. Hiking Week 2009. From May 23rd until May 31, hikers across the state will participate in special hiking events in parks, forests and towns across the state.

There are night hikes, wildflower walks, hikes for people with disabilities, pet walks, geology walks and more. For local Hiking Week details, click here.

The events are planned by DCNR and the Keystone Trails Assoc., a 1,100 member group made up of hiking and outdoor organizations throughout the state.

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Source: Lucinda Beattie, PDP
Image courtesy PDP

Rhiza Lab’s Flu Tracker monitors the latest on H1N1—is history repeating itself?

Pittsburgh technology is playing a key role in tracking the swine flu, generating an avalanche of interest around the world and raising concerns about the future threat of the virus.

South Side-based Rhiza Labs, with its web-based Flu Tracker mapping tool Rhiza Insight, has partnered with local biomedical research company Recombinomics to monitor the data and spread of H1N1 around the globe. 

And Recombinomics founder and president Dr. Henry Niman doesn’t like what he sees. Prepare yourself for some not-so-good news.

The spread of H1N1 is following a very similar path to the last outbreak of swine flu in 1918, which began with a mild pandemic in the late spring, waned during the summer months in the Northern Hemisphere and returned with greater deadly force in the fall at the start of the subsequent flu season.

One third of the world’s population was infected in the 1918 outbreak, which killed three percent of the world’s population, says Dr. Niman who has studied the earlier virus is writing a scientific paper on the two pandemics.

Recombinomics studies the sequences of how viruses evolve over time through recombination, a process that assists in the development of new vaccines. Dr. Niman’s extensive research on the 1918 swine flu tells him that this present strain is following a similar path, yet is different in its ability to move from person to person “fairly efficiently.”

“The point that I’m making is not only do we need a vaccine for what exists, but what is likely to exist four to six months from now,” Dr. Niman says. “It’s still early, but this is something that everyone needs to monitor very closely.”

A hallmark of the 1918 virus was it tended to take the lives of younger people between 25 and 45, similar to the present flu pandemic. If the virus resurfaces this fall, the virus could contain properties of human flu as well as avain flu, he adds.

That’s where Rhiza, which specializes in web-based, dynamic data visualization tools, comes in. Unlike other systems currently in use, Dr. Niman's methodology tracks individual reports of suspected or confirmed flu cases using the media and official government statements. Rhiza’s map monitors the confirmed cases with pindrops.

The next big question, says Dr. Niman, is how many cases will surface in the Southern Hemisphere, which is only now entering flu season? History suggests H1N1 will travel south before returning north.

“So far it’s really tracking like 1918; if it doesn’t do anything in the southern hemisphere that would revise things.”

“We’re five days ahead of the CDC in terms of tracking this,” explains Josh Knauer, CEO of Rhiza, whose company Web site was averaging 1,100 users per second this week.  “The eyes of the world are on this as the most accurate predictor of what is coming. It’s a story of the Internet and the citizens who are coming together to help track this emergency faster than the government.”

To view Rhiza's FluTracker, click here. To read more about Dr. Niman’s research, click here.

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Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Dr. Henry Niman, Recombinomics; Josh Knauer, Rhiza Labs

Image courtesy Rhiza Labs

Car shopping? Female friendly car dealerships get nod here

Is it true that men are scrappier negotiators, apt to push harder till they get what they want while women often cave early or fail to push their point at all?

Anne Fleming thinks so and has built a car-buying Web site around the concept, Women-Drivers.com. The site is attracting national attention.

The Bellevue resident was first inspired  by Pittsburgh’s own Linda Babock of “Women Don’t Ask,” a tome on negotiation and the gender divide. With women paying $1,350 more on cars than men, Fleming enlisted Campos Inc. to conduct additional research and launched the site live in October of 2008.

Women-Drivers.com tracks 19,000 car dealerships across the country and offers everything from tools to negotiate the price, female-friendly dealership reviews, "his" and "her" blogs and “groovy car gadgets.”

“We’re a place where women can go to empower and educate themselves,” explains Fleming, CEO and founder who admits to hiring a broker to purchase a used BMW before she got smart. “Today is a new day. Many dealerships now are totally committed to a customer satisfaction experience.”

The site has caught the attention of ABC News and local radio and TV. On the business side, Women-Drivers.com sells analytics to the dealership network so that they can improve their level of service to women – who by the way influence 80 percent of all car purchases, she says. The company, a staff of four, focuses on Pa, Ohio and West Virginia, but plans to go nationwide.

“Consumers love the site because they can share and rate their experience,” adds Fleming. “Dealerships are happy because the higher their ratings, the higher they are featured in our search engine – resulting in more women and referrals coming in their store.”

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Anne Fleming, Women-Drivers.com

Image courtesy Women-drivers.com

Pittsburgh money lenders reflect on region's first quarter deal flow

A first quarter look at venture capital investment for the region shows what one might expect after the national economy dive-bombed—venture activity is down. Do the figures reflect the local deal flow?

The first three months of any year aren’t much of a crystal ball for the future says the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse and Innovation Works. Both are coming off record years for startup investment in the region. Several deals in progress are missing from the first quarter stats and both investment incubators say many deals are in progress.

Figures from the National Venture Capital Association reported that Southwestern Pennsylvania saw a total of 15 deals valued at $7.28 million for the first quarter 2009. Included in the figures were ReGear Life Sciences at 1 million, Cellumen at $530,000 and two undisclosed companies at $3.8 million and $1.05 million.

National levels are the lowest in 12 years. Figures are from the Money Tree Report from Pricewaterhouse Coopers and the National Venture Capital Association.

The good news is that there’s a lot of money out there, reports John Manzetti, president and CEO of PLSG. Life sciences and energy continue to generate activity regionally. Several deals are in progress and weren’t included in the figures, including Foundation Radiology Group which recently received $10 million.

“Everyone’s sharpening their pencils a bit more, but we’re wall to wall busy,” says Manzetti. “We’ve had so much activity you have to sit here and watch it to appreciate it.”

During a January healthcare conference in San Francisco, PLSG discussed active funding with 40 companies in the region. Many are receiving follow up visits. “People are coming to Pittsburgh to see them, that’s the indicator I use,” Manzetti says.

Innovation Works Matt Harbaugh, chief investment officer, concurs. “It’s hard to draw a conclusion based on this one quarter of deals,” he notes. “I don’t think we’ll know how 2009 will turn out until we get further into the year.”

If the $10 million investment in FRG were included in the NVCA figures, the total would have mirrored the first quarter of 2008, Harbaugh adds. IW reported its best fundraising year in the incubator’s history in 2008.

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Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: John Manzetti, PLSG, Matt Harbaugh, Innovation Works, NVCA

Image courtesy of Carolyn Serrano and Flickr

Join the eco-friendly revolution around town this Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day and all things green, here’s a roundup of the events sprouting up around the city:

Join the eco-revolution at Engineering Sustainability 2009, April 19-20, as 120 presenters from around the world unveil the latest innovations in green transportation, development, power and water utility. The event is sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. For more information, click here.

Pennsylvania’s Green Economy Forum: Repowering Refueling and Rebuilding America is a town hall inviting elected officials, representatives from environmental organizations and green businesses to gaze into the green crystal ball of the future.

The evening takes place at Carnegie Mellon on April 16th at 7 p.m. Speakers will include Rep. Jason Altire, Larry Schweiger, National Wildlife Federation, Fred Redmond, United Steel Workers and Thomas Granville, CEO of Axion Power International. For more information, click here.

One Step at a Time, Shrinking the Campus Footprint is a student led sustainability symposium that looks at the environmental footprint of the city’s three universities. Join members of Pitt, Carnegie Mellon and Duquesne on Thursday, April 16th from 8:30 to 2 p.m. to find ways to improve our sustainability profile. Registration is required for the free public event through the Rachel Carson Homestead here.

The Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History invite the whole family to Celebrate Earth Day! From 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 18th. Make recycled flowers, enjoy special guided tours of The Horse and learn about the lifecycle of the butterfly and more. Check the museums website for more details.

Finally, Fifth Avenue Place downtown will again open reSOLUTION, its environmental store that surfaces just for Earth Week, from April 20th  to 24th, encouraging customers to recycle numerous items including sneakers, jeans, cell phones, old art supplies and more.

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Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Many!

Image courtesy flickr.com 

Pittsburgh Foundation's Voices of Youth lets teens choose the public art projects

What’s the best way to get young people involved in creating and implementing art in public spaces?

That’s the first of three questions The Pittsburgh Foundation will ask on Voices of Youth, a new website designed to get the public involved in the grant-making process.The website isn't up yet but will be soon. To check it out, click here.

The idea competition, launched jointly with The Grable Foundation and Changemakers.net, works like this: Visitors to the site can answer the question between now and June 1, midnight. Young people submitting ideas can also use the site to discuss and develop their thoughts. A committee of experts, including Grable’s Community Cabinet members, will then narrow down the pool of responses.

About a half-dozen strong suggestions will appear on the site in early June, and the public will vote for the projects they believe deserve funding. Voting ends June 24, and two winning projects will each receive up to $25,000.

Once the competition ends, the next two questions – how to create public spaces that promote intergenerational contact and how to get young people more involved in philanthropy – will appear. The entire voting process will be completed by year’s end.

“This is a new way of looking at the community foundation and our relationship with the broader community,” says Jeanne Pearlman, senior vice president for program and policy at the Foundation. Giving Pittsburghers, especially young people, a central voice in deciding where money goes “is a great way to broaden and democratize the grant-making process,” she says. It also helps the Foundation to connect more fully with the community – something they’ve prioritized this year.

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Jeanne Pearlman, Pittsburgh Foundation


It's green, it's blue, it's the Super Shuttle, hiring drivers

If you’ve got the time, Super Shuttle will take you on a greener ride to the Pittsburgh airport in its efficiently-priced Big Blue Van.

The company is opening a local office here on May 1st.  Unlike regular taxi services, which ferry passengers one at a time, or airport shuttles which travel to and from hotel locations, Super Shuttle picks up passengers where they live or work and coordinates  them in a carpool with others customers from the same area, thereby reducing the cost of shuttle service and the carbon footprint.

“Basically you give up a little of your time for the economical service,” says Ken Testani, senior vice president of sales and marketing. “We typically make about 2 or 3 stops. We take cars off the road.”

Phoenix-based Super Shuttle, a subsidiary of Veolia Transportation, serves 33 airports around the country and more than 50 cities and surrounding communities. The Pittsburgh office is currently hiring drivers for the 20-25 vehicles; drivers will work with the company as independent contractors, says Testani.

Several airlines, including USAirways, Delta, United, Frontier and Northwest, have partnered with the shuttle to offer 50 frequent flier miles for each direction booked.

Booking is done online or by phone. For more information, click here.

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Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Ken Testani

Image courtesy Super Shuttle

Need free tax help to get through the tax season? Call The Beehive

It’s around the corner, that mind-numbing exercise in monetary aggravation, the deadline to file taxes.

But there is help. Low to medium income families are first encouraged to contact the United Way Helpline at 412.255.1155, a central clearinghouse for all the local non-profits in the region available to assist families with incomes up to $40,000 and individuals with incomes up to $20,000.   Local, state and federal taxes are prepared and filed by IRS certified volunteers and appointments are available.  Appointments are still available!

A free tax prep website is also available. The Beehive, offers a free web based filing service for households with incomes of up to $56,000.  Just click on the money tab and look for the Filing Your Taxes link. 

Or click here for another free service.

Research-based Fitwits and Nitwits teach children about obesity

Food-inspired critters, Fitwits and Nitwits, are helping to educate Pittsburgh youngsters and beyond on good health and the dangers of obesity.

Developed by the Carnegie Mellon University School of Design and UPMC Saint Margaret Family Health Center, the Fitwits program hopes to prevent childhood obesity—a major health problem for children in the U.S.—through an educational approach that reinforces the message in three ways: through family doctors, schools and communities and families.

“We see the program as a very holistic way of thinking about health,” says Kristin Hughes, associate professor at the CMU School of Design. “They (children) see the Fitwits in school and then they might receive the Fitwits health intervention from their primary physician.  Now, with the program taking place at Giant Eagle, kids receive the message in public spaces where we again reinforce some of the same messages.”  

Funded through The Heinz Endowments, the interactive program includes fun activities, lessons and games using animated cartoon characters. The innovative strategy was collaboratively designed by doctors, designers, researchers, community members, foundations and, most importantly, with the help of 5th grade students in Pittsburgh.

Fitwits will debut with a storewide scavenger hunt on March 28th at the Centre Avenue Giant Eagle Market District from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Families are encouraged to bring their children along with their stickers from the Sticker Hunt Game that was implemented in the classrooms of five area schools.

“We would really like the see the intervention work on three levels where we can take Fitwits into other cities and have schools, health centers and communities support the program and grow this idea of networked communities,” says Hughes.

For more information or to play the Fitwits trivia game, visit Fitwits.org.

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Writer: Natalie Coccia
Source: Kristin Hughes, CMU School of Design

Photograph courtesy of Fitwits.org

Sima Products launches VIVO Live!—watch Pittsburgh CEO for Cities in action!

A new Pittsburgh-based technology will connect Pop City readers to tonight’s Pittsburgh CEO for Cities salon on the nation’s Stimulus Package and what it means to Pittsburgh.

At 6 p.m. on Feb 25th viewers can watch and participate through a live stream of “A Stimulating Conversation,” a discussion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Several federal, state and local leaders and representatives will be on hand; Ellen Kight of PPND will moderate. The event is by invitation only.

The live stream is made possible by Sima Products Corp., an Oakmont-based innovator of consumer electronics accessories. Sima will debut its patent-pending Vivo SD streaming kit, a cable system that enables anyone—the most novice of videographers—to share important moments live. The system is compatible with most digital camcorders and will go on sale at Best Buy this spring for $99.

“People can really share their lives with people all over the world,” explains Ilana Diamond, president. “For families with relatives in India or China, this is a way to share family events, weddings, a soccer game with those a thousand miles away.”

Vivo is just one of many innovative products available through Sima Products. Founded in 1973, the company offers more than one hundred products for video, home theater and home safety sold in 20 countries worldwide. Manufacturing is outsourced to Asia.

Among the coolest products is a 144-inch inflatable Home Theatre Kit for showing movies in parks, block parties or a backyard party. And there’s a smart cable, tying together all the electronic chargers you may ever need in a one handy piece.

Sima Products has grown from seven employees to 25 today.

 “One of our goals for this year is to raise our image in Pittsburgh,” says Diamond. “There’s such great technology coming out of our region, it’s unbelievable.”

Join the CEO for Cities Live from Pittsburgh conversation at 6 p.m. on Feb. 25th by clicking here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Ilana Diamond, Sima Products Corp.

Image courtesy Sima Products Corp.

SW Pa’s new Business Quick Guide puts help just a click away

Finally, a quick and easy online quide to 150 non-profit agencies offering business development assistance to the region.

The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, Duquesne University’s Small Business Development Center and Small Business Councils have come together to create the10-county region’s first, one-stop, searchable database, the Business Quick Guide, to help business owners and entrepreneurs.

“This provides an easy way for entrepreneurs and new businesses not in Pittsburgh—who are considering coming to the region— to look at and access the resources available here. Most business decisions are made online, it ‘s demanded by the marketplace,” says Dewitt Peart, PRA president. “The beauty of it is that it won’t be static.”

Assistance agencies are organized alphabetically and listings include telephone numbers and links to agencies’ websites.  Color codes identify specific types of help or services offered in four main categories: management assistance, funding sources, specialized services and business/trade organizations. 

Online users can customize their searches by selecting those assistance areas that interest them.

The Business Quick Guide is accessible as a searchable database or can be downloaded as a PDF at www.pittsburghregion.org and at www.smc.org. The database and the PDF will be updated regularly throughout 2009 to ensure accuracy.

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Spark lights the creative, high-tech spirit of children and young families

A new Sprout Fund initiative, Spark, hopes to ignite a youthful exuberance for technology in the region, making Pittsburgh one of the best places on earth to be a kid.

Spark provides funding for projects and initiatives that will energize children ages birth to eight in the creative use of technology and the media.  Individuals, organizations, teachers, startups, artists—everyone, actually—will be challenged to think about early childhood education and technology in a new,exciting way.

“We want to use technology to empower and engage children and promote interaction between kids and the adults in their lives,” explains Jocelyn Horner, Sparks program manager.

Projects need not be technically daunting, she adds. It can be something as simple as finding a new way to use digital cameras in a preschool class. “We want to turn technology on its head and use it in a powerful way for kids.”

Spark offers support through two funding streams, Micro Sparks and Super Sparks. Micro Sparks provides $500 to $15,000 for small-scale, first time projects; Super Sparks are once-a-year, up to $50,000 awards to support broader initiatives.

The initiatives may involve health and wellness, recreation and environment, arts and culture, school and learning, and out-of-school and family time. All should be transforming and affect a lasting change around the challenges and opportunities that face children.

The three-year program is supported by the Grable Foundation. The program kicks off with a launch at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh on March 3rd.  The deadline for applications is April 3rd.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Jocelyn Horner, Sparks, The Sprout Fund

Image courtesy The Sprout Fund

Send a text, catch a bus with Port Authority pilot program

The Port Authority of Pittsburgh is reaching out to young riders in an effort to improve the region’s transit system.

RouteShout allows riders to access bus arrival times from their mobile phones. The pilot program, launched by Pittsburgh’s deeplocal, is being beta-tested at 22 stops near areas that primarily serve college students.

Just look for the orange signs at select stops, each labeled with a unique code, explains Judi McNeil, spokesperson. A rider simply texts in the code and instantly receives arrival times for the next buses, a process that pulls timetable and location data from the Port Authority’s database.

Additional features, in the works, hope to turn the region’s bus stops into living kiosks of information.

“If this helps to lessen the 5000 calls coming into our service center every day—people asking when is my next bus—this is something we may want to expand,” says McNeil. “As funding allows, riders will see a greater focus on technology, especially in the Oakland area where the Web-savvy folks are.”

The Port Authority, in the midst of a major upgrade of the region’s transit system. hopes young riders will offer feedback on its service. An online survey, “Don’t Just Sit There, Tell Us What You Think,” encourages younger riders to offer suggestions and suggest new ideas.

New programs underway include smart card technology, the use of a debit card instead of paper tickets for regular riders. City students would be able to use their university IDs to ride.

“There’s a huge focus on green commuting as a way to reduce traffic congestion, pollution and the carbon footprint,” says McNeil. “If we focus on young adopters, there’s a good possibility they will continue to use public transportation for the rest of their lives.”

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Judi McNeil, The Pittsburgh Port Authority

Onorato captures large web audience with cyber town hall meetings

Got a pressing question you’d like to ask Allegheny County executive Dan Onorato?

Onorato will host his second cyber town hall meeting, “Ask Onorato,” an opportunity for citizens to direct questions and receive answers live each month via streaming Internet video. The meeting will be streamed live tomorrow, Feb. 12th, during the lunch hour at noon and is getting a great response from constituents, county insiders say.

During the first cyber meeting, Onorato addressed hard-hitting questions on why property assessments have increased, the need for better public transportation and the consolidation of city and county services.

 “We received great questions during our first webcast,” says Onorato, who hopes to offer the forums each month at different times so a wide range of citizens can participate.

Questions can be e-mailed to askonorato@alleghenycounty.us prior or during the webcast.

To view the first webcast, click here. The cyber town hall meeting will also be archived on the Allegheny County’s Web site for viewing at any time.

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Kevin Evanto, Allegheny County

Photograph copyright Brian Cohen

Need a loan? Pertuity launches innovative social finance platform

Times may be tough, but online financial services company Pertuity Direct is alive, expanding and rolling out its latest product.

Social lending has evolved and grown dramatically in the last two years, explains Kim Muhota, chief executive and founder. Tighter restrictions in the lending market have created a unique opportunity for Pertuity, who matches good borrowers with low rates.

This month Pertuity launched its next generation social finance platform, a process that eliminates the cost of a traditional bank as middleman. Pertuity does all the credit underwriting. Rates on a fixed rate loan range from 8.9 to 17.9 percent.

“When you really focus on what’s driving consumer nervousness, it’s the worry that banks aren’t going to lend,” explains Muhota.

“Our model better positions us to serve the larger marketplace. The automated, seamless process feels very familiar to consumers. This is for people who are comfortable transacting online, who don’t need the handholding.”

Financial analysts love the product too, he adds. “Many look at our model as the next evolution of social lending.”

Pertuity makes investments through the National Retail Fund, a mutual fund that matches lenders with a diversified group of approved, credit worthy borrowers. Unlike other models, the loans are a three-year fixed rate. They can be used for everything—debt consolidation, small businesses, school tuition or home improvements.

Pertuity makes its money through fees charged on the money transacted back and forth. The process is private; there’s no public posting of personal credit information, no bidding, says Muhota.

In addition to its corporate office in downtown Pittsburgh, Pertuity has opened an office in Vienna, VA. An Innovation Works company, the firm spent the last year hiring a management team and has 12 total employees.

To read about Pertuity's Dare to Compare in Pop City, click here.

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Kim Muhota, Pertuity Direct
Image courtesy Pertuity Direct

New homegrown green building products get boost from GBA

Keeping the region on the frontline of innovative green product development is the key behind the latest round of grants from the Pittsburgh Green Building Alliance.

Five local recipients received a piece of the $240,000 pie as part of the Green Products Initiative this month. The program is the first of its kind to target product manufacturers in the U.S. and the region.

Thar Process Inc. and Carnegie Mellon University received $80,000 to develop an energy-efficient air conditioning system that will use a natural refrigerant and eliminate the need for ozone depleting refrigeration systems.

Bedford Reinforced Plastics Inc. and the University of Pittsburgh received $100,000 for commercialization of plastic composites that use renewable and recycled raw material, are highly durable and provide better thermal insulation than steel for construction.

GTECH Strategies received $20,000 for a residual silt from water treatment as a growing medium for landscapes and green roofs.

Carnegie Mellon also received $20,000 to develop a wearable bio-sensing comfort controller that will measure a person’s comfort level and help control their thermal environment.

“Through our program, GBA invests in innovative green building products and technologies that enhance our region’s reputation and competence, while positioning Pennsylvania as a hotbed of green building capacity,” says Aurora Sharrard of the GBA.

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MyGov365.com gives Pittsburgh first dibs on powerful political tools

In this era of digital social media and  technocratic presidents comes Pittsburgh-based MyGov365.com.

A social media political platform, MyGov365 seeks to connect citizens with government and political professionals. The company is launching a beta version in the 10-county Pittsburgh region to illustrate the benefits of having powerful tools that search legislative data and provide candidates with direct feedback and links to voters.

“Regular citizens have to go to many different websites to connect the dots, then they need a lawyer to tell them what it all means,” says Jay Resio, president and founder. Resio pitched the idea in 2007 as PoliticsCorp and renamed the company last year. “This is a non-partisan site across all affiliations and all levels of government.”

Resio hopes to sign up local politicians, campaigns and organizations in the coming month to participate in the beta process. The City of Pittsburgh will have access to critical data intelligence and feedback reports, which will enable decision makers, from council members to the mayor, to create legislation that is truly relevant to the constituents of the city, he says.

“This gives users the ability to see the legislative process, voice opinions on various bills and be more active,” Resio says. “Our goal is to keep everyone who registers engaged from the start.”

“MyGov365 makes it easy for people to search information in ways that will empower them,” adds city councilman Bill Peduto. “It takes away the middle man, the media, and is a good example of how technology can better assist democracy.”

The site is free to citizens. A state and national launch will follow.

MyGov365 employs seven and has received funding support from the Idea Foundry and the Pittsburgh Central Keystone Innovation Zone.

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Jay Resio, MyGov365.com

Image courtesy MyGov365.com

Peduto's PeduTube raises money for local charities via video

Pittsburgh Councilman turned tech deejay Bill Peduto hopes to support local charities with a new monthly YouTube Night he calls PeduTube.

Instead of spinning records, patrons coming to Cappy’s Café on Walnut Street can request great YouTube clips, everything from old TV shows to trailers, video spots or trailers from 70s movies. The January event was held in honor of Martin Luther King and raised money for the Union Project.

The next PeduTube night is Valentine's Day, Feb. 14th, and will support a Pittsburgh women’s shelter. Events on Earth Day and Mother's Day are planned, too.

“Actually, this began as a joke,” admits the Pittsburgh politician. “When people asked me if I was going to run for mayor I’d say, ‘no, I’m thinking of becoming a YouTube deejay.’ Then I realized that it would be a great way to raise money for local charities.”

Borrowing on an idea started by the Brillobox, Peduto says the tech setup is fairly straightforward, using two Mac books, a video splitter, a mixing board and a wide screen and regular TV. PeduTube begins at 10 p.m. and includes music trivia, games, a passing of the hat and YouTube requests for $5 a pop.
“YouTube is a cultural dump of everything produced on video for the last 70 years,” he adds. “There are great nuggets out there. It gives everyone an opportunity to share your favorites.”

For more information on the next PeduTube night, click here.

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Bill Peduto
Image courtesy Bill Peduto

Pittsburgh virtual grocer GoodApples.org rolls out home delivery

Founder John McClelland admits he didn’t know the first thing about farming when he started GoodApples.org, a virtual farmers market based in the Strip District.

The company launched in 2005 with a handful of employees, 25 products and one truck. Today GoodApples is the largest online grocer in Pennsylvania with 30 employees, 270 corporate accounts and a fleet of vehicles that delivers fresh, organic and locally grown groceries to 30,000 customers from here to Harrisburg.

This month the company rolled out home delivery for a charge of $6.95 on orders more than $60.

“Everything in our business is mission critical,” McClelland explains. While most grocers buy in bulk, store the goods and then sell, GoodApples moves the goods directly from growers and suppliers into the hands of buyer. “The most attractive aspect of what we do is the freshness and quality of the food.”

McClelland’s background as a software consultant gives GoodApples an edge in managing inventories and Internet data. Initially the company focused on developing corporate accounts, providing online shopping services and wellness programs to company employees. “There’s lots of opportunity in the Pittsburgh wellness market,” he adds. “We hope to expand this nationally.”

Last summer GoodApples rolled out a pilot project to provide inner city neighborhoods with fresh produce. A priority is placed on offering locally grown produce; 40 percent of the produce sold comes from PA farmers. While the economy has slowed business a bit, the company continues to grow with revenues in 2008 of $2.5 million, up from $1.2 million in 2007.

“Our mantra is if we can get it local, we will sell it local,” says McClelland. “We will always work with the local farmers and take what they have. We’re an online natural food market, a true shopping experience.”

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: John McClelland, GoodApples.org

Image courtesy Good Apples

Signs of the times? Green Sign Experts opens earth-friendly shop

When Pittsburgh’s Highmark went in search of green signage for their building, Audra Azoury saw it as a business opportunity.

“At the time it was difficult to find anything green in any price range,” says Azoury, an Art Institute graduate and graphic designer. “I could see there was going to be a need for this. I’ve always been passionate about the environment. With signage, there is so much waste.”

So Azoury partnered with parent cimpany AdVision Signs Inc., a full service sign company, and opened Green Sign Experts in Robinson Township, a wholesale outlet and the region’s first earth friendly signage shop that promotes the use of all-natural, toxic free materials, serving builders, architects and the construction industry.

Plastic letters are made from extruded sheets of cellulose acetate butyrate (CAB), a renewable resource, rather than a petroleum-based product. Other alternative or reusable materials are promoted like paperstone, cork, bamboo, wood, richlite, glass, metal and kirei.

Azoury admits that not all the signs are as environmentally friendly as they could be, but it is a process. More and more green materials are coming on the market everyday.

“A year ago I couldn’t find CAB, but today it’s available locally,” she says. “It’s baby steps. The more there is a need, the more manufacturers will begin to invest money in the creation of these products.”

Green Sign Experts is working with Artemis in Lawrenceville and the Green Building Alliance to help build the business. “Being in a green city like Pittsburgh, I’m hoping that I’m in the right place at the right time, “ she says.

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Audra Azoury, Green Sign Experts

Image courtesy Green Sign Experts

Pittsburgh’s startup web portal gets a facelift

Pittsburgh’s entrepreneurial web portal, Help Startups, will launch a series of new features this month including new widgets and video.

An additional grant from the Benedum Foundation will give local entrepreneurs new tools in the coming weeks as each enhancement is rolled out, says Gary Rosensteel, executive director of Help Startups and a principal at NuCoPro.

“We’ve created an environment for startup companies to receive more exposure,” says Rosensteel. “Companies will be able to post press releases, videos and articles. If we want to build up Pittsburgh, it is going to come from our startup community.”

In addition to a vibrant new look, site features include:

·    More information made available on the Home page
·    Entrepreneurial news assembled from a number of other web sites via RSS feeds
·    Widgets that you can grab to share Help Startups information on your site
·    Expanded User Profiles can be viewed by other users, including listings of social network connections
·    Companies can post Press Releases, highlighted on the Home page
·    A dynamic link is provided to Yet2.com where you can search through thousands of innovations that are available or that companies are seeking
·    Featured Companies and Videos will regularly be updated on our Home page

Help Startups was launched in 2007 with the help of the Heinz Endowments and Benedum Foundation.

Image courtesy HelpStartups.com

Join Pittsburgh Rootscamp, an unconference for progressive political organizers

Waging a campaign for clean air, a political candidate or a new high school? Pittsburgh RootsCamp is the unconference for the times.

RootsCamp was initiated by The New Organizing Institute, a progressive movement that promotes a sustainable society and participatory democracy by building power through the support of diversity. The day will be facilitated by founder Michael Morrill, creator of Keystone Progress, an online advocacy organization that seeks to unite the voices of progressive political groups in  Pennsylvania.

RootsCamp tends to attract politically-minded people for a day of grassroots learning and organizing, explains Lizandra Vidal, convener of the Pittsburgh conference. It’s a participant driven forum that offers an “open space” format that unfolds as the day wears on. Activists, organizers, leaders and politicians come together to share and learn in a fast-paced environment. No spectators or tourists allowed.

“The coolest part about it is that it’s an un-conference,” Vidal explains. “It’s built on the people who are there.”

RootsCamps have been successfully held in 8 cities in the U.S. and more are planned around the country. Pittsburgh RootsCamp will be held on Saturday, Jan. 24th at the United Steelworkers Building. The cost is $10, which includes lunch.

For more information, click here.

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Image courtesy Pittsburgh RootsCamp

New Pittsburgh website posts 2009 resolutions for the world

Digital scribes from around the world are posting their hopes for the new year on a website created by Pittsburgh eMarketing company Elliance.

…that the massive earthquakes in global financial systems will have a silver lining: re-adjust values and intentions regarding social justice in ways that lead to a more fair world…

…people will stop listening to the media who are driving all of the bad news and making it worse than it is. I hope people start to think for themselves…

…that they invent hot dog-flavored water…

Elliance developed the Twitter-like repository for short sentiments, hoping to draw positive energy and create momentum. What began as a holiday expression for friends and family has taken on a life of its own, fanning out through social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook.

“The goal is to create a nexus of good thoughts and wishes for the coming year,” explains Geoff Barnes, senior information architect. “It’s a small site, a reaction to the darkness, cynicism and panic in the world. We’re putting it out there like a magnet and seeing how many people respond.”

2009hopes.com has several fun gadgets too. Click on scroller and the hopes of the world come to you. Visit the map and learn what those in other countries have to say. Click on cloud and view an abstract tapestry of mixed up messages.

“The economy has been really rough and people are looking for a hopeful thing in this time of great transition. This channels good energy and good vibes and hopes and prayers of people,” says Abu Noaman, CEO. “If you start committing it to electronic pen—all the forces of the world conspire to get you there.”

To add your energy, click here.

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

Image courtesy Elliance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy Allegheny Conference

Pittsburgh gets a new venture fund for life science startups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Mobile Witness is your free personal bodyguard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Writer: Deb Smit

Source: Marc Anthony and Ron Knight, My Mobile Witness

Pittsburgh’s FlashBox preserves better party memories

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

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

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

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

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

To see FlashBox in action, click here.

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Michael Mandel, FlashBox Media

Image courtesy FlashBox Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How Pittsburgh manufacturing stays strong in tough times

Despite the downward dive of the rest of the nation, manufacturing in Western Pennsylvania is looking up.

A recent survey of 100 manufacturers here reports a substantial increase in employment and a potential rise in future employment. A substantial majority, 86 percent, will expand operations in the coming year, up from 71 percent in 2007.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the nation, manufacturing employment has declined 6 percent nationwide, according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor Statistics. The regional survey is conducted annually by Alpern Rosenthal and the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence.

“Really it is the tale of two stories,” notes Larry Barger, director of manufacturing services for the Pittsburgh office of Alpern. “The survey is reflective of the third quarter. While many had a good 2008, they’re looking ahead with caution to 2009.”

Then again, the diversification of industry in the region has contributed to its steady growth, he adds.

“We’re not as tied into the auto industry or steel as we were years ago,” Barger says. “This area is entrepreneurial. Our region has seen a number of spinoffs and startups and those companies are today’s success story. It’s fair to say that the diversity and depth of specialized, high tech manufacturers may set us apart from other parts of the country.”

Some survey highlights:

·    Over the past three years, 78 percent of the respondents said they’ve increased employment. Some 91 percent expect to increase employment in the next three years.

·    Revenues have increase for about 85 percent over the last three years.

·    A total 56 percent expect net operating profits next year.

·    Manufacturers cite three positive reasons for operating a business in Pennsylvania—a superior, trained workforce, relative low cost of manufacturing and superior transportation.

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Larry Barger, Alpern Rosenthal

Image courtesy Alpern Rosenthal

Instant podcast gratification the latest at Talkshoe

The Pittsburgh voice of audio social media, Talkshoe, has launched a new service for audiophiles on the go.

Until now, hosts had to schedule their podcast episodes on the Talkshoe website or through Facebook, but with Instant Talkcast there’s a new immediacy to the spoken word.  The service is recorded live through your cell phone and it’s available to all subscribers and through iTunes.

“Now you can literally grab your cell phone, call into our system and initiate an Internet telecast on the fly,” says Dave Nelsen, founder and CEO. “It’s a much richer, more instantaneous way of connecting.”

Instant Talkcast enables users to weigh in the minute they leave the movie theater or sporting event. It’s the voice form of twittering, the popular website where online users post quick, stream of consciousness word-bytes.

Talkshoe uses the same technology—really simple syndication (RSS) feeds—to broadcast to subscribers. The format allows up to 300 people to join in a conversation live. Or subscribers can listen to a recorded feed.

“This definitely bumps social audio media to the next level as people talk, debate and interact with one another,” says Nelsen. “Consumers have never had this ability to teleconference with one another before.”

Talkshoe currently receives over 1 million caller minutes a month. Since early 2007, more than 100,000 calls have been recorded on TalkShoe and they've been listened to 18 million times, Nelsen says. Revenues are generated through monthly subscriptions from business users (the service is free to individuals) and short audio ads placed in recordings.

“It’s exciting to see how a little company in Wexford has become an interesting part of the social media movement,” says Nelsen. Talkshoe is supported by Innovation Works and Blue Tree Allied Angels.

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Dave Nelsen, Talkshoe

Image of Dave Nelsen courtesy of Talkshoe

Pittsburgh Signs Project lets the signs speak—so what are they saying?

We are all drawn to signs.

That is exactly how four people, particularly passionate about signs in our region, found one another. Together they started a website and the Pittsburgh Signs Project was born, a labor of love that attracted others to join in a like-minded, crowd-sourced endeavor to collect and photograph old and new pieces of our region’s history that tell our personal stories and reflect the visual identity of our communities.  

This month the five-year project became available as a full-color book, Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania, published by Carnegie Mellon University Press. The book highlights the photographs of 60 local photographers and the work of the four authors: Elizabeth Perry, technology and integration specialist at The Ellis School and her husband Mark Stroup, instructor with Goodwill of Southwestern Pa.; Jennifer Baron, editor of Pop City’s Pop Filter and Development News, and her husband, Greg Langel, media and marketing manager at The Frick.

From the Modern Café on the North Side to the Electric Banana and the flying cow, the signs present an eclectic and comforting mix, “a mongrelization of type-styles, graphics and fashions. The futuristic becomes the modern becomes the dated becomes the retro,” Stroup writes. 

“Signs evoke many different reactions in us,” explains Perry. “Signs act as crossroads, a nexus for the community, a source for our memories. For me, it’s about being present in the world, noticing what is around me and appreciating it.”

The book is available at Carnegie Mellon's bookstore, and at the Mattress Factory and Heinz History Center shops, and will be sold Dec. 15th at the Making Connections event at Carnegie Science Center. The project is supported in part by a regional award from Pittsburgh 250 Community Connections and The Sprout Fund.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Elizabeth Perry, Pittsburgh Signs Project

Image courtesy Larry Rippel

Pittsburgh KIVA founder presents the world’s first entrepreneurial charity

Billed as a mix of Google with the do-good ethos of U2’s Bono, KIVA's message is coming to Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh native and co-founder of the San Francisco-based non-profit KIVA Jessica Jackley Flannery will speak at the Regional Learning Alliance in Cranberry Township on Dec. 16th about the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website that empowers individuals to lend money directly to entrepreneurs in developing countries. Flannery, 31, is a 1996 graduate of North Allegheny High School and grew up in Franklin Park.

The concept has generated a storm of media publicity from the Wall Street Journal to Oprah Winfrey.

“The Regional Learning Alliance is proud to offer a program on both philanthropy and the spirit of entrepreneurship during this holiday season with a native that Pittsburgh can be so very proud of," says Justin Griffith, general manager. "She has taken an idea and, in just a few short years, created an organization that has changed the lives of people all around the world."

Kiva has connected with truly promising, real entrepreneurs in impoverished nations worldwide and established a data-rich, transparent lending platform to enable people to connect with and help aspiring businesspeople in need.

Like a social networking site, Kiva posts profiles of potential borrowers and lenders select an individual or group. A little goes a long way in a developing country. Phebe, a widow, farmer and mother of seven in Cameroon, hopes to raise $975 to buy fresh manure, fertilizer, seeds and chemicals to improve her farm and sell crops to the community.

Instead of donations, lenders offer small loans that are sent directly to a microfinance institution in the borrower’s country. The bank monitors the transaction and ensures the loan is repaid. Ninety percent of all active loans are paid on time and the default rate is less than 1 percent. The money is then recycled and loaned again, although that step of the process is still being worked out.

“The Entrepreneurial Spirit” will run from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and includes breakfast, a keynote speech and roundtable lunch discussion. The cost is $70 for the whole program but those wishing to attend only a portion of the day can do so for $35. Twenty percent will be donated to KIVA.

Registration is by mail through the RLA website, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Justin Griffith, Regional Learning Alliance

Image of Jessica in Tanzania courtesy KIVA

Pittsburgh Renaissance Radio takes a fresh look at local business news

Pittsburgh has a new radio and web stream business show with a hip format and online podcast library that hopes to elevate the local business conversation.

Pittsburgh Rennaissance Radio airs live everyday from 3 to 6 p.m. on radio 1360 AM and on the web at prrradio.com where you can click on a previous podcast through Pittsburgh’s Talkshoe. From taxes and jobs to the latest local business and development news, PRR offers intelligent, in-depth interviews with local leaders who report on what is happening globally and distill the meaning for listeners locally.

With a relatively young staff of six—if you include the exuberant founder Ron Morris—and an upbeat music library that rivals the eclectic mix at NPR, PRR is not your grandfather’s radio show.

“We’ve got California going to hell in a handbasket everyday and Hoddy Hanna (of Howard Hanna Real Estate) talking about the growing real estate market in Pittsburgh,” says Ron Cygnarowicz, vice president. “Ron wanted a younger staff because he wanted to reach both an older and a younger audience.”

PRR is based on the success of “The American Entrepreneur,” the Saturday morning program with Morris that has aired for the past 10 years. To mix it up, local top executives take turns as host each week: Mark DeSantis, CEO of Mobile Fusion; Jim Roddey, former Allegheny County executive, David Radin, creator of Megabyte Minute to name but a few.

A weekly spot on local tech companies, “TechVibe,” airs each Tuesday with Jonathan Kersting and Audrey Russo of the Pittsburgh Technology Council.
“We want to raise the business IQ of the region,” says Morris. “If we help people to become more business savvy, we’ll see better employees, better entrepreneurs, better businesses overall.”

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Ron Cygnarowicz, Ron Morris, Pittsburgh Renaissance Radio

Image courtesy Pittsburgh Renaissance Radio

Pitt takes latest bioscience research on the road to region's schools

University of Pittsburgh unveiled a 70-foot mobile science laboratory that will give K-12 students hands-on knowledge of the latest medical research and advanced biology.

The three-year program was initiated by the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse and involves Pitt, the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative Inc. (PTEI) and the Pittsburgh-based Lyceum Group. The mobile lab will serve 4,000 Allegheny County students and extend beyond to underserved rural districts in Washington, Green and Fayette counties and north to Meadville and Erie.

“Our role is to bridge what’s going on in our research labs with high-quality research that’s changing the face of science everyday with what teachers in our region are required to teach,” says Alison Slinskey Legg, director of outreach for the Department of Biology at Pitt. “This is a fully functional state-of-the-art laboratory.”

The lab contains 26 work stations for 52 students and an upper staging for an additional 10 students and teachers. The interior is enclosed in glass on one side, keeping the temperature constant while providing natural light “so students don’t feel like they’re in a tin can,” says Legg.

The region joins 20 other cities across the country in offering the latest research through mobile programs. Student activities include an opportunity to diagnose and control fictional viral epidemics to an investigation of natural selection in gut organisms.

The University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) purchased the mobile laboratory for $120,000 and will support its operation with $25,000 annually. The program hopes to hire more staff and raise additional funds in the coming year.

“We need to show kids that science is fun by high school, middle school, and, ideally, elementary school, if we want to foster a pipeline of new scientists,” says Steven Reis, director of CTSI.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Alison Slinskey Legg, University of Pittsburgh, Steven Reis, CTSI

Image courtesy University of Pittsburgh

Guided by progressive principles, Newton Consulting growing

A teacher once told Rick Newton that he should be able to sum up his life calling with a single phrase.

“I’m a vision implementer,” he says. “I have the ability to understand another’s business vision, adopt it as my own and get from point A to point B.”

With a refreshing business model and progressive principles, the IT consulting company has grown in four quick years into an $8 million business with 25 full-time and 25 sub-contracted employees, all of whom work virtually from home or in local coffee shops.

To top it off, Newton Consulting won a Pittsburgh Technology Council Tech 50 award this year in the service provider category.

"What has been tremendously satisfying to me is that this model, built on customer focus, principles and giving away the company, has been successful," says Newton, who strives for a personal and professional balance, working from a carriage house on an old country estate in Washington County. "As the company took off, I had to ask myself whether I wanted a large piece of a small pie or a small piece of a big pie."

Opting for the latter, Newton's virtual model allows the company to pass savings on to customers and profits on to employees, thereby creating a “Wal-Mart-like” low margin model that attracts and retains quality talent. With a strong team of top tier consultants, Newton serves both large and small companies like GlaxoSmithKline, Walt Disney World, UnivarUSA, and local software company, ANSYS

“Newton is not the typical consulting company,” reflects Gregg Gantwarg, vice president of marketing communications, who worked for Newton while launching his own company, Virtual Edge, based on a virtual model. “It’s a very selfless setup. Not the typical corporate line.”

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Rick Newton, Gregg Gantwarg, Newton Consulting

Image courtesy Newton Consulting

Pittsburgh indicators show economic clout despite national outlook

Despite the downward spiral of the nation’s economy, Pittsburgh leaders express  optimism that the region’s job performance showed strength in September.

While the full impact of the national economy has yet to be measured locally, PittsburghToday reports that the 2008 September job figures posted a record high compared to a national trend of declining jobs. PT's figures are based on the latest U.S. Dept. of Labor statistics.

Pittsburgh gained 7,000 jobs between September 2007 and September 2008 while many major metropolitan regions lost tens of thousands of jobs. In addition, September 2008 was the first time the region had more jobs than prior to the 2001-2002 recession.

“The Pittsburgh region continues to buck the national trend,” says Harold Miller, president of Future Strategies LLC. “Although the job data were gathered before the recent Wall St. meltdown, the two major industries driving our economy – health care and higher education – will probably not be affected significantly. Even UPMC’s reduction in employees last week, while very unfortunate, leaves health care with hundreds more jobs than it had a year ago.”

In times like these, people need to read the numbers carefully, leaders add. PittsburghToday attempts to explain the often muddled number game that can distort what's going on in cities in transition like Pittsburgh.

For example, a region’s unemployment rate is a terrible indicator of labor force growth or loss, says Miller. Technically it could signal either total jobs lost or gained or an increase or decline in the number of people looking for work. Seasonal adjustments, like the typical back-to-school drop in employment in the fall, contribute to misunderstandings.

“In times like these we need to be very cautious and not jump to any conclusions,” notes John Craig, president of Pittsburgh Regional Indicators. “If this is a recession, Pittsburgh compared to other places is rather well placed. We have a unique history of our own and it remains to be seen what we will see.”

To read the Pop City story on PittsburghToday, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: John Craig, Pittsburgh Today; Harold Miller, Future Strategies

Pop City Green Report with the latest sustainable news

The ever widening swath of green continues to spread throughout our region with a number of new initiatives, programs, even a glog.

The City of Pittsburgh has created a new staff position, a sustainability coordinator for a new Office of Sustainability and Energy Efficiency. Lindsay Baxter, who assisted on mapping the Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan, will help propel the region toward continued green growth. She was a former member of the group Clean Air-Cool Planet.

“We made great strides to reduce our city’s carbon footprint, and we will continue to do what it takes to help our region create green collar jobs and improve our residents’ quality of life,” says Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

University of Pittsburgh student Paul Trichon has created a green blog, or glog, a social networking site that connects users and helps to increase environmental awareness. Check it out here.

Chatham University has purchased a 2009 Toyota Prius police car. The purchase was one of several green initiatives recently launched at the school.

The university’s new Eden Hall Farm Campus in Richland Township serves as a living laboratory for students studying women and environmental sustainability. In addition, Chatham serves locally-grown, hormone-free food in its dining hall and waste is composted through a pilot project with Parkhurst and Agrecycle Inc. of Pittsburgh.

Kudos to Palate Partners and Dreadnought Wines in the Strip District who are helping local businesses to go greener, encouraging the use of real plates and glass instead of styrofoam containers and helping businesses to recycle.

A $200,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments will sponsor the Allegheny River Stewardship Project, a community based environmental health program that studies water contamination in the Allegheny River, a flagship program of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC).

Writer: Deb Smit
Sources: Mayor Luke Ravenstahl; Walt Fowler, Chatham University; Deb Mortillaro, Palate Partners; Tim Koncewicz; Heinz Endowments

2008 National Park(ing) Day project by artist Sean Derry

Pittsburgh filmmaker and RMU grad unveils "The Korean" at Three Rivers Arts Festival

Pittsburgh filmmaker Thomas Dixon likes to say that he finished his first feature length action film for less than the cost of a car.

“It’s called a no-budget film,” he explains. “Many Pittsburgh people did us favors, gave us things for free. Everyone worked for free, which is a pretty big deal for a crew of 5 and cast of 40.”

The 25-year-old 2005 Robert Morris University graduate wrote, directed and produced the script for “The Korean,” a 98-minute fast-paced film about a mob cleaner who hunts down four associates that have betrayed his boss. The film, features a local cast and crew, filmed here and has attracted the attention of several large studios. It also won the “Best Action Feature Film” at the AOF Film Festival in Pasadena.

Pittsburgh will have an opportunity to see the local premiere at this year’s Three Rivers International Film Festival.

Starring Josiah D. Lee, from the TV series “Lost” and the movie “Collateral” with Tom Cruise, the movie follows a non-sequential story line similar to “Pulp Fiction,” Dixon says. Scenes were shot in 30 different locations including Glassport, Moon, Station Square and downtown Pittsburgh.

The movie was wrapped up in six days this summer, despite a searing heatwave and a rainstorm. Post production was done at Mogul Mind with the help of John Yost, who also appears in the film.

Large distributors are reviewing the film and Dixon expects it will be released in 2009 on DVD and Video on Demand.

The screenings are open to the public. For showtimes, click here and scroll down.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Tom Dixon

Image courtesy The Korean Production Office

And the winner is...Pittsburgh Tech Council honors top companies

Pittsburgh’s brightest tech stars gathered this month to celebrate 50 of the region’s stellar companies and the 25th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Technology Council.

Seven companies and a CEO received Tech 50 Awards during an elegant ceremony at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland. Featured speaker and Pittsburgh native Regis McKenna, Silicon Valley marketing guru and author, offered sage words as the community strives to take its place among global leaders of technology.

“Innovation today requires a community and culture of big and small companies and universities working together,” McKenna noted. “The most innovative product development comes from companies that are less than 5 years old with less than 250 employees. Small companies become the incubators of larger companies.”

McKenna, whose high-tech marketing firm helped to rocket startups like Apple, America Online and Genentech to the top, encouraged the region to work together to embrace the innovative spirit of entrepreneurs.

PTC Council President and CEO Audrey Russo (see this week's Pop City story on her here) applauded the region’s efforts this year and reflected on the future of renewable energy and biotechnology for the region.

“As the world looks for clean technology, so they will increasingly look toward Pittsburgh,” she said. “If we get it right, Pittsburgh’s brightest days are just around the corner.”

This year’s winners of the 12th annual Tech 50 Awards included:

For a complete listing of the Tech 50 nominees, click here.

To receive Pop City free each week, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Audrey Russo and Kevin Lane, PTC, Regis McKenna, Regis McKenna Inc.

Image courtesy Pittsburgh Technology Council

New weekly online magazine Keystone Edge captures the story of the PA economy

From Erie to Philadelphia, a new economy is emerging in Pennsylvania and Keystone Edge plans to tell the story.

The new online magazine is the ninth and latest publication created by Detroit-based Issue Media Group, a company dedicated to promoting an alternative urban narrative in cities and regions from Michigan to Pennsylvania and beyond. 

Pop City Media was among the first e-zines launched by IMG more than 2 years ago. Other publications include Metromode in Southeast Michigan, SoapBox in Cincinnati and Capital Gains in Lansing.

Keystone Edge promises the latest news on emerging tech sectors and industries in Pennsylvania. The e-zine is available for free by email each Thursday and will feature fresh, original writing, creative photography, videos and blogs as it highlights innovative new businesses, cool places to live and creative people behind the scenes across the state.

"Alternative energy, robotics, advanced healthcare, sustainable building and urban design—these are the industries of the future and we want to show where and how they are emerging here in Pennsylvania,” says John Davidson, managing editor. “There's a lot to cover."

In addition to Davidson, who is based in Philadelphia, the staff includes Joseph Plummer, a former Pittsburgh Post Gazette editor and Pittsburgh Technology Council executive, and Michael Persico, a Philadelphia-based freelance photographer.

"We speak to, and with, the leaders of the future economy," adds Brian Boyle, publisher of KE and co-founder of IMG. "Keystone Edge is about challenging how you see your state and its future."

To receive Keystone Edge free each week, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: John Davidson, Keystone Edge; Brian Boyle, Issue Media Group

Pittsburgh region to benefit from two new STEM education centers

The shortage of science, technology, engineering and math talent—known as STEM—in the nation will receive a major boost with the creation of two  STEM Centers here.
The Pittsburgh Public Schools’ new Science and Technology Academy magnet school plans to open in the fall of 2009. Another center is in the preliminary phase, a $40 million vocational career center that will replace the Fayette Area Vocational-Technical School in Georges Township. The center would be built in the University Technology Park next to Penn State Fayette, the Eberly Campus.

The centers, if the Fayette center is approved, will be two of 100 secondary schools promoting science education nationwide through the federal Stem Center Grant Program.

This month Pittsburgh launched a new website to assist parents of students who are considering applying to the magnet program. (To view the website, click here.)

The Pittsburgh program, Dream, Discover, Design, is available to students who live within the boundaries of the city school district. The academy will be located in the Frick building in Oakland.

In an effort to attract a diverse pool of passionate students, the district has devised an innovative “weighted lottery” that it hopes will become a model for similar schools across the country.

“We want to create a school that supports students as they become the best in these fields, students with a passion who are not necessarily the highest achievers in their own schools,” explains Samuel Franklin, project manager. “It’s still a lottery, anyone can apply, but if you meet certain criteria you can enter your application additional times.”

Ron Sheba, manager of the Fay-Penn Economic Development Council, notes:  “What will make this development unique is it will not only address STEM education, but it will be a STEM center for research and training as well as offer the business sector a space for business development and training.”

To receive Pop City free every week, click here.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Samuel Franklin, Pittsburgh Public Schools, Ron Sheba, Fay-Penn Economic Development Council

Pittsburgh doctors offered access to latest in electronic health record technology

Pittsburgh area doctors have an opportunity to access to the latest in electronic health record technology through a revolutionary program being offered in the region.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative (PRHI) are launching a 5-year project that will demonstrate to physicians the benefits of using state-of-the-art health record technology and give them a chance to earn almost $60,000 in incentives. The Pittsburgh region is one of four locations in the country selected for the program by CMS.

“Just imagine the quality care we can provide if every person involved in a patient’s care could access his or her health records at a moment’s notice, and also chart progress on their health status. PRHI adamantly believes that Electronic Health Records can elevate our healthcare system,” says Dr. Karen Wolk Feinstein, president, CEO and founder of PRHI.

Any primary care practice in Southwestern PA with 20 or fewer providers is eligible. Highmark is also making $29 million available to help practices purchase and/or implement the new technology. The application process is underway and runs through November 26th.

Electronic health records gives doctors and medical professionals access to information across a broad spectrum, connecting laboratories, pharmacies, hospitals, even patients with information. The system can be critical in the treatment and management of chronic diseases, streamline processes and reduce medical errors.

For more information on the EHR demonstration or to apply for the program, click here or call 412-594-2554.

To receive Pop City every week, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Karen Wolk Feinstein, PRHI

Visual artist Ann Hamilton among five to receive 2008 Heinz Awards

An Ohio artist who helped to design the Allegheny Riverfront Park, an environmental leader and a molecular biologist in search of a cure for malaria are among the five people named as The Heinz Awards winners this week.

The coveted $250,000 prize, given by the Pittsburgh-based Heinz Family Foundation, recognizes individual excellence as well as qualities of the heart and mind. Awarded to those who’ve made a substantial contribution in one of five areas, it is among the largest individual achievement prizes in the world.

“The awards are important reminder for the region of the life of Sen. John Heinz,” says Kim O’Dell, director The Heinz Awards. “As future generations emerge fewer people will know of his life’s work, which is reflected by these recipients.”

The recipients this year include:

Arts and Humanities: Ann Hamilton of Columbus, Ohio, a provocative visual artist whose local projects include the design of the Allegheny Riverfront Park in Pittsburgh as well as several sculptures and the handrail there.

Environment: Thomas FitzGerald, founder and director of the Kentucky Resources Council, an environmental advocacy organization that promotes environmental responsibility and protects citizens from harm.

Human Condition: Brenda Krause Eheart, founder of Generations of Hope and Hope Meadows in Champaign, Illinois, an intergenerational neighborhood that brings together foster children, adoptive parents and seniors.

Public Policy: Robert Greenstein, founder and executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which analyzes the impact of federal and state budgets on low- and moderate- income families.

Technology, the Economy and Employment: Joseph DeRisi, a molecular biologist, researcher and inventor from San Francisco who is working to crack the genetic code for malaria.

To receive Pop City each week, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Kim O'Dell, Russ Martz, The Heinz Family Foundation

Pittsburgh Regional Indicators reports strong July job performance

While the national economy continued to slide in July, Pittsburgh’s regional job rate showed solid growth, posting better gains than many benchmark regions in the country according to the Pittsburgh Regional Indicators.

The Pittsburgh region reported 4,300 more jobs in July 2008 compared to July 2007 and had higher job growth than 8 out of 14 benchmark regions, including Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis. Private sector jobs totaled $1,035,600 in July, an increase of 5,400 over July 2007. Only five benchmark cities added private jobs at a higher rate. To read the latest figures in PittsburghToday, click here.

“I think the numbers are very encouraging,” says John Craig, president of Pittsburgh Regional Indicators. “From the very beginning we said we want to measure jobs. Compared to what is going on nationally and among benchmark cities, we’re doing relatively well.”

While the Pittsburgh population has been on the decline, the number of people employed in our region is rising due in part to changes in traditional work practices. “Our labor force is getting back up to being very close to the best days we’ve had in 2001,” Craig adds.

Among the positive notes was the acceleration in Leisure and Hospitality and Administrative and Support Services jobs. Nearly 2,800 jobs were added in these two sectors. Additionally, the Education and Health Services sector continued to post gains, having created 5,300 new jobs in the last 12 months.

Pittsburgh economic prognosticator and columnist Harold Miller agrees in part. “It certainly puts us in a better position than places (in the country) that lose jobs. Part of the reason we’ve stayed ahead is because such a big proportion of our jobs are in healthcare and higher education, economic sectors that are resistant (to a recession).”

The numbers, of course, can be daunting. Meet John Craig and Harold Miller and learn what the numbers really mean at the next CityLIVE event on September 10th.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: John Craig, Harold Miller, Pittsburgh Regional Indicators

Pittsburgh celebrates region's global diversity all month

There’s a party going on in Pittsburgh this month.

GlobalPittsburgh will showcase the best and brightest with a month-long series of special events, a celebration of the region’s international roots as both a home to more than 50 international communities and 330 foreign-owned companies with 50,000 employees.

“All of these events in September represent the tip of iceberg of the Pittsburgh region’s international connections,” says Roger Cranville, a GlobalPittsburgh coordinator. “2008 is the year when Pittsburgh celebrates innovation, tech and global connections.”

The keynote event gets underway during Pennsylvania International Week with, on Sept. 9th, The Pittsburgh Council for International Visitors’ Bridge Awards Banquet, a gathering of some of the most prominent international companies in Pittsburgh who will welcome overseas trade and business representatives to the city. Click here for more details.

Other events to look for include: Armchair Travels: China, Sept. 6; International Literacy Day, Sept. 9; British Invasion of Verona, Sept. 13th; Head of the Ohio Regatta, September 27 and the Penn Brewery Oktoberfest, September 19-21 and 26-28. To see the calendar of events, click here.

The event is sponsored by the GlobalPittsburgh Partners. For more information about the GlobalPittsburgh Celebration, click here.

Image courtesy Pittsburgh Regional Alliance

Pittsburgh’s Green Apple Bartering swaps everything for anything

Bartering, the world’s oldest form of commercial enterprise, has taken an online twist.

Pittsburgh-based Green Apple Barter Services offers customers an opportunity to swap goods and services, trading everything ffrom surplus inventory to heat exchangers, vacations, even meals at local restaurants. The online company, founded by Michael Krane in 1991, manages $4 million in bartering activity for more than 1,500 clients from Boston to Honolulu.

GAB works like a bank, awarding sellers with credits for goods sold that can be turned around to buy other products and services offered by GAB. The company has moved a total volume of almost $58 million.

For example, when the Firehouse Lounge on the South Side needed a new roof deck, they went to GAB who helped them find a deck company who installed it on trade. The whole deal was sealed with credits, says Justin Krane, director of marketing.

What sets GAB apart from other online sellers is its team of brokers who bring buyers and sellers together to seal deals. GAB employs 15 people in its two offices at its distribution center in the North Hills and administration center on the South Side.

“Most (bartering) companies rely on the Internet to put things together,” Krane adds. “We’ve found we need that direct contact to service people’s needs.”

Large and small companies and individual sellers are welcome. For Pittsburgh traders, credits can pay for a meal at one of 90 local restaurants. “With the economy being a bit long and tall, it’s often better for a company to buy something on trade credits rather than spend the money,” says Krane.

Writer: Sara Brown and Debra Smit
Source: Michael and Justin Krane, Green Apple Bartering Services

Image courtesy Green Apple Barter Services

Pennsylvania ranks number one in the nation in biotechnology

Pennsylvania’s efforts to develop and diversify its biotechnology sector have made it the number one state in the nation, pulling in ahead of hotbeds like California and Massachusetts, says Business Facilities magazine.

BF gave Pa. the top slot in its latest edition. In 2007, Pa. notched fifth in the nation for the most educated workforce and was also noted as having the nation’s third-largest number of colleges and universities. The state was also ranked as the seventh largest cyberstate, according to the American Electronics Association (AeA).

The ranking identified more than 20 key criteria, including the amount of state R&D funding and venture capital investments; the level of concentrated occupational employment in biotech; tax exemptions and university grant funding.

Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse CEO John Manzetti says he isn’t surprised to see the state in the top tier considering the success he has witnessed in the Pittsburgh region. “Anyone in the top 10 can consider themselves a leader in biotechnology and I think we are.

“There’s no doubt that our numbers are spectacular,” he adds. “PLSG is adding three companies a month into our portfolio, which means we’ve unearthed a company or technology where an entrepreneur has an idea to do something. Or we get calls from the outside.”

The Life Sciences Greenhouse Initiative has, since 2001, invested more than $36.5 million in more than 170 projects. Additionally, the Ben Franklin Technology Partners, a statewide network that catalyzes entrepreneurship and technological innovation, leveraged $675 million and created and retained 2,475 jobs.

PLSG has invested $11.5 million directly into 50 local companies and raised $15.2 million in venture funding since its inception. One of its companies, Precision Therapeutics, is on its way to securing $31 million in venture funding this week (see the Pop City story here).

“There are clearly a lot of promising companies out there,” says Sean McDonald, CEO of Precision Therapeutics. “It’s like what happened in the IT and robotic sector, we need one of two companies to breakthrough and be successful and it will grease the way for others coming through. We certainly are aspiring to that.”

Writer: Debra Smit
Source: John Manzetti, PLSG

PNC creates Virtual Wallet tool for Gen Y

PNC has launched unique software that is pushing personal online banking to the next level, especially for the generation of young adults who are new at money management.

Called Virtual Wallet, the tool offers the latest patent-pending technologies aimed at helping Gen Yers plan, save and eliminate costly financial mistakes. This hi-def way of looking at personal finances is not just for the newly initiated in the banking world. Internet savvy customers may benefit as well.

“We went through a lot of pains to design this for the Gen Y user,” explains Michael Ley, vice president of the e-Business division. “It’s very easy to set up and very bill-centric. I think this innovation will change how online banking is viewed.”

A national study finds that people between the ages of 21 and 30 tend to be spendthrifts while managing loan debt from college. A calendar allows users to track their money in three linked accounts—spend, reserve and growth. The reserve account serves as overdraft protection while the savings account encourages short and long-term savings.

Features like “Money Bar” transfers between accounts and “Danger Days” helps to avoid overdraft fees. Want to save some money? “Punch the Pig” places a preset amount aside in savings.

Users may open an account with a minimum of $25 and there is no minimum balance requirement. The savings account offers a yield of 3 percent. PNC hopes to offer mobile bill paying in the future.

”We found that many of these users are just out of college, living paycheck to paycheck,” Ley adds. “By aligning our offering with a mental makeup on banking and reserves, it helps their money to grow.”

For a preview on Virtual Banking, click here.

Writer: Debra Smit
Source: Michael Ley, Gina Villiotti, PNC

Image courtesy PNC

Buy Fresh Buy Local tours sustainable farms & Phipps Project Green Heart

This Saturday marks the second annual Buy Fresh Buy Local Summer Farm Tour, a delicious opportunity to drive to the farms in our region that raise food using sustainable practices.

The tour runs on July 26th from noon to 5 p.m. and features 13 farms in Allegheny and surrounding counties. Farms will offer produce, pies, chops and other goods for sale, so bring a cooler. Farms will also feature a range of activities from hayrides to picnic spots, vegetable picking and educational talks. The cost is $10 per carload—exact change is preferred. Leave your pets at home.

The tour is an opportunity for the non-farming public to connect with local and organic farms in Southwestern, PA, and encourage their existence. The list and map of participating farms, along with further information, is available online. Click here.

In other conservation and sustainable gardening news, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has established Project Green Heart to encourage professional landscapers, homeowners, and gardeners to use sustainable landscape practices.

Specialists in the fields of horticulture, arboriculture, and forestry designed the curriculum, which includes the areas of soils and amendments, organic lawn care, tree planting and pruning, integrated pest management, and sustainable plant selection.

Project Green Heart also publishes an annual list of ten sustainable plants based on their non-invasive habits, resistance to disease and insects and low maintenance. The participating nurseries and the sustainable plants of 2008 can be found on Phipps’ website. Click here.

New Grow Pittsburgh gardens add value to communities

Grow Pittsburgh is sowing a swath of leafy greens across vacant city lots this summer with its first formal community garden program.

“Here We Grow Pittsburgh, Here We Grow” will bring Grow Pittsburgh together with community groups in East Liberty, Friendship, Garfield, Larimer and Bloomfield to create community gardens that will bloom and grow and expand into new communities in seasons to come, explains Miriam Manion, executive director.

The program was launched with the help of $7,500 Seed Award from The Sprout Fund.

“It’s been said that all things start with heirloom tomatoes,” Manion says cheerfully. “It certainly has been proven that if you start greening vacant lots, it adds considerable value to the community they’re in terms of increasing the value of adjacent properties. It’s a way to bring people together, plant an urban garden and clean up lots.”

Grow Pittsburgh has hired a community garden coordinator with the funding whose primary job is to work with community leaders, offer expertise, provide equipment and help with the planting of individual gardens.

Grow Pittsburgh, founded in 2005, has already established four successful and innovative agriculture programs in the region: Braddock Farms, The Edible Schoolyard, The Grow Pittsburgh Internship Program and The Frick Greenhouse Project. (For the Pop City story, click here.)

The unique aspect of the program is its long range vision of greening the city and cleaning up vacant lots through community gardens, says Manion. The URA has offered to support long range planning as well.  The communities decide whether they want to open their own farmstand with the produce, or simply share the seasons bounty with others in the community.

Writer: Debra Smit
Source: Mariam Manion, Grow Pittsburgh


Image courtesy Grow Pittsburgh

Walls Are Bad opens windows to the great local outdoors

Are walls bad?

A new regional website that promotes outdoor activities thinks so, especially if those walls keep you inside or promote hemmed in thinking, says Geoff Tolley, president of GBL Inc., the Strip District advertising firm that joined with digital partner Spaceboy Interactive to design the site.

“Walls hold us back, they stop us from going from where we want to go,” Tolley says. “Outdated perceptions of the region are walls. This is about breaking through and breaking down and showing what the region is really like.”

Wallsarebad.com hopes to build an online community around outdoor recreation in Western PA and promote a wide range of activities while inviting users to share information. The site is supported by local outdoor recreation partners ranging from retailers to outdoor activity professionals, membership organizations and foundations who hope to get the word out about events, places and entertainment. 

“The intent was to be comprehensive and provide a lot of listings, but create on top of that a virtual community where people can share stories, offer suggestions, and share photos,” says Tolley. “Walls are bad but sharing is good.”

For example, did you know that Pittsburgh is number five in the country for mountain biking? That we have more trees per square mile than any other region in the country? And more parks too? Want to find out the best places to take a 5-year-old?

To contribute to the site, users must first register. After that, the sky’s the limit.

“It’s one more reason to live here, come here and stay here, that’s what we want people to understand.”

Writer: Debra Smit
Source: Geoff Tolley, GBL Inc.

Image courtesy Wallsarebad.com

TourAnytime offers Pittsburgh audio tours via cellphone

You’ve walked by it countless times, the colorful Sprout Fund mural on Smithfield Street, and wistfully wished you knew what was behind the distinguished gentlemen under the hairdryers.

Now you can know, thanks to the free regional tours offered by TourAnytime of Pittsburgh. Hosted by the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, TourAnytime offers more than 100 walking, museum and individual tours 24/7 by cell phone through one phone number, anytime your schedule allows.

And MP3 tours with photos and videos are coming soon.

“What makes us unique is we’re not just about Pittsburgh but all of southwestern PA,” says Jan Dofner of Rivers of Steel. “This allows smaller heritage sites to get into the big picture with a technology that they might not have been able to do on their own.”

TourAnytime offers an array of vivid, self-guided tours, from the Battle of Homestead to the fabulous Sprout Fund murals that inhabit the local landscape. Museums, such as the Westmoreland Museum of Modern Art and Mattress Factory, find the technology works well for them too, says Jeff Leber, vice president and chief operating officer.

“It even works for couch potatoes,” he adds.

Roaming charges may be incurred for anyone outside of the 412 area code, but otherwise the tours are free.

“For a region known for its industry, this illustrates that our industrial and cultural heritage is of interest to people,” adds Dofner. “People want to know the stories. We’re hardworking people and we forget how interesting our region is and what we have to offer.”

To begin a tour, simply go to the TourAnytime website and follow the simple instructions.

Writer: Debra Smit
Source: Jeff Leber, Jan Dofner, Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area

Image courtesy TourAnytime

Five Pittsburgh businesses win PA environmental recognition

Five innovative Pittsburgh environmental projects and programs won 2008 Western Pennsylvania Environmental Awards.

The programs address a wide range of local and regional issues, including acid mine drainage, building sustainability, wildlife protection and hazardous waste management . Each winner will designate a $5,000 cash prize to be used in support of a nonprofit environmental program of their choice.

The winners are:

Children's Museum of Pittsburgh: The LEED-certified $29 million expansion of the Children's Museum has created a showcase in the region for environmental sustainability and advocacy.

Construction Junction: Since opening in 1999, Construction Junction has grown dramatically and diverted tons of usable building materials from landfills. CJ has grown into a $1 million business, employing 17 people. The company recently received a $300,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments for capital improvements.

Suzanne B. DeArment, executive director, Tamarack Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center: As a volunteer, DeArment has devoted the past 17 years to the care of sick, injured and orphaned wildlife in northwestern Pennsylvania. She has also been a prolific educator, having been involved in over 170 wildlife conservation programs that have included over 20,000 participants.

South Fayette Conservation Group : The abandoned Maude Mine was both an environmental and public safety and health hazard to the South Fayette Township community. The group has removed of the remaining coal mining structures, relocated 1.2 miles of a nearby stream, which greatly reduced acid mine drainage into the local watershed, eliminated dangerous high walls and buried exposed mine portals.

Southwestern Pennsylvania Household Hazardous Waste Task Force: Since it's formation in 2002, this task force has collected and disposed of hazardous wastes from over 14,000 households.

The Western Pennsylvania Environmental Awards program is sponsored by Dominion and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.

Pittsburgh native hopes to bring Great Lakes' urbanites together with GLUE

When Abby Wilson came home to Pittsburgh last year, she saw a region that seemed transformed yet in need of an entirely new spin.

“I had lived in New York and been around the world so I was thrilled to be back,” recalls Wilson, who had earned a degree in cultural anthropology at Columbia University. “It’s amazing to see the city so different from the one I left. There are a lot of great things happening here.”

Wilson struck up a conversation with a colleague, Sarah Szurpicki, who had moved back to her hometown of Detroit. The two had worked on political campaigns together and hatched a daring plan to help their urban communities move beyond images of rust-belt, industrial decline.

With the help of $70,000 in grants from several prestigious organizations—including the Brookings Institution and the John R. Oishei Foundation —they launched the Great Lakes Urban Exchange, or GLUE, a hip, web-based forum for post-boomer urbanists to promote power, aide in positive transformation and address the shared challenges of similarly-storied older industrial cities situated in the Great Lakes watershed.

“Basically it’s the two of us trying to organize a movement in 22 cities,” Wilson laughs. “We’re trying really hard to bring together a diverse community, people in public policy, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, the curious.”

Although GLUE is in its infancy, it has held meetings in many cities and momentum is building. GLUE hopes attract support, spark creativity and change the conversation in the 22-city region.

Anyone can join, Wilson says. Check out the website or attend the next Pittsburgh meeting on June 10th, location and time to be announced. For more information, click here.

Writer: Debra Smit
Source: Abby Wilson, GLUE

Image courtesy Great Lakes Urban Exchange

Pittsburgh International Celebration kicks off in September

The global spotlight will hit the region this September as the Pittsburgh 250 Initiative kicks off a month long Pittsburgh International Celebration.

Events will showcase Pittsburgh in its global glory as a technology center for youthful innovation, linking many local organizations with global goals and interests. After all, more than 100 global companies with more than $1 billion in revenues operate here, more than 10,000 overseas students attend schools in the region and Pittsburgh boasts some 50 ethnic communities.

“We’re hoping to spread the good news about Pittsburgh’s international connections and generate excitement about how globally connected Pittsburgh is,” says Roger Cranville, senior vp of global marketing for the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance. “When you lift a few stones, it’s surprising how connected we are to the rest of the world. When you collect events together (all in one month), you create critical mass and get a great international celebration.”

The month will mix new and existing events and recognize members of the international community who continue to play a role in the city’s atmosphere of innovation and entrepreneurship. Here's a glimpse at just a few:

· The International Bridge Awards Dinner
· Pennsylvania International Week, which brings the state’s global trade
  representatives to Pittsburgh
· The launch of the Pittsburgh Middle East Institute featuring speaker
  Thomas Friedman
· The Head of the Ohio Regatta
· The Penn Brewery Oktoberfest

Pittsburgh International Month activities will be part of the year-long Pittsburgh 250 celebration.

Source: Roger Cranville, Pittsburgh Regional Alliance

DCED creates first digital guide to neighborhood revitalization

Pennsylvania entered the electronic age with the unveiling of its first digitally created book, a flashy, tech savvy publication designed to give local communities the tools it needs to revitalize neighborhoods and win funding.

Called the Community Revitalization Guide, it offers a step-by-step approach on how to achieve success from identifying and envisioning an asset-rich redevelopment scheme to attracting financial investment and implementation assistance.

“We are a saying to communities, ‘don’t come (to the state) looking for individual programs that might provide money and submit multiple applications,’” explains Ken Klothen, deputy secretary for Community Affairs and Redevelopment. “It is much better if communities think of projects as the first pebble in the pond that will ripple out, make an impact and create change in the community. We want communities to let us decide the best packages that support the program.”

The state has two goals: to increase the pipeline flow of good projects and increase the capacity of local officials to plan and implement them. “Many communities don’t have the capacity to figure out that first impact project,” he adds. “This guide is aimed at that municipal official."

Gov. Rendell and state agencies have allocated more than $433 million to remove blighted buildings, design safer streets, and improve storefronts. The guide will help municipal officials envision ideas and plan projects that will attract investment, Klothen says.

To read the guide, click here. For more information, visit www.newpa.com.

Writer: Debra Smit
Source: Ken Klothen, Janel Miller, DCED

Image courtesy Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development

Pittsburgh's Great Outdoors Week kicks off today!

Pittsburgh’s Great Outdoors Week kicks off today, May 14th, with another great lineup of events to get the city outdoors.

The week strives to introduce and engage individuals in the many outdoor recreation opportunities available in Southwestern PA. Various events are scheduled around the region, including kayaking, biking, dragon boats, rock climbing and fishing. Individuals from all skill levels and backgrounds are invited to participate.

Pedal Pittsburgh promises to draw thousands of riders this Saturday, May 18th, offering rides ranging from six to 60 miles. For a full listing of activities and events, click here.

CEOs for Cities brings fresh insights on tough times to Pittsburgh in May

The forward-thinking national idea lab, CEOs for Cities, arrives in Pittsburgh in May to tackle the national recession in “Next Generation Cities: Finding New Sources of Strength in Tough Times.”

This marks the first visit to Pittsburgh for the organization, a collection of high-powered corporate CEOs, university presidents, foundation officials and business and civic leaders who inspire one another while creating a new agenda for urban America, one that embraces the role of cities as centers of America’s global prosperity.

“This gives us a chance to show off our highlights,” says Anne-Marie Lubenau, president and CEO of the Community Design Center of Pittsburgh. “Remarkably, there exists a misunderstanding of what Pittsburgh is in this century. We can share our transition from an industrial to a green city with LEED-certified building, the redevelopment of our riverfront and our reconnection to the natural environment.”

The 30-member Pittsburgh delegation is the largest contingent in CEOs for Cities, reflecting a commitment and devotion that leaders here feel toward inspiring change in the region.

The Pittsburgh conference will conclude with a new set of insights that city leaders may use to position their region for a new wave of opportunities that will emerge as a result of economic challenges, globalization and climate change.

Writer: Debra Smit
Source: CEO for Cities, Anne-Marie Lubenau, CDCP, Eve Picker, No Wall Productions


Another list? Pittsburgh lands in the Forbes Top 10 Tech Cities

A city can never be on too many A-lists.

Famous for its lists, Forbes magazine ranked Pittsburgh No. 6 on its Top 10 Tech Cities list this month. “Resuscitated after decades of economic malaise,” the article begins, “the old steel town has become an innovative force in such areas as health care, biomedical technology, nuclear energy and robotics.”

Forbes also applauded Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute and the school’s Collaborative Innovation Center “that has enticed Intel and Apple to build labs in the area.”

“It’s very gratifying. We’ve done a good job of shouting and sharing and hit some things out of the ballpark,” agrees Audrey Russo, president of the Pittsburgh Technology Council. “But are we incrementally changing or are we changing at the same slow, steady state? How can we really move the needle so we can really catapult into the next 25 years?”

“As a region, we’re becoming recognized for the fact that we’re a high tech city,” notes Pittsburgh Regional Alliance President Dewitt Peart. “From our vantage point, what’s becoming evident is the role that Pittsburgh businesses play in this global economy.”

Our competitive advantage is not products we are producing but the huge appetite for products we’ve been historically known for: life sciences, media communications, robotics, adds Peart. “Last year exports grew by 20 percent while the average across country was 8 percent. "We happen to be producing what the world needs at that moment. Academics in our region are the innovators of the future.”

And there’s more. Pennsylvania received good news last week when AeA, the nation’s largest technology trade association, released its annual Cyberstates report detailing national and state job trends. Pennsylvania’s high-tech industry added 6,400 jobs, moving up one spot to become the seventh largest cyberstate.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Forbes, Audrey Russo, Pittsburgh Technology Council, Dewitt Peart, PRA


Pittsburgh region receives $26M to develop clean fossil fuel technology

A consortium of three regional universities will receive up to $26 million in funding to develop cleaner fossil fuel technologies that may reduce greenhouse gases and the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, and West Virginia University will form a partnership, called CWP Inc., and will work through an onsite contractor, RDS Inc., at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). NETL is the national laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy with facilities in South Park, Morgantown and three other states. More than 75 scientists and student researchers will work with more than 150 NETL scientists and researchers here to study cleaner methods for generating coal, oil and gas energy.

Areas of study will include carbon capture and sequestration, the conversion of coal to liquid fuels, developing improved turbine generators and new fuel cell technologies that use coal-derived synthetic fuels, says Andrew Gellman, Carnegie Mellon chemical engineering professor and director for the consortium.

“This offers an opportunity for the three universities to really enhance the research they’re doing in fossil fuels,” explains Gellman. “It creates a mechanism for the schools to collaborate with one another, bringing together different skill sets. Together we can do much more; it creates a synergetic kind of relationship.”

With fossil fuels comprising an 86 percent share of the U.S. energy supply into 2030, this research holds promise, Gellman adds. “In the next several decades, society has to rely on fossil fuel for energy. What we need is to use the fuel we have efficiently, without destroying the environment.”

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Andrew Gellman, Carnegie Mellon University, Morgan Kelly, University of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh ranks #2 nationally in venture capital growth

Innovation Works’ Matt Harbaugh saw it coming. In fact, he predicted it.

The national figures for venture capital investment in 2007 are in and Pittsburgh is the second fastest growing region in the country, according to The Money Tree Report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and The National Venture Capital Association.

The analysis focused on the ten-year growth rates for regions across the country and ranked the fastest growing areas based on number of companies funded, excluding areas that had under $100 million in investment in 2007.

Pittsburgh ranked right behind the state of New Mexico with total investment in 2007 of $198 million compared to $32 million in 1997. Its growth rate of 513 percent beat out other cities like Seattle (211 percent), Los Angeles (155 percent) and Washington, D.C. (130 percent). (For the analysis, click here.)

“Pittsburgh is starting to show some real maturity and momentum. It’s a sign that a lot of things are happening,” notes Rich Lunak, president and CEO of Innovation Works. “The region is bringing in more research dollars and organizations like Innovation Works are putting more seed money into companies.”

Sixty-six percent of the companies receiving investments were seed and early stage companies, according to the NVCA report. The top industries in Pittsburgh receiving funding were life sciences, software and clean technology. The investments that topped the chart in 2007 were Millennium Pharmacy, Logical Therapeutics and BPL Global.

“The numbers are even more impressive when you consider that Pittsburgh isn’t as large as the other regions being recognized here,” adds Matt Harbaugh, IW chief investment officer. "We’re well on our way to achieving that critical mass of entrepreneurial companies that feed on themselves, becoming a real engine for growth in the region.”

With the fastest growing VC regions now outside of the Silicon Valley, California is coming here. For this week’s Pop City story, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Rich Lunak, Matt Harbaugh, Innovation Works


Businesses invest $4 billion in the Pittsburgh region in 2007

Despite news of a looming economic stall, 2007 proved to be a “golden year” for businesses in the Pittsburgh region.

An “unscientific survey” compiled by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development reveals that the job market here is healthy and strong. Jobs and investments in the manufacturing, information and communications technology and life sciences sectors are growing and Pittsburgh export trade figures are higher than the national average -- 20 percent compared to the national average of 8 percent.

“This is the first year we attempted on a regional scale to collect successes across our 10-county region,” explains DeWitt Peart, executive vice president of economic development for the Allegheny Conference. “This survey, which by no means is comprehensive, helps us to understand our economy, understand our competitive advantage and tell the world our story.”

Highlights of the tally reveal the following about 2007:        

·    308 corporate investments and development projects were announced.
·    215 companies added or retained jobs.
·    13,000 new jobs were created and 11,000 jobs were retained.
·    On the investment side, companies committed to $2 billion in                      investments and another $2 billion in development, a total of $4 billion in investment overall.
·    The three largest-growing sectors out of 308 projects were manufacturing, 112, information and communications technology, 42, and life sciences, 18.

The largest investments were made by PITG Gaming, $450 million; Westinghouse Electric at $200 million; and Meadows Racetrack & Casino at $200 million.

Other companies that made major investments in the region last year included: NorAM Biofuels, $115 million; BNY Mellon, $70 million; Johnson Matthey, $43 million; Perryman Company, $40 million; and St.Clair Hospital, $37 million.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: DeWitt Peart, Allegheny Conference

Pittsburgh Internet indie boutique ModCloth triples in size, hiring

Pittsburgh Internet boutique, ModCloth, is a hot business these days, its indie and vintage style brands flying out the door while its business triples in size.

Eric and Susan Koger, both graduates of Carnegie Mellon University, founded the Internet business in their 3-story Friendship home in 2002 and were growing at a leisurely pace until last December when sales went literally through the roof.

“We started it as a hobby,” explains Susan, the company’s creative director. “We operate similar to a small boutique. We buy items at wholesale and put them up on our site. I think we’re one of the most unique sites on the Internet for the variety of items we carry.”

ModCloth features unique retro, indie and vintage fashion from a stable of 40 hot designers that include Soundgirl Clothing and Stop Staring. Looking for mod London loafers or an Agent 99 trench coat? Here it is.

To make room for its growing inventory, ModCloth is looking to move its operation to an 8,000 square foot office and warehouse space. Plans call for adding an additional 14 people to the eight person team, including a graphic designer, customer care manager, vendor manager, shipping and warehouse team, fashion writer, full-time photographer and a marketing manager.

A $50,000 private investment late last year enabled ModCloth to invest in more inventory and the result was explosive growth in December, explains Eric, co-founder and CEO. In December the company had 250,000 unique visitors to its site and the number is growing by 20,000 hits a month, thanks in large part to the Google search. ModCloth is on target to quadruple its revenues this year.

Eric will be the featured business speaker at this month’s MIT Enterprise Forum on Wednesday, March 19th at the Pittsburgh Golf Club. For more information on the event, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Eric and Susan Koger, ModCloth

Image courtesy ModCloth

Regional Climate Change forum explores sustainable business innovations

Three Pittsburgh organizations have joined forces to convene a one-day regional conversation about climate change and possibilities for businesses.

Climate Change Uncertainties: Opportunities for Business Innovation? brings together local business, engineering and professional organizations to ponder innovative approaches to meeting the challenges of sustainability.

The event is the first in a series of solutions that are being presented to the region as part of Sustainable Pittsburgh’s Champions for Sustainability (C4S), a network for that will convene six times a year and aspires to be the nation’s largest and most effective region-based collaboration of leaders accelerating the practice and policy of sustainability in business and civic circles.

C4S brings together a new network of companies, large and small, from many different industries and includes entrepreneurs, community leaders, university researchers, educators, and other social ventures.

“With so much interest, confusion and uncertainty in this area, we hope to begin a dialogue,” says Matt Mehalik, program manager for Sustainable Pittsburgh. “There needs to be some kind of response that advances the innovation and interest in this for our region.”

The event will be held on Thursday, March 27th at the Four Points by Sheraton Pittsburgh North in Mars, PA. The cost is $100 per person and there is a special student rate of $35.

The seminar is sponsored by local chapters of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE), and the Environmental and Water Resources Institute (EWRI) in association with the Allegheny Mountain section of the Air & Waste Management Association (AWMA) and Sustainable Pittsburgh’s Champions for Sustainability (C4S).

For more information on the event and Champions for Sustainability, click here.

Shadyside dentist opens sustainable, spa-like practice

Dr. Joseph Curley doesn’t call himself a “green” dentist, just a kinder, gentler dentist who hopes to put a more progressive spin on the profession.

After 10 years of practice in Monroeville, Curley sold his business, moved to Shadyside last year and opened transcenDENTAL, a practice that combines state-of-the-art technology with sustainability. His business recently qualified for a $93,807 Pollution Prevention Assistance Loan from the state, which helped him to purchase new equipment.

“A lot of people associate fear with dentistry, and that’s the segment of the market we are trying to reach,” explains Curley. “The idea is to make the experience a little more palatable, no pun intended!”

Walk into transcenDENTAL and you enter a place with a spa-like feel, earth tone walls and orchids throughout. Digital radiography reduces the amount of radiation patients receive during X-rays by 90 percent. The process also eliminates lead foil, plastic waste and toxic film processing chemicals that are normally discharged into the environment, he says.

A dry suction system is also used during procedures. Conventional systems rely on continuously running water, says Curley, who estimates that the dry system saves 720 gallons of water a day. Other patient-friendly touches include the use of a laser for soft tissue work, nitrous oxide, dental chairs with back massage, aromatherapy lip balm and a ceiling mounted TV.

“I’d like to think this is where dental service is heading, a more progressive approach,” he says with a perfect smile. "Blankets if you're cold, sedation if you're scared."

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Dr. Joseph Curley, transcenDENTAL

Image courtesy transcenDENTAL

Pittsburgh region schools outrank the rest of state in math and reading

Pittsburgh region schools are doing a better job of meeting proficiency goals in math and reading than the rest of the state according to a new report.

The report, Proficiency by 10: Annual Report on Fifth-Grade Proficiency in Reading and Mathematics in Southwestern Pennsylvania, assesses each school in the 10-county Pittsburgh region based on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) scores of fifth graders taken in 2007. The report was released by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and the Pennsylvania Economy League of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

PSSAs are used by the state to gauge if students, schools and school districts are meeting or exceeding proficiency levels in both reading and math.

Among the findings:
  • Fifth-graders in southwestern Pennsylvania are consistently outperforming their statewide peers. They scored four percentage points higher than the state as a whole in both math and reading.
  • Some demographic subgroups—such as students with disabilities, low-income students, and African-American students—still face achievement gaps.
  • Test scores in mathematics have consistently improved since 2002, but reading scores have remained relatively flat over the same period.
Math scores have consistently been higher than reading for the past few years, perhaps because teaching reading is more complicated for districts than math, offers Paul Leger, senior vice president, workforce quality programs for the Allegheny Conference. “It’s good news for our region and in keeping the Allegheny Conference objective of having every 5th grader proficient by 2010.”

“Imagine the possibilities that will exist when we prepare today's students to succeed in tomorrow's workforce and ensure the vitality of our Pittsburgh region," adds Michael Langley, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Paul Leger, Michael Langley, Allegheny Conference

The Hispanic Center publishes Pittsburgh’s first Spanish Services Directory

The Hispanic population in Pittsburgh is growing steadily and has its first Spanish directory to prove it.

The Hispanic Center/El Centro Hispano launched its 302-page Directorio de Servicios Para la Comunidad Latina (Spanish Service Directory for the Latino Community) and it’s now available to Pittsburgh residents and businesses.

The directory was written as a guide for new Spanish-speaking residents, human resource managers and anyone wishing to learn more about the Spanish-speaking community in the region.

“The directory is very comprehensive. It’s one way of helping our community to connect,” says Pedro Paulo Bretz, executive director of The Hispanic Center. “We’ve also distributed it to human resource managers so they can provide it to their employees to help them find services in our region that are available in Spanish.”

While Pittsburgh’s population has steadily declined during the past 10 years, the Hispanic population has grown. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Hispanics living in our nine county region rose from 15,734 in 2000 to 23,947 in 2006, a 34 percent increase.

The directory provides 20 chapters with listings that include information on financial, legal, health, education, social, and restaurant businesses. “It’s a go-to guide for all new residents and international students and businesses, as well as for human resource managers seeking a more diverse, Spanish-speaking workforce,” says Bretz.

The Hispanic Center in Pittsburgh serves the Pittsburgh Hispanic community through services offering career development, job training, and job referral. LAst year the center helped 200 Spanish-speaking and bilingual people to find employment, which in turn helped to give back to the local economy, Bretz says.

For more information on the directory or to view a copy online, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Pedro Paulo Bretz

Image courtesy of The Hispanic Center

Pittsburgh tech sector reports flourishing activity and jobs, hiring

A gathering of CEOs and local and state leaders assembled in the Innovation Works lobby on Technology Drive this month to celebrate the strength of its portfolio and announce new companies and hiring.

IW invested in its 100th company last year and attracted more than $100M in follow-on investment from private and other sources in 2007. Since its inception in late 1999, IW has invested more than $35M and its portfolio companies have gone on to raise $425M in follow-on financing.

“Pittsburgh was once a flyover for executives from other cities,” noted Rich Lunak, president and CEO of IW. “No more. Fifty-five out-of-town VC firms have invested in local companies in the last three years.” The phone is ringing as well as executives from cities like Cincinnati, Cleveland and St. Louis call to learn more about IW’s successful model for tech-based economic development.

While jobs and the economy may be lagging locally and elsewhere, the region's venture capital sector is the fastest growing in the state. “Jobs are created by entrepreneurs who take risks, work late at night and get up every day and make it happen,” said Dennis Yablonsky, secretary of the Pa. Dept. of Community and Economic Development.

Yablonsky also announced that the state has helped to lure an IT company to Pittsburgh and another will expand operations here, creating 152 jobs thanks to state grants and loans of $907,200.

Technology consultant TechAssist of Washington, D.C., plans to move its national operations center to 11,000 sf at the National City Bank Building, Downtown. The move will create 96 positions in engineering, sales and marketing and administration.

Credit/debit card manager CardWorks considered moving to New Jersey but instead was coaxed by the state to stay and expand 57,500 sf in Station Square's Commerce Court. CardWorks will hire an additional 56 people in the next three years.

Another IW company and Pop City 2008 Tech Company to Watch, Knopp Neurosciences, received $10 M in a series B funding round from out-of-town investors Saturn Management of Boston. The money will help with clinical trials as the firm grows its staff from 14 to 18.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Dennis Yablonsky, DCED, Rich Lunak and Terri Glueck, Innovation Works

Thar Technologies receives unprecedented $1.9 M to develop a greener biodiesal

Harmarville-based Thar Technologies received a significant $1.9 M federal grant for the development of a greener biodiesal production process that, if successful, could set a new standard for biodiesal production across the country.

A world leader in the development of supercritical fluid chromatography (SFC) systems used for pharmaceuticals, chemicals, food and electronics, Thar will use its SFC technology to develop a more environmentally-sound, less costly biodiesal that avoids the use of toxic hexane.

The EPA classifies hexane, which is used to extract oil from oilseeds, as a hazardous air pollutant. “Cost-effective biodiesal for mass production is finally on the horizon,” says Lalit Chordia, Thar CEO. “This process will set multiple standards for zero to little pollution in the environment.”

Chordia also says that because the process will use less energy than the current biodiesal production processes and have a greater yield, Thar’s biodiesal will ultimately stand on its own without the need for a government subsidy. “That says a lot,” quips Choridia.

“This is a really significant investment in our region. The federal government rarely ever gives a grant out this large,” notes Nathaniel Doyno, executive director for Steel City Biofuels. “This technology presents significant opportunities to overcome some pretty big barriers to biodiesal development.”

The Advanced Technology Program of the National Institute of Science and Technology is funding the research. If all goes as planned, Thar will construct a biodiesal plant to pilot the new development process prior to bringing the process to full commercialization.

This is good news for the state, which has lagged behind other states in providing more incentives for biodiesal production.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Lalit Chorida, Thar Technologies; Nathaniel Doyno, Steel City Biofuels


Recession or growth stall? Either way Pittsburgh is inching up

While the country may be heading into a “severe growth stall” or a recession, Southwestern Pennsylvania may avoid the downturn completely and see small but positive growth in the coming year.

PNC Financial Services Group chief economist Stuart Hoffman and Bank of New York Mellon Corp. chief economist Richard Hoey both stopped short of calling for a full blown national recession but warned that the signs of a serious downturn are there. Their comments came during an Economic Forecast Luncheon at the Omni William Penn downtown Tuesday.

"There's a 40 percent chance that we'll have a recession, but if we have two or three months of job losses, we're in a recession," says Hoffman . The slump, however, may be short lived and the second half of the year may see more robust activity than the first. Southwestern Pennsylvania will stay the course of slow growth although that growth may continue at a somewhat slower pace in certain sectors.

Global and national economic indicators suggest that falling housing prices and credit concerns will take its toll nationally, while Asia and China will continue to grow but at a slower pace, reports Hoey, who offered a general outlook on the global picture.

“By 2009 the U.S. will be back recovering and Europe will be weaker,” Hoey adds. "We're in the 8th inning because of weakness in our economy and other economies (like Europe) will be weaker later."

In Southwestern Pennsylvania, where housing prices never ballooned to outrageous levels and job growth remains well below the national average, the outlook is brighter comparatively, Hoffman says. Unemployment last year fell slightly to 4.4 percent from 4.9 percent and employment should hold steady in the region at 1.14 million.

Pittsburgh should benefit in residential construction, healthcare services, technology and financial services, Hoffman says. Commercial property markets should grow due to several downtown condominium projects and office demand will ease through 2008 allowing the office vacancy rate to creep back and take the pressure off rent growth.

For PNC's economic forecast for the region, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Richard Hoey, The BNY Mellon Corp.; Stuart Hoffman, PNC Financial Services

First virtual law firm in the state opens for business on the web

Two Pittsburgh attorneys have opened the first virtual law firm in Pennsylvania, having developed a unique business model that makes it quite unlike any other virtual model in the country.

Delta Law Group was developed by Karl Schieneman and Brian Walters, a Monroeville-based firm that focuses on consumers, innovative project management, web-based legal technology and the use of contract attorneys.

It’s an idea Schieneman has worked with and expanded on since his days as co-founder of one of his faward-winning ormer companies, Legal Network, an attorney-owned legal staffing agency. The biggest benefit of virtual law is that clients can keep close watch on their cases, he explains. “You can go online and use a password to see the work that’s going on, the filings, the strategy, the documents.”

Delta Law Group draws on a network of 20 solo practitioners who specialize in different areas of the law. A client who is looking for help with estate planning, family law or bankruptcy can connect with an attorney who prefers to work in that area. “And we’re extremely efficient and paperless. Everything is done through technology so we’ve been able to substantially reduce the client’s bill,” says Schieneman.

Delta Law uses video streaming for client interviews and online case management tools, a system that helps attorneys who are in court to manage their case load and stay connected with clients.

“There’s no phone tag and clients love it,” says Schieneman.    

Delta Law opened its virtual doors in the fall with five employees who handle the administrative details of the daily operation. And while “virtual” may imply no office space, Delta Law has four locations in Wexford, Greentree, Monroeville and downtown Pittsburgh.

To hear Scheineman's Talkshoe progrm "Making Law Easy," click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Karl Schieneman, Delta Law Group

Pittsburgh company supports a tiny Himalayan country through a unique CD-ROM stamp

The Kingdom of Bhutan, nestled in the heart of the Himalayas between Tibet and India, is a bucolic, peaceful nation that has abided under the modern radar for centuries.

A predominantly Buddhist country whose national creed is “Gross National Happiness,” Bhutan is preparing for a major political transition this year as its leader, King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, abdicates the throne in favor of his democratically elected son, a 27-year-old Oxford graduate.

What makes this all the more compelling is that a Pittsburgh-based company, Creative Products International, is helping to support this tiny country’s economy through the innovative development of a mini CD-ROM stamp to be released this spring, sure to be another sought after collector’s item for philatelists worldwide.

Bhutan has had a long, colorful history of exotic, prized stamps, explains Frances Todd Stewart, president of CPI. It was her late father, who formed a close friendship with the Bhutan queen-to-be while he attended Oxford University, who suggested stamps as an economic development project for the country.

The late Todd helped the country create several beautiful stamps, including a vinyl talking and 3-D stamp. Todd Stewart is following in his footsteps with a CD-ROM stamp that attaches to an envelope and includes pictures, music and the history of the country, developed and designed by CPI, new product developers and an international custom manufacturer.

The stamp has already attracted national attention, having been featured on "Where in the World is Matt Lauer?" on the NBC Today Show earlier this year.

“I feel very honored to be part of an experience to carry on my father’s legacy,” says Todd Stewart. “It’s wonderful to think that through this documentary there is a connection between the past and what is happening now as Bhutan moves into a democracy.”

To view the CD-ROM stamp, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Frances Todd Stewart, Creative Products International

Image courtesy Creative Products International

$7.5 M economic package from state will create 540 local jobs

Allegheny County has received $7.54 M from the state for 11 economic development projects that promise to create some 540 jobs in the region in the next three years.

The funds will enable three companies to relocate here from out-of-state, says Janel Miller, a spokesperson for Gov. Ed Rendell. The assistance for the 11 projects comes in the form of loans, grants, job training and technical assistance coordinated through the Governor’s Action Team.

The three companies that will move to the region include:

GiftCards.com will create at least 53 new jobs by relocating operations from North Carolina to suburban Pittsburgh. The leading provider of prepaid Visa debit cards has moved its customer service center to a 20,000 sf building in Greentree.

Hussey Copper Ltd., a leading global producer of electrical copper bar for rolling mills, is relocating a production line from Kentucky to Leetsdale, a $1.2 M expansion that will create 25 new jobs. 

Knepper Press Corp. is expanding its local operations and creating 40 new jobs. The commercial printing company is moving its 38,000 sf facility in Oakdale to a new 100,000 sf facility on 11.9 acres in Clinton.

Voyager Jet Center, a leader in private aviation services, will receive the biggest slice of the pie for a $17.7 M, 30,000 sf expansion of its Allegheny County Airport operations that will create 50 new jobs.

The new jobs arrive on the heels of a marginal rise in local jobs in the region for November. The U.S. Dept. of Labor reports that the region added 3,000 new jobs compared to the same period last year, posting a .26 percent growth rate.

For the complete list of local economic development projects, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Janel Miller for Gov. Ed Rendell, U.S. Dept. of Labor

Venture Capital Roundup: Nine funded Pittsburgh startups leap into the new year

Nine Pittsburgh start-ups received venture capital funding in the last quarter of 2007 and Pittsburgh’s Innovation Works celebrated a funding milestone of its own.

Eight of the companies are Innovation Works portfolio companies. “The breadth of technologies is indicative of what we see in general,” says Terri Glueck of Innovation Works. “This paints such a great picture of what’s happening and innovative here.”

Accipter Systems, Inc. received $300,000 to developing Wi-Hy, a next generation wireless system that will eliminate network dropouts and provide a more reliable network for the military, emergency crews, surveillance and public safety personnel.

Alertek was awarded $300,000. The new technology is a University of Pittsburgh spinout and will improve safety in the mines and on construction sites by providing an audible alert at the first sign of infrastructure under stress.

Cognition Therapeutics received $200,000 to help develop small molecule therapeutics targeting the toxic proteins that cause the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's disease and other degenerative diseases of the human brain.

Coventina Healthcare Enterprises received $320,000 as it continues to produce a therapeutic warming system used in the research, treatment, rehabilitation and management of pain related to injury, aging and disease.

Impact Games, makers of the internationally popular game Peacemaker, has received $250,000.

Pertuity received $300,000 to develop its product, Dare to Compare, an online financial comparison tool that helps users compare their financial status, plans and strategies with others.

ShowClix received $150,000 for development of a live music search engine and online ticketing company connecting musicians, venues and show promoters with millions of live music fans. The website combines an open, live music database with an online ticketing platform, giving show promoters, musicians and venues an easy, affordable way to promote their shows and sell tickets to music fans who search for, track and share live music on the site.

The Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse has invested $100,000 in ParentPlus. ParentPlus is positioning its first product, FertPlus(R), as a way to increase the efficacy of fertility treatments and at the same time provide a lower cost alternative to expensive and highly publicized conventional treatments.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Terri Glueck, Innovations Works, Tim O’Brien, PLSG

Community Connections Awards $1 M to Pittsburgh 250 Community Projects

Community Connections announced $1M in grants to 100 regional and grassroots organizations and artists as the city gears up to celebrate Pittsburgh's 250th anniversary.

Some 540 submissions were received from across the region and the competition was stiff as a panel of regional leaders, including representatives from all 14 counties, selected 12 compelling initiatives that received $50,000 each as Regional Community Connections Projects and 88 grassroots projects that received about $5000 each.

Four examples of projects that received $50,000 for activities in 2008 are:

  • Civil Rites: Oral Histories of Two Generations of Pittsburgh Artists: the August Wilson Center for African American Culture will collect the work and personal stories of local artists in a multimedia presentation that will coincide with the Center’s dedication.
  • Good Neighbor Days: Family Communications, Inc. will commemorate the 80th anniversary of the birth of Mister Rogers with an educational campaign and five-days of family-friendly activities at regional cultural and educational venues.
  • Roadside Giants: The Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor will engage students at technical and career schools in Bedford, Somerset and Westmoreland counties to create enormous public art sculptures along the historic Lincoln Highway, a route that mirrors the one travelled by Gen. John Forbes and Col. George Washington in 1758.
  • With The Pittsburgh Signs Project, Pop City's own Jennifer Baron will
    create "Pittsburgh Signs: 250," a full-color book documenting and reflecting on signs from the fourteen counties in the region that will celebrate the
    unique visual culture of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

“Regional Projects are indicative of the character of our unique region,” said Cathy Lewis Long, a co-chair of Pittsburgh 250 Community Connections. “From the expansion of outdoor recreation opportunities to mobile educational laboratories, these important initiatives planned for 2008 represent the hopes and desires of citizens in Southwestern Pennsylvania at this moment in time.”

Community Connections is a cooperative effort of The Sprout Fund, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit organization, the Pittsburgh 250 Community Connections committee, and Pittsburgh 250 Inc., the lead agency coordinating events and activities for the 250th celebration.

To see a complete list of funded projects, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Cathy Lewis Long, Pittsburgh 250 Community Connections and Dustin Stiver, The Sprout Fund

Green Building Alliance paints the town green with $448,000 in innovation grants

The Green Building Alliance is keeping Pittsburgh green this season.

This month the GBA announced $448,000 in product innovation grants for the commercialization of new products to support the fast growing green building market in Pittsburgh.

“The green market represents a significant economic opportunity for western Pennsylvania and the entire state, which ranks second in the country in the number of LEED certified buildings,” says Rebecca Flora, executive director of the GBA.

The grants include collaboration between private sector companies and university teams located in Pa. Recipients include:

  • $100,000 for Ductmate GreenSeam II product development, which will help to reduce duct leakage, a project of Ductmate Industries and the University of Pittsburgh.
  • $100,000 to environmentally and economically assess the production and field performance of insulated concrete forms, a project of Tegrant Corp. and the University of Pittsburgh.
  • $81,564 for improved production of pigment as a byproduct of the treatment of coal mine drainage in the region, a project of Iron Oxide Recovery, Hedin Environmental and the University of Pittsburgh.
  • $81,062 for the development of a process simulator for green product decision-making, a project of Burt Hill and Penn State University.
  • $45,736 for sustainable, affordable, low-temperature water system to heat and cool a neighborhood of buildings, a project of Geothermal Energy Systems and CMU.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Rebecca Flora, Green Building Alliance

Dancetown Fitness System the latest retirement home craze, check it out!

State-of-the-art technology developed in Pittsburgh has retirees and seniors across the country tapping their toes and sashaying for fitness.

The fitness software was developed by local entrepreneur Jeff Pepper, president and CEO of Dancetown, who designed the program with the help of health caregivers. Pepper says he wanted to help people in retirement homes connect with each another. “There’s always of the danger of isolation. You end up losing touch with family, friends, work that makes your life meaning.”

Dancetown displays footwork on a computer screen and invites participants to follow along with the steps, a fitness system that stimulates the brain and enhances physical, mental and emotional health, explains spokesperson Dawn Jackman Biery.

It’s a slow motion version of “Dance Dance Revolution,” a game that pits players against computer directed dance steps, but plays Oldies and begins at a beginner level and moves into steady paced dancing. The fitness program may be offered as a class by a trained wellness coordinator, self-directed or as a competitive game against others.

Dancetown was launched at Country Meadows in Bridgeville, Longwood in Oakmont and 100 sites across the country. “We did a trade show in Orlando and it was huge,” laughs Biery. “We had an 87-year-old legally blind woman dancing at level 2 to “Walking After Midnight by Patsy Cline.”

Dancetown is a division of Touchtown Inc., purveyors of software that manages inhouse television for retirement communities. “It’s a giant step forward in our long-term commitment to serving the senior community,” Pepper says.

To view Dancetown in action, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Dawn Jackman Biery, Jeff Pepper, Dancetown

Image courtesy of Touchtown Inc.

Minority Network Exchange offers unique local networking opportunity

Vernard Alexander was ruminating over the closing of the Crawford Grille in the Hill District when an idea came to him.

For years, local jazz lovers regularly met at the Grill, a place of community, attracting top musicians from as far away as New York City. When the Grille moved to Station Square, it became too pricey and inaccessible for many of its regular patrons.

Alexander saw its departure as an opportunity to give something back to the neighborhood where he grew up. “When that historic place closed, it laid the groundwork for me to start some type of organization,” says Alexander. “I wanted to build a community of entrepreneurs who would get to know one another on a personal and professional level, my own version of the Chamber of Commerce.”

Last year Alexander formed the Minority Network Exchange, an organization that strives to connect minority business owners and entrepreneurs to one another in fun, creative ways, be it a golf outing, horseback riding or a murder mystery network mixer. The goal is exposure for businesses that would normally slide under the radar, he says.

“One of the barriers I’ve found is that there hasn’t been a lot of interest from people who are well-established,” says Alexander. “If you’ve been successful and have had your doors open for 10 years or more, that’s the kind of people I want to be mentors to others.”

And make no mistake, all minorities are welcome, he adds. “If 100 Russian guys show up, great. Everyone can help each other.”

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Vernard Alexander, Minority Network Exchange

Image courtesy of Vernard Alexander

The Heinz Endowments announces new president

The Heinz Endowments has named Davidson College President Robert Vagt as its next president.

Vagt, a gregarious, ordained minister who prefers to be called "Bobby," will take charge of the $1.6 billion foundation that has distributed more than $80 million in grants this year, primarily in Western Pennsylvania. He succeeds Maxwell King on Jan. 15th .

“Pittsburgh was part of the attraction, but the principal attraction were the Endowments themselves and their regional focus on quality of life matters,” Vagt says. “I hope to work on some of the tougher issues that affect Pittsburgh.”

Vagt received his undergraduate degree in psychology at Davidson and earned his master’s in divinity from Duke. His extensive experience includes work as a psychologist, prison warden, public finance director and director of health center clinic programs before becoming the 16th president of one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country.

During his 10-year tenure, Vagt helped encourage diversity on campus and eliminated the financial aid debt of needy students, an accomplishment of which he is most proud. He also coined the phrase “Davidson bubble,” a personal and ethical value system, and once had bottles of bubble soap distributed to graduating students where they sat, encouraging them to spread the “Davidson bubble” out into the world.

Writer: Deb Smit

Source: Bobby Vagt, The Heinz Endowments

Image courtesy of The Heinz Endowments

VC Roundup: Five Pittsburgh companies reap investment dollars

Our monthly venture capital roundup reports that six area companies hauled in investment dollars in the past month.

  • Pittsburgh-based Plextronics recently scored another $4 M round of venture capital financing, this time from Austin, Texas-based Applied Ventures, the VC arm of Applied Materials, a global leader in nanomanufacturing technology. The investment comes on the heels of a $20.6 M round earlier this year. (See the Pop City story here.) The infusion will fuel the expansion of Plextronic's product and manufacturing abilities and increase sales and marketing for the future printed electronics industry, says CEO Andy Hannah.

  • In other VC news, Oakland-based speech-training developer Carnegie Speech received $6M from several Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C. based investors. The proceeds will help to expand sales and marketing efforts. CS will also open an office in India.  
  • The Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse (PLSG) invested $115,000 in Innovention Technologies. Innovention is developing advanced robotic devices for use in the medical, industrial military and law enforcement fields. Its first product, HARP, is a highly maneuverable robotic probe able to enter into small cavities within the body and steer around organs.

  • PLSG also funded $150,000 to Applied Isotope Technologies (AIT), an early-stage manufacturer of standards and kits that will measure--in nanograms--the toxicity levels of metals and other poisons in urine and other biological fluids.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Andy Hannah, Plextronics: Tim O’Brien and John W. Manzetti, PLSG; Innovation Works; Angela Kennedy, Carnegie Speech

Smith Brothers Advertising's "Top This" Heinz strategy a winner

So many condiments, not enough fun and games.

That was the idea behind Pittsburgh-based Smith Brothers Advertising's campaign to reignite interest in the flagging sales of Heinz Ketchup. It began with the subtle label that spoke from store shelves, “a million french fries can’t be wrong,” and blossomed into the full-blown campaign, “Hungry for Fame?” giving consumers a chance to design their own YouTube Heinz commercial.

The innovative strategy not only worked, it was a nationwide sensation. A tsunami of 8,000 entries poured in. Contestants’ commercials were viewed 7.7 million times on the Top This web site and by August of 2007, Heinz was reporting a 13 percent increase in sales. More recently, a national consumer survey placed Heinz in the number one spot according to the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Smith Brothers Advertising won, too, a Creative Media Award from Media Magazine for its clever strategy.

“The Heinz brand’s history with consumers is what triggered the idea,” explains Miles Smith, a partner at Smith Brothers. “It gave everyone a way to tell their ketchup stories and ignited the public’s passion for the bottle that’s hidden in plain sight.”

For those whom didn’t make the final cut, there’s a second chance to proclaim your passion on national television: “Top This Take Two.” Because consuming Heinz’s flagship Pittsburgh-brand should be a compelling experience.

To view the YouTube Heinz finalists, click here.

By: Deb Smit
Source: Miles Smith, Smith Brothers Advertising

Image courtesy of Smith Brothers Advertising


The online “Zagats” of non-profits launches in Pittsburgh

The first web site in the nation to provide an array of information on nonprofits in the region, and across the country, has launched in Pittsburgh.

Dubbed the online “Zagats” about nonprofits, Pittsburgh GreatNonprofits is a project of the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership, a coalition that  connects the 300 nonprofits in Southwestern, PA. The site was constructed in partnership with GreaterNonProfits, the San Francisco-based organization that began designing it two years in response to the needs of nonprofits across the country.

“This allows the public to come in and get to know the nonprofit sector in a completely new way,” explains Vivien Luk, program director of the Forbes Fund. “The site has many different functions. It will help individuals to learn more about giving smartly and donating their time wisely.”

Individuals and businesses searching for a worthy project or interested in supporting a fund will find detailed information and honest feedback. The site also works as a vehicle to connect an organization to both the community as well as other nonprofits, says Luk.

On Thursday, Nov. 8th, WQED will air a special program on the Pittsburgh GreatNonprofits. View the video after Nov. 8th by clicking here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Vivien Luk, Pittsburgh Greater Nonprofits

Image courtesy of Great Nonprofits

The Heinz Endowments commits $45 M to non-profits in region

Carnegie Mellon University received $22M from The Heinz Endowments this month to create a new School of Information Systems, expand teaching and research in green chemistry, and encourage innovations in robotics and computer science.

The gift was part of a $45M grant package given to the region by The Heinz Endowments. The package includes new support for Pittsburgh public schools and cultural institutions throughout the city and a fund to help diversify downtown residency.

$21.5 M will go toward CMU’s capital campaign and will include a new college that will also house a restructured H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management. The goal is to enable the university to provide the highest-quality, graduate-degree programs that study the strategic implications of technology in business and in important social issues.

Another $8.5 M is part of an endowment increase for the expansion of the green chemistry field. “This significant level of support for Carnegie Mellon points out the degree to which we believe Pittsburgh’s universities hold the key for moving the region forward in several important areas,” says Teresa Heinz, chairman of The Endowments.

Other support for regional non-profits include:

For more information on the grants, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Teresa Heinz, The Heinz Endowments

Monster employment index reports September online recruitment soared in Pittsburgh

Online job recruitment activity rose in 22 of 28 top U.S. metro markets in September, and Pittsburgh showed the biggest increase in online job demand, according to the Monster Local Employment Index.

The Index is based on a real-time review of millions of employer job opportunities drawn from more than 1,500 different web sites, including Monster. It is compiled by Monster Worldwide, the largest global online job employment service.

Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Detroit showed the strongest increases in online jobs and fin Pittsburgh, September was its highest number of online jobs for the year. The figure reflects “historically tight labor market conditions and high demand for technically skilled workers” in both IT and engineering as well as blue-collar installation, maintenance and repair occupations, the Index says.

“Our access to such diverse and experienced local talent is critical,” notes Eric Spaulding, spokesperson for Guru.com, the Pittsburgh-based online marketplace for freelance talent. “As organizations such as the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Carnegie Mellon University aggressively accelerate the health care and tech/engineering industries, the demand for white-collar and blue-collar jobs will continue.  Marketing local innovations and industry growth to a national audience is crucial as Pittsburgh moves to address the issue of how to attract and satisfy a younger population.”

Other highlights:
·    Number of online job opportunities dipped in just three markets: Houston, San Diego and San Francisco
·    Houston remains the Index’s top growth market on a year-over-year basis, followed by Pittsburgh and St. Louis

To view the Monster Index, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Monster Local Employment Index; Eric Spaulding, Guru.com

Largest energy purchasing initiative in region's history will reduce business utility bills

Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh have announced a major new program that will significantly reduce utility bills through a “reverse energy online auction” for businesses and industries across the region.

The Western Pennsylvania Municipal Aggregation Program will create the largest purchasing initiative in the region’s history, says Chief Executive Dan Onorato, who teamed up with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to announce the plan this week. The program will be available to school districts, hospitals, colleges, universities, municipalities, non-profits and private businesses both large and small.

“It’s unique to anything we’ve done,” says Tim Johnson, director of administrative services for the county. “The city and county are coming together to combine collective purchasing power to piggy back on the contract we’ve negotiated. “

Wexford-based firm Co-exprise was selected to run the program, which is based on a similar successful program it operates in the Maryland-D.C. area. This is the first program of its kind in the state.

The process for participation is three fold: Western Pennsylvania businesses will be invited to join the consortium and an informational meeting will be held on Nov. 5th. Once a business signs on, Co-exprise sorts and packages the businesses into bundles based on their utility needs. A ceiling price is set and utilities rebid on the price through a unique online auction event. Participating businesses may monitor the auction process online, explains Johnson.

It's too early to speculate the savings to businesses, but Johnson said it would be "significant."

“This has the potential to be largest cost-saving public/private partnership in the history of Western Pennsylvania,” says Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

The deadline for signing onto the program is Nov. 12th.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Tim Johnson and Kevin Evanto, Allegheny County

1-800-905-GEEK opens its first franchise in Pittsburgh

1-800-905-GEEK, a national provider of computer solutions, has opened its first franchise in the Pittsburgh area.

Formerly known as Geeks on Call, the company recently changed the name to its phone number to help it emerge from “a sea of sameness,” other technicians using the "geek" word to bring in business, explains Matt Nelson, spokesperson for the corporate office in Norfolk, Virginia.

Pittsburgh native Gary Motor, a 27-year computer industry veteran, purchased five of the 15 franchises available in the Pittsburgh area and has hired two technicians, a client service rep and a territory manager to start. He hopes to expand, adding more franchises in time.

The Pittsburgh operation will provide IT support to Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas, including Evans City, Zelienople, Cranberry Township, Mars, Seven Fields, Renfrew, Wexford, Warrendale, Bradfordwoods, Harmony, Mt. Oliver, Castle Shannon, Upper St. Clair, Baldwin, Mt. Lebanon, Dormont, Bethel, Scott and Bridgeville.

Calling the number brings a certified, PT Cruiser driving technician right to your home or small business, in most cases in the same day. Prices are generally more reasonable than businesses with a retail storefront and technicians do not sell equipment and software, although they will make recommendations, Motor says.

1-800-905-GEEK was named one of the fastest growing franchises nationwide by Franchise Times and Entrepreneur Magazine. The company exercises strict control of its franchises through technical certification of its technicians and extensive background checks, Nelson says.

"I like helping small businesses because they are so impacted by what an independent IT professional can do to help them reach a business goal," Motor says. "I'm also excited about the opportunity to offer assistance to more residential customers and home-based businesses."

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Matt Nelson, Gary Motor, 1-800-905-GEEK

Image courtesy of 1-800-905-GEEK

Venture Capital Roundup: Pittsburgh’s new $75 mil fund, 4 funded startups

In our first monthly roundup of venture capital news, Meakem Becker Venture Capital announced a new $75 million fund for innovative new companies with technology products or services; in addition, four other Pittsburgh startups have received early stage funding.

This is the largest first time fund in the region, raised by Pittsburgh entrepreneurs Glen Meakem and David Becker. Of the total, $50 million has been committed to the Pittsburgh region, says Meakem. 

Four companies, three of them out-of-state, have already received $9.2 mil, Hotpads.com, Liquidtalk and Shipwire.com. A fourth "highly innovative computer web space" company in western Pennsylvania is soon to be named, Meakem says.

In other funding news, Innovation Works announced first-time investments in three Pittsburgh companies and the Pittsburgh Life Science Greenhouse announced funding for a medical device company.

BIOSAFE Inc. received $300,000 for its development of antimicrobial polymers to protect materials like plastic, metal, and fiberglass from the harmful effects of bacteria, mold, mildew, fungi and viruses. The technology could be used in many manufacturing operations to ensure the long-term safety of shipped and stored products.

RedPack Network Inc. received $300,000 for its work establishing networks of pick-up and drop-off points to increase the efficiency of field service technicians – like those in the medical or information technology fields – who depend on replacement parts.

ShowClix, LLC, received $150,000 for Showclix.com, a live music search engine and online ticketing company created to connect musicians, venues, and show promoters with millions of live music fans across North America.

PLSG has invested $150,000 in Coventina Healthcare Enterprises, Inc., a medical device company that developed a therapeutic warming device using radio frequency that can be applied to reduce pain from injuries. Coventina recently acquired the assets of SeliCor, Inc., a Texas company, and has established operations in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Writer: Deb Smit
Sources: Glen Meakem, Meakem Becker Venture Capital, Innovation Works, PLSG

Pittsburgh region positions itself as a large player in the alternative fuels industry

The alternative fuel industry in Pittsburgh received a big boost this month through a series of creative local initiatives that have helped to promote local biofuel stations and raise public awareness for green transportation.

And this is just the beginning.

Last weekend more than 2000 people turned out for the first Alternative Transportation Festival in Pittsburgh, a daylong event filled with free activities that advocated the use of alternative fuels, public transportation, hybrid and flex fuel vehicles and biking.

On Tuesday General Motors (GM) and Carnegie Mellon University, a leading ethanol research center, hosted a forum on biofuels to promote the use of E85 ethanol fuel, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gas. General Motors spokeswoman MaryBeth Stanek estimates that there are 10,000 GM flex fuel vehicle owners in Pittsburgh served by seven E85 stations.

Pittsburgh is one of the best positioned cities in the country for the production and distribution of biofuel thanks to its geographic location and role as a transportation hub, says Nathaniel Doyno, executive director of Steel City Biofuels and coordinator for Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities. Local companies are already investing in the infrastructure to make it happen.

“There is an accelerating interest in our region,” Doyno adds. “With the PennSecurity Fuels Initiative, we’re moving into a new stage where we’re helping bigger players in the industry.”

Gov. Rendall’s PennSecurity Fuels Initiative hopes to replace 900 million gallons of state transportation fuels with alternative sources such as biodiesel, ethanol, or fuel derived from coal processes over the next 10 years.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Nathaniel Doyno, Steel City Biofuels, MaryBeth Stanek, General Motors

Pittsburgh Today conveys a more reliable view of the region

Having worked in the newspaper business for 35 years, retired Post Gazette editor John Craig has a natural interest in stemming the flow of misinformation. Especially when it comes to Pittsburgh.

People who are quoted are bound to have their own personal agendas, Craig says. Even so, one should speak from a base of reliable information.

PittsburghToday.org is an innovative web site that addresses just that: Helping to lift the fog of misinformation that has settled over cities in transition like Pittsburgh by supplying a source of highly reliable data from the federal government on 10 key areas. Called indicators, the areas include: Arts, Demographics, Economy, Education, Environment, Government, Health, Safety, Sustainability, and Transportation.

The web site is a project of The Regional Indicators Consortium, a private national organization established in 2004 by the Key National Indicators Initiative at the National Academies in Washington, D.C. It draws on the expertise of local leaders and was funded locally through $300,000 in grants from local foundations.

To understand Pittsburgh and how it truly measures up, we must reshape our view and see the region as the “city state of Pittsburgh in real time,” says Craig, president of The Regional Indicators Consortium.

This means that "Pittsburgh" comprises 22 counties, including Monongalia, Marion, and Preston counties in West Virginia, in an indicator area like economics. When considering the environment, the region will reflect a an even greater area. The site also places a priority on updating data. It’s the best, unbiased source to help people accurately address where Pittsburgh stands at any given point in time. And it's a work in progress, Craig adds.

“If you don’t have good information, people won’t know what you are talking about,” says Craig. “If you have good information, you have hope.”

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: John Craig, PittsburghToday.org

Thinking green: local companies win awards, Hillman fundraiser captures the hue

For Pittsburgh-based global relocation company AIReS, it was a matter of tremendous paper waste.

“One employee started with a box by her desk and would haul it out herself,” explains Laura May Carmack, AIReS quality assurance manager. “She couldn’t stand to watch the waste. It started at a grass roots level.” In time, AIReS expanded the effort to stem the waste world-wide both here and to its partners beyond.

As a result, AIReS was selected the winner of this year’s PAIMA Ecology Award, the Pan American International Mover’s Association award that honors the company that shows remarkable and innovative resourcefulness that values the environment.

By moving almost all global communications to an electronic, or “soft,” system, and recycling cartons and packing materials, AIReS has reduced its paper waste by 10 percent, a big deal in an industry that is known for its waste production. In addition, trucking agents are given incentives to drive during off peak hours. “We pick employees and partners that can be green with us,” Carmack says.

AIReS is just one of several local companies thinking green. Last month Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens won a 2007 Green Power: Turn It On! Award from Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future in recognition of its wind powered, LEED-certified Welcome Center.

Even the Hillman Cancer Center is joining in with a green gala, "Destination Hope...A Future Without Cancer" on Oct. 4th featuring an organic menu and recycled products at Atlantic Aviation’s new hangar in Moon Township. The event will include 800 of Pittsburgh's most famous and influential and Broadway performers. It is expected to raise $6 million for cancer research.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Laura May Carmack, AIReS, Jessica Romano, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, UPMC

Image courtesy of AIReS

Pittsburgh startup to launch non-partisan web site for national politics

Pittsburgh startup PoliticsCorp. hopes to change the way elected officials and their constituents communicate on a national scale. 

This month PoliticsCorp. co-founder Jay Resio unveiled the plan by launching a preliminary web site, www.influencegovernment.com, which allows users to create profiles, publish soapboxes, and submit blogs. The goal is to gain the support of elected officials and voters alike, supply the electorate with a plethora of information on pending legislation and have 50 million users in three years.

Former U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart has signed on to the idea. 

PoliticsCorp., still in its early stages, is looking for $1.6 million in seed funding. “Here in this country the constituent needs to be more a part of the political process,” says Resio, who earned his Internet wings with Dicks Sporting Goods e-commerce, Blattner Brunner and MedResponse.

“We’re going to consumerize all this important information and get it to the people, American Idol meets C-Span," he adds. "My dream is I wake up one morning and it says ABC bill passed because influencegovernment.com helped shaped a piece of legislation.”

“Those who serve in public life are frustrated by what we see now on the web,” explains Hart, who claims no financial or political stake in the company. “Yelling is not a conversation. One side tearing down the other doesn’t lead to anything constructive. This will offer access to real factual information. It will mix it up, lead to less cynicism and people will have the ability to affect change.”

To view the web site video, click Sam Government and Joe Citizen.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Jay Resio, PoliticsCorp.; Melissa Hart

Image courtesy of Jay Resio

Pittsburgh venture capital investments post near record gains of $62.6 million

Venture capital investments in Pittsburgh companies posted near record gains of $62.6 million for the region in the 2007 second quarter.

Nine companies raised money from VCs, bringing the total number of deals in 2007 to 16. The totals show the region maintaining strong momentum halfway through the year, following a banner year in 2006 with $240.63 million in VC investments spread among 26 companies, according to the Money Tree Report released quarterly by Thomson Financial and the National Venture Capital Asssociation.

The life sciences sector made the strongest showing with seven companies funded. Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse (PLSG) helped to fund three: Stagemark, Inc., $1.6 million; Celsense, $150,000; and ChemDAQ, $120,000.

"Our region is the perfect place for promising life sciences technologies to prosper," says John W. Manzetti, President & CEO of the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse. “PLSG Investment Funds help life sciences companies rapidly achieve company formation and technology milestones so that they may attract venture capital investments to achieve sustainability."

Other life science companies include Millennium Pharmacy Systems, Inc., with $18.19 million; BodyMedia Inc., $4.5 million; and COPD Partners Inc., $3.6 milllion. TimeSys, a provider of software development tools, raised $3.48 million and Bit Armor, a security software company, raised $1 million.

Drug developer Logical Therapeutics garnered $30 million for the 2nd quarter. The company will relocate to Boston this fall, a decision made by its investors who requested closer proximity to a larger industry of similar drug companies, said spokesperson Carolyn Green.

On a national note, 68 venture capital companies invested $7.1 billion in 977 companies. Figures showed one of the highest levels in quarterly deals in the past five years. To see related VC story this week click here.

Wrtier: Deb Smit
Source: John Manzetti, Lynn Brusco, PLSG, National Venture Capital Association and Thomson Financial


Robotics Corridor paves the way for $500 billion regional industry

Robotics is a $500 billion emerging industry in Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh leaders are ushering in the era through the newly formed Robotics Corridor.

The idea is this: The proper mix of marketing, innovative ideas, human capital development, government leadership, investment capital, and entrepreneurship will enable this region to cement its reputation as a world leader in this new technology. Robotics will have the same impact on the economy as mass production had on the industrial revolution and the computer had on the information age, says Robin Shoop, director of the Robotics Academy at CMU.

Six local institutions of higher learning, including California University of Pennsylvania’s Engineering Technology Department and CMU's Robotics Institute, the largest robotics research organization in the world, have joined forces to make it happen. Together with partners in industry, government, foundation, and education, they believe they can  ignite a passion for the STEM subjects--science, technology, engineering and math—and change the economy and the world.

This week 140 educators from across the country and around the world will arrive in Pittsburgh to participate in the official kick off for the Robotics Corridor: the first Robotics Educators Conference, a three-day event that will spotlight top educators in the field, educational tools, and the latest in robotics technology.

“We're creating opportunities for kids from all economic backgrounds to contribute to the new economy,” explains Shoop. "It's not about robots. Think of it as intelligent systems, smart houses, smart buildings with embedded systems. We’re trying to make sure we’ve got young people who understand those systems.”

The event was made possible through $900,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and $500,000 from The Heinz Endowments.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Robin Shoop, The Robotics Academy, CMU

Farm Project brings fresh produce to low income families

It’s fresh and new in more ways than one. The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank’s Farm Stand Project (GPCFB) has put an innovative twist on the old-fashioned produce stand, offering local produce at reduced prices to help low-income customers buy farm-fresh goods.

From the second week in June until the week before Thanksgiving, 12 neighborhood farm stands dot the Pittsburgh and Mon Valley region, making it possible for low income seniors and participants in the Women, Children, and Infants program to use their Farmers’ Nutrition Program checks, says farm stand spokesperson Vicki Lish. The program has been in existence for 13 years.

“These checks can only be used at a certified Farmer’s Market and many of these individuals do not have a Farmers’ Market in their community, nor do they have transportation to get to one,” she says. The farm stands also accept cash and food stamps.

The GPCFB delivers produce to the farm stands but gives community members full responsibility for running them. Each farm stand is open once a week.

Most of the food is purchased from local farmers during the growing season; when local crops are not available, the GPCFB buys food from a wholesale distributor. “But we always give preference to local farmers as local produce becomes available during the growing season,” Lish says.

To find a location near you, click here.

Writer: Rachel Marie Rose-Sandow
Source: Vicki Lish, The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank

Image courtesy of the the Farm Stand Project

Pittsburgh plans $3.4 million state-of-the-art surveillance system

Pittsburgh has joined the wave of security-conscious cities around the world--like London and New York--who have entered the age of state-of-the-art camera surveillance technology.

Thanks to a $2.58 million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security—and a $862,500 city bond issue—Pittsburgh is considering enhancements to its present system which will significantly sharpen the local picture. Although still in an early stage, the plan calls for up to 30 additional remotely-controlled cameras in and around the city—on bridges, busy traffic corridors and high crime areas—capable of streaming live video to any city network computer or police department laptop with a URL and password.

The city presently operates three pan, tilt, and zoom cameras on top of the U.S. Steel Tower. It also borrows from a shared network operated by PennDOT, the Port Authority, Heinz Field, and PNC Park, said Ray Demichiei, deputy director of emergency management and homeland security for Pittsburgh.

“The cameras will be in placed on streets where people don’t have an expectation of privacy,” Demichiei explains. “If you’re on the 32nd floor of your apartment, no one is going to be turning cameras your way.”

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl was impressed by the public safety technology  during a recent tour of Chicago. “Cameras will allow our public safety professionals to work more efficiently, to make more arrests and to better fight the violence plaguing our streets,” he says.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Ray Demichiei, Emergency Management and Homeland Security for Pittsburgh, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Joanna Doven

Approval of long-term power contracts will spur growth for large industries

Large industries across the state—like U.S. Steel--received a reprieve from rising utility costs with the passage of state legislation that will allow utilities to offer long-term, fixed rates to major power users.

Local industry and business leaders, many of whom have lobbied for the bill for several years, applauded the measure, saying it will help to maintain the competitiveness of the regional business climate for investment and job growth. While the measure will lower electricity prices for these users, it also encourages construction of new power sources—everything from traditional power plants to alternatives such as wind farms.

"Signing HB 1530 into law is a critical step in maintaining and expanding industrial employment in southwestern Pennsylvania," said Michael Langley, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. "By permitting utilities to offer long-term, fixed-rate contracts to industrial users, those users -- major Pennsylvania employers -- are able to predict and better manage their operating costs, which will enable them to continue investing in facilities that create jobs in our region." 

The bill provides industries with relief from rising rates, which in some areas went as high as 40 percent. Rates spiraled up as a result of electricity deregulation and the expiration of rate caps two years ago. The legislation could also facilitate major investment with the modernization of Allegheny Technologies Inc. (ATI) facilities in Western Pennsylvania, where approximately 3,000 people are employed, said L.Patrick Hassey, president and CEO of ATI.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Mike Langley and Shawn Bannon,
Allegheny Conference on Community Development

Weinstein Imaging introduces innovative testing procedure for breast cancer

Weinstein Imaging Associates will be the only place in the Pittsburgh region to offer the latest in breast cancer diagnostic technology, a procedure that also helps to detect and evaluate questionable findings from mammography or ultrasound.

Breast-Specific Gamma Imaging (BSGI) helps patients at an earlier and a cellular level and complements mammography by serving as a tool for challenging cases. Performed with the Dilon 6800 high-resolution Gamma Camera, BSGI is especially effective when dense breast tissue is present.

"This is a complementary test to mammography, one more way to find small breast cancers," says Dr. Thomas S. Chang of Weinstein. Since BSGI has far fewer false-positives than traditional mammography, biopsies can be avoided, and it will give peace of mind for women with questionable mammographies when the test comes back as normal, he adds.

BSGI measures differences at the cellular level and is not affected by tissue density. It is also useful for patients who have scar tissue, breast implants or a palpable lump when a mammogram and ultrasound are normal. The new molecular imaging technique has a high sensitivity for the detection of small breast cancers.

"It is promising teechnology. I think it's the wave of the future," says Dr.Chang. "Breast cancer is highly curable when found and treated in its earliest stages. BSGI can help us find early cancers."

Source: Thomas S. Chang, M.D., Weinstein Imaging Associates

Image courtesy of Weinstein Imaging Associates

Collegegrad.com names top Pittsburgh college recruiters

Nine Pittsburgh-based companies are among the top 500 Entry Level Employers for 2007 according to collegegrad.com, a popular college job survey compiled annually that assists graduates by detailing the hiring plans of top employers across the country.

Lumber retailer 84 Lumber and PNC Financial Services Group both expect to hire more than 1,000 graduates by the end of 2007. 84 Lumber, based in Eighty Four, Pa., ranked the highest at 22nd place, and expects to hire 1,700 this year. PNC came in 28th at 1,350 new hires. Hiring for graduates is up at both companies from last year.

PNC is looking to hire in the fields of technology, business, finance, and accounting. About 100 of the new hires will be “leadership hires,” students recruited for management training. “As a corporation, we are committed to growing from within,” explains Davie Huddleston, director of strategic college recruiting for PNC. “We're very focused on hiring undergraduates and MBAs.”

Education Management Corp., one of the largest providers of online post-secondary education in the country, has doubled its hiring this year to 625. EMC opened 8 new campuses this year, the biggest reason for the increase, says Roberta Troike, senior vice president. Located in the Ariba building downtown, EMC is looking for graduates in the areas of finance, IT, human resources, real estate, marketing, and admissions.

Other Pittsburgh recruiters and their hiring numbers are: U.S.Steel at 240, Alcoa at 200, Westinghouse Electric at 150, Eat' N Park at 110, Bayer Healthcare at 60, and PPG at 75.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: collegegrad.com, Michelle Deemer, PNC, Roberta Troike, EMC


Toronto-based Porter Airlines will soon bring stylish flying to Pittsburgh

Toronto-based Porter Airlines, a short-haul carrier that hopes to put the glamour back into flying, plans to offer service from Toronto to Pittsburgh as well as 17 other Canadian and U.S. destinations within the next two to three years.

The Canadian upstart launched service in October 2006 from Toronto to Ottawa and Montreal. The company received approval on June 20th from the U.S. Department of Transportation to operate service to Pittsburgh as well as 16 other cities, said Brad Cicero, company spokesperson. From there, connecting flights to other destinations and arrangements with other carriers may follow.

“It’s just a matter of getting new aircraft to service the routes and building up the airline over that time,” Cicero explains.  “Our basic plan is flights from Pittsburgh to Toronto and on to Montreal and Ottawa with connecting service in Halifax. Most will be non-stop point to point.”

Porter Airlines takes a stylish approach to the business, offering attentive service and creative fare structures that allow customers to change itineraries without penalty up to an hour before flight time. Leather seats, free in-flight wine, drinks, and snacks, complimentary shuttle service to the downtown, and a beautiful, state-of-the-art waiting lounge in Toronto with Wi-Fi and business work stations are among the perks. While Porter is targeting the business crowd, its flights into City Centre Airport are a short and lovely ferry ride to downtown Toronto, attractive to visitors as well, Cicero adds.  

With US Airways announcement that it will eliminate flights to Toronto, Porter hopes to fill the niche. Adds Cicero, “people can go to Toronto and Montreal without spending three hours in the airport. And it’s fun flying by the CN Tower, the world’s largest free standing structure on the downtown skyline.”

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Brad Cicero, Porter Airlines

Image courtesy of Porter Airlines

Pittsburgh initiative first in the state to develop business disaster database

When a major regional disaster strikes, emergency responders often need the assistance of the private sector to get the job done. The Private Assets for Regional Responders (PARR) initiative seeks to connect emergency crews with local companies, asking them to pledge their assets in times of need.

Westinghouse Electric has already signed on.

“For businesses to pledge to the emergency responders is a huge benefit in a time of disaster,” explains Mike Comiskey, executive director of the Pittsburgh Regional Business Coalition for Homeland Security. “An expert in radiological or chemical issues can help protect our people. And companies who join can draw on the system for their own benefit, so it works on both sides.”

The initiative, launched this month, is being developed by the PRBCHS, the Allegheny County Fire Marshall and the Region 13 Emergency Management Task Force. There is no cost to businesses to be part of the database.

The database enables responders to quickly identify private sector assets such as equipment, tools, facilities, and subject experts that could be useful in response and recovery phases of a disaster. Westinghouse Electric, InterTECH Security, First Energy Beaver Valley Nuclear Station and Curtiss Wright Electromechanical Corp. are among the first to join.

PRBCHS was formed in January 2005 at the suggestion of the Department of Homeland Security. It assists businesses in Western Pennsylvania prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters, technological disasters, or terror attacks.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Mike Comiskey, PRBCHS

Robot 250 celebrates the city’s robotic heritage and future

Robots are an integral part of who we are in Pittsburgh. It was in the 1930s that Westinghouse Corp. unveiled ELEKTRO, the walking, talking robot that ultimately resulted in the beginnings of the early robotics industry in Pittsburgh and the development of CMU’s Robotics Center.

In celebration of the city’s 250 anniversary, CMU will look to the future and the potential for robotics in our region. Through several initiatives, Robot 250 will hold juried robotic art installations, offer open studio opportunities for the public to create robots, and stage robo tours, just a few of the the many ways the region will celebrate its robotic roots.

“We want people know there is some cool stuff going on and they don’t need to leave Pittsburgh, says Dennis Bateman, CMU project director for Robot 250. “We are really interested in seeing what a couple hundred kids and families can come up with.”

During the final phase of the celebration, Pittsburgh’s regional robotic heroes will be placed at public sites, highlighting robots working in our hospitals, bomb squads, pharmacies, search & rescue, industries and universities.

The Robotics Institute has raised $100,000 from The Heinz Endowments for the project and it hopes to receive additional funding from other sources this week.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Dennis Bateman, CMU

Image courtesy of Robot 250 and CMU

Pittsburgh Foundation awards $8.9 mil in grants

The Pittsburgh Foundation, one of the oldest community foundations in the U.S.and the 14th largest, announced $8.9 million in grants for the first quarter of 2007, funding that will benefit the Pittsburgh community, families, youth, healthcare, women, and minorities.

"Our grantmaking once more represents a sign of support for a great many non-profits as we strive to strengthen our community to the benefit of families, individuals, and organizations,” says John Ellis, Foundation spokesman.

The Foundation distributed $1.4 million from its unrestricted Community Fund to support an array of local programs in the five areas of education, economic development, the arts, health and families, children and youth. A total $135,000 in scholarships were also awarded.

Grants for this period included $250,000 to the Minority & Women Educational Labor Agency to support the development of a structured bond payment program to increase the capacity of women and minority owned construction businesses in the region, the expansion of a performing arts productions for Pittsburgh's youth and a new care facility for premature infants and on-going child care.

Approximately $7.3 million in grants were awarded to non-profits in Pittsburgh, across the U.S., and other parts of the world. Among these was $300,000 awarded to the University of Pittsburgh School of Education to support its classroom excellence initiative, helping local school districts track student performance through a specialized data management system. The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh received $222,500 to establish a Transitional Pediatric Care Program, which provides continuing treatment for premature and high-risk infants previously accommodated in the Home’s neonatal intensive care unit.

Another grant will help introduce the EdInsight program to 10 regional schools districts in the next two years and will help develop a Share Resource Library of lessons that teachers can access to design study programs for students.

More information on the grants and the process may be found by visiting the foundation’s website www.pittsburghfoundation.org.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: John Ellis, Pittsburgh Foundation

Great Outdoors Week showcases Pittsburgh's unique city adventures

Summer is around the bend and the sixth annual Great Outdoors Week in Pittsburgh this month highlights all the reasons that our city was named the most livable in the country: Thousands of people coming together to plant in urban communities, clean the waterways, kayak the rivers, pedal through neighborhoods, coming to appreciate all that is unique about Pittsburgh and the people who live here. 

"Where else in this country could we take a downtown kayak break on our lunch hour? Or ride a downtown bicycle trail that that spritzes riders with water when the weather is hot?," claims Kim Adams of Sustainable Pittsburgh, one of several sponsors for the event that kicks of May 18th.

"Great Outdoors Week is a collaboration of outdoor recreation partners
who come together each year, a grassroots marketing effort to show off the amazing number of outdoor recreation amenities, programs, events and happenings to highlight the Pittsburgh region as a cool place to live, work and play!"

Highlights during the week include: the Venture Outdoors Festival; Tireless Friday, an opportunity to join Cleanways, Friends of the Riverfront and REI for a riversweep; National Bike to Work Day; community garden plantings, kayak lessons; biking and walking tours of the Grand View Scenic Byways Park and Pedal Pittsburgh, the regions’s premier cycling event drawing over 2,000 riders to navigate through the neighborhoods and by design landmarks that make Pittsburgh unique.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Kim Adams, Sustainable Pittsburgh

Image courtesy of Sustainable Pittsburgh

High tech jobs just keep coming, AeA report says

Pennsylvania’s high tech industry added 3,500 jobs in 2005 and venture capital growth climbed 64 percent in 2006, according to a report published by AeA, the country’s largest technology trade association.

“It’s good news for our region,” reflects Catherine Mott, managing partner with Blue Tree Capital in Pittsburgh. “Since venture capital invests in innovation and new companies, and the most entrepreneurial regions seem to demonstrate healthier regional economies, an upward trend in venture capital can be nothing but good news.”

Among the findings posted by the report, “Cyberspace 2007: A Complete State-by-State Overview of the High Technology Industry,” Pennsylvania was the 8th largest cyberstate, employing 203,765 high tech workers. Others findings include:

  • 3,488 jobs added between 2004 and 2005
  • High-tech firms employed 42 of every 1,000 private sector workers in 2005, ranked 28th nationwide
  • High-tech workers earned an average wage of $69,582 (20th ranked), or 77 percent more than Pennsylvania's average private sector wage
  • A high-tech payroll of $14.2 billion in 2005, ranked 9th nationwide
  • 12,069 high-tech establishments in 2005, ranked 9th nationwide
  • Venture capital investments of $777.8 million in 2006, up 64 percent from $474.1 million in 2005
  • R&D expenditures of $10.9 billion in 2004, ranked 16th nationwide

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: AeA, Catherine Mott, Blue Tree Capital

Pittsburgh ranked as a "City of the Future"

Pittsburgh ranked number three in the top 10 “North American Cities of the Future” in the April 2007 issue of Foreign Direct Investment (fDi) magazine, published by the Financial Times group in London. The category of major cities showed Chicago coming in at number one followed by Toronto then Pittsburgh.

Every two years, fDi selects its cities--from those that participate--through a “rigorous market research process” that compares cities from across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Pittsburgh rated in the category of cities, out of 108 considered, with a population over two million. In addition, it ranked as number one in the most “cost effective” cities for business and landed in the number two spot for the best infrastructure.

“The Cities of the Future is not your average list by your average publication,” notes Michael Langley, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. “This recognition indicates the growing prominence of southwestern Pennsylvania as a key area for global investment.”

“Recognizing Pittsburgh as a ‘City of the Future’ highlights the many benefits that the city and region have to boast,” adds William Peduto, Pittsburgh councilman. “The world is discovering what we already know: Pittsburgh is a great place to grow a business, raise a family and invest resources for the future.”

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Michael Langley, Allegheny Conference, William Peduto and the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance

Photograph copyright © Jonathan Greene

Pittsburgh teams with Cleveland on biotech corridor

In a unique meeting of similar minds, two bioscience investment firms, one from Pittsburgh and the other from Cleveland, are teaming up to explore working together to accelerate the bioscience sectors of both regions. The pairing is the first of its kind.

BioEnterprise, Greater Cleveland’s bioscience business initiative, and Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse (PLSG), a private/public partnership that invests in and supports the growth of bioscience companies in southwestern Pennsylvania, have enough in common and are close enough geographically to significantly help each other grow.

The goal? The creation of critical mass for both regions by 1) attracting capital to companies and 2) helping to nurture and find commercialization opportunities for innovation.
This concept is cited in a 2006 report, The Vital Center: Renewing the Great Lakes Region, calling for cross-state collaboration and planning for economic development in the Great Lakes Region.

Together, BioEnterprise and PLSG boast more than $1 billion annually in combined National Institute of Health and industry health care research funding. They collectively raised more than $350 million in health care venture investment during 2005-2006 from medical device, biopharmaceutical and health care service startups, and together they both have more than 700 bioscience companies to their credit, employing more than 25,000 people.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: PLSG

Environmental hero, Rachel Carson, celebrated in a year of events

Long before it was politically correct to be an environmentalist, there was Pittsburgh’s own Rachel Carson, one of the world’s earliest environmental innovators who pushed the science of our planet to the forefront.

This year, in honor of her 100th birthday, the Rachel Carson Homestead Association (RCHA) will honor her legacy through several events. A famous admirer, the legendary Dr. E.O. Wilson who researched a chapter on fire ants for her book, will attend one and speak in her honor.

“In the greening of Pittsburgh movement, we have a built in hero,” explains Patricia M. DeMarco, executive director of the RCHA. Carson watched the smoke of the mills fill the skies from her Springfield home, DeMarco muses. “She was so articulate and credible, she was the prime mover for the entire environmental movement internationally. She is a historic artifact beyond just her concerns about DDT.”

A concert at the Sen. John Heinz History Center kicks off on April 20th at 5:00 p.m. and features the Indigo Girls, following the Women’s Health and the Environment Conference.

A Block Party and Sustainable Feast, held May 27, 2007at the homestead in Springdale, brings Pittsburgh’s leading chefs together. Under the direction of big Burrito Group’s executive chef, Bill Fuller, the event will showcase organic and locally grown produce, meat and dairy from the region’s sustainable agriculture.

Pittsburgh’s First Annual Rachel Carson Legacy Conference on Friday, Sept. 29, 2007: “Sustaining the Web of Life in Modern Society” at Carnegie Mellon University, with keynote speaker Dr.E. O. Wilson. Sessions include: Global Warming; Perspectives on Health of Our Oceans; Environmental Leadership & Changing the Way We Live.

The Rachel Carson Spirit & Nature conference on Nov. 3rd links the earth-stewardship lessons contained in all world religions with sustainable living. It will be held at Chatham College.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Patricia M. DeMarco and Fiona Fisher, RCHA

Image courtesy of the Rachel Carson Homestead



Sycor Americas lured to Pittsburgh

Sycor Americas Inc., an information and communications technology consulting firm, announced it will relocate its U.S. headquarters to Penn Center West and will hire at least 80 new staff within the first three years.

Competition among cities was fierce, but Pittsburgh won out thanks to the regional workforce, close proximity to the universities, the region’s focus on technology and industry development, and an enticing state and county incentive package.

The Allegheny Conference worked with the Governor’s Action Team (GAT) and Sycor to secure a $360,000 investment package that was presented by Dennis Yablonsky, state secretary of community and economic development, in Robinson last week. The package includes a grant of up to $100,000 through the Opportunity Grant Program, up to $100,000 in customized job training funds, and $160,000 in job creation tax credits.

"These will be professional high paying jobs, consultants, and systems analysts. There will be plenty of hires locally and a number from outside of the region as well, " reports Yablonsky.

Sycor is an international information and communications technology consulting firm that advises its clients in chemical processing and the medical device manufacturing industry.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit and Jennifer Baron
Source: Dennis Yablonsky, GAT

Image courtesy of Sycor

Flux is back, but different

FLUX is back, bigger and better than ever.

Part street fair, part artist’s showcase, part circus, FLUX will surface in Braddock on April 14th and is sure to attract thousands, as it has in the past. It is the first of three events this year, and officially launches a partnership with Three Rivers Arts Festival.

FLUX kicked off in 2000 and generated excitement for emerging local neighborhoods and community artists. It still promises to be a cutting-edge venue, but with a difference: A group of “artist coordinators” will select the freshest, most relevant artists; “neighborhood immersion” will happen, meaning the event will return three times each year to support one community; and the beer will no longer be free--bring cash.

During the past two years, event organizers did some strategic thinking and created a “sustainability plan,” explains Traci Jackson, founder of FLUX. “We’re shifting into the mode of producers and promoters. We provide the space and let the arts community curate the event.”

This year’s line-up includes the all-female band Flotilla Way, Mule Kicked Visions, artists from the Ohringer Building and Unicorn Mountain. Future events are planned for June 16th and October 27th this year.

Twelve Flux events were held from the fall of 2000 to the summer of 2004, attracting more than 800 local artist and 20,000 people and raising $100,000 in support of local arts. Sponsors this year include Wall-to-Wall Studios and Penn Brewery. FLUX is funded by grants from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the Heinz Endowments, Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development and the Henry John Simonds Foundation.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Traci Jackson, FLUX

Image courtesy of TRAF/FLUX

Venture Investment study paints glowing picture for the region

The news is good--the Pittsburgh region is fast becoming one of the biggest venture capital (VC) success stories in the country, and Pennsylvania ranks third in the country for total VC jobs. 

A decade ago, venture capital investing in Pittsburgh was a blip on the national radar, number 31 to be exact, down from cities like San Francisco, Boston, and New York. Data compiled by the National Venture Capital Association, Thomson Financial, and PWC Money Tree for 2006 shows the Pittsburgh region at number 16, one of the largest relative increases in venture capital (VC) investment among all regions in the United States. Of the top 40 U.S. metro areas in 1997, Pittsburgh VC grew at the fastest rate relative to its starting point.

In addition, Pennsylvania venture-backed companies added the most U.S. jobs in the 2003-2005 period at 167,000, beating Texas and California.

Catherine Mott, managing partner with Blue Tree Capital, sees a tremendous entrepreneurial spirit emerging in the region. When Blue Tree launched in late 2003, there were few outside investors knocking on the doors. Now, investors are tracking her down.

“What we are sensing is that there is an interest in outside venture firms in what is happening in Pittsburgh," says Mott. "Pittsburgh is one of the richest areas in the country for intellectual property. We’re finally getting known for it."

It helps that Pittsburgh is 7th in the country in National Institute of Health funding, Mott adds. With the help of seed money organizations like Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, Innovation Works , and Idea Foundry, new companies like RedPath are taking off.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Catherine Mott, Blue Tree Capital;
National Venture Capital Association

Entertaining Tech Job Fair connects job-seekers with the best and the brightest

To connect graduate, undergraduate students and interns with “the best and brightest tech employers” in the 13-county region, the Pittsburgh Technology Council is hosting @pghcafe, a unique job fair free to job seekers.

@pghcafe (At Pittsburgh Café) will be held March 2, from 1:30 until 5:30 p.m. at Carnegie Mellon University’s University Center gymnasium. The atmosphere? Interactive and informal—no ties please—with music, prizes and refreshments. While job seekers are free, Council members pay $250 for admission while non-members pay $350.

Expected to draw 300 job seekers across a wide range of career interests, @pghcafé is sponsored by PNC in partnership with the Regional Internship Center. The unique job fair was started 10 years ago to convince graduating students they didn’t need to leave town to good tech jobs, "to make them aware that we have a very competitive market, a growing hub and center of excellence," says Kevin Lane, spokesperson for the Tech Council. With more than 140,000 students in 33 area universities, there’s no lack of talent. The goal of the Tech Council is to retain talent in southwestern PA.

The Pittsburgh Technology Council is the first and largest regional technology trade association in the United States with nearly 1,350 member companies. Its focus is on developing the economic strength of three main industry clusters: information technology, life sciences and advanced manufacturing.

The Regional Internship Center (RIC) actively works with employers in developing internship programs and connects them to students in the area.

To register for the job fair email events@pghtech.org or call (412) 918-4229.

Writer: Tracy Certo
Source: Kevin Lane, Pittsburgh Technology Council

Image courtesy of Pittsburgh Technology Council



City and county collaborate in money-saving Verizon deal

The City of Pittsburgh has teamed up with Allegheny County for high-tech savings. Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl have struck a deal to create a joint telecommunications contract with Verizon Business as part of an ongoing plan to streamline crossover operations.

The savings will be in the millions for both the county ($3 million) and the city ($1.5 million) over the next three years and will help the City-County better serve its residents. Mayor Ravenstahl noted that Pittsburghers should save about 50 percent on city bills.

The new agreement will enhance services for residents as well as improve technologies for public safety and disaster services. This cooperative effort bringing together the two governments will make it easier to grow, expand, and connect innovative technologies in the future while maintaining costs.

“This joint contract represents a significant win for the taxpayers of Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh, and it’s another important step in our effort to reduce costs and increase efficiencies through City-County cooperation,” said Onorato.

Writer: Sherrie Flick
Source: Kevin Evanto

Learning from Bayer's leadership in nanotechnology

Think small to get big. That's the message in a lecture on what regional business leaders can learn from Bayer's Leadership in Nanotechnology.  And when presenter Robert Kumpf suggests thinking small, he means really small. Nanotechnology deals with the production of structures less than 100 nanometers in size—that’s one billionth of a millimeter.

“We had a classical approach at Bayer," says Kumpf, "and we kind of blew that all up and started all over again." Since the model of innovation changed, he says, "We now need to ask external questions, what are the global trends? With whom do we want to partner to innovate? A company then needs to communicate how it's being innovating.”

Bob Kumpf joined the Bayer Corporation in 1988 as a research chemist after receiving his Ph.D. from Penn State. On Friday, February 2nd at the CEO Forum of Pittsburgh he will show that he hasn’t given up experiments, even as vice president and chief administrative officer of Bayer MaterialScience, one of the leading producers of polymers and high-performance plastics in North America.

“We want to see what Bob has done at Bayer and how it can apply to growing companies here in Pittsburgh," says James E.  Hoffman, Jr., president of the CEO Forum. "He will talk about nanotechnology and that’s surprising in relation to a company that’s known for aspirin. Bob will help teach our leaders to think differently.”

Writer: Sherrie Flick
Sources: James E. Hoffman, Jr.; Robert Kumpf

Image courtesy of Robert Kumpf

UPMC receives $250,000 for green initiative

With a $250,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments, UPMC can move closer to its goal of becoming the industry leader in  environmental health and safety. While there’s a whole movement to green hospitals, says Ellen Dorsey, environment program officer for the Heinz Endowments, “nobody is approaching it like UMPC, with an integrated model that links all functions of the hospital together.”

From training doctors about environmental links to disease, to community education for moms on how to protect their children, it goes beyond building green and buying green.

The UPMC strategy says, “Where possible we’re going to do our best to prevent diseases, reduce environmental exposure known to be linked to disease and help our community to know about this and do what it can," explains Dorsey.

Among other things, UPMC will appoint a director of environmental initiatives to develop systemwide environmental policies to promote healthy work and patient care environments in all its facilities.

Three years ago, the Endowments gave $25,000 to put together an “internal green team” at Magee-Women's Hospital. The informal group, comprised of both cleaning crew and neonatal staff among others, went from getting rid of tubing that leached toxic chemicals, to banning all mercury products in the hospital to educating moms about unsafe products. “I can’t tell you how cool this was,” says Dorsey. “We gave them a very small amount of money and this thing just took off.” --TC

Source: Ellen Dorsey, the Heinz Endowments

Photograph copyright © Jonathan Greene

Preservation Pittsburgh hires first executive director

In December, Preservation Pittsburgh, an all-volunteer organization that advocates for preserving the rich heritage of the region, hired its first executive director, Steven Paul. An anonymous foundation grant funded the position which will also allow for a strategic planning process to be completed this spring that will drive activity the next two to three years, says Paul.

The 38-year-old North Point Breeze resident was a board member of the 15-year-old organization which recently and successfully advocated to save St. Nicholas Church, the first Croatian Catholic Church in North America, by re-routing Rt. 28. The group is currently interested in saving three buildngs in Market Square as well as the adaptive reuse of the Civic Arena.

 “Around the world there aren’t many cities that have the diversity of architecture the way this city does. People come from all over the world to see our buildings,” says Paul. “Architecture is a part of it but it’s the greater sense of place. Preservation serves as an economic tool for revitalizing our community.That ‘s the central message we’re seeking to promote.”-- TC

Source: Steven Paul, Preservation Pittsburgh

Image courtesy of Steven Paul

New Software Allows Instant Collection of Neighborhood Data

With the help of a new Web-based geographical information system, local government and community organizations will be able to collect and track community data with a few clicks of the mouse.  The Pittsburgh Neighborhood and Community Information System (PNCIS), which provides demographic, social, property planning and economic information, was demonstrated Monday in Hazelwood to a group of community leaders, including Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. "We will lead the way as we move forward with our investment in cutting-edge technology and management tools to enable our city to run efficiently, giving us and our partners the tools to make smart, prompt decisions based upon solid data," says Ravenstahl.

The software integrates more than 50 key indicators--from building permits to code violations to demographic info--from multiple data sources to provide a snapshot of neighborhood conditions. Consistent data for all neighborhoods is available to every participating organization, with one point of contact for users and data providers.

“It allows community groups to really target inventory in a way they couldn’t before without that information,” says Bob Gradeck of the Center for Economic Development at CMU, one of the four groups behind the software. The others are the University of Pittsburgh, 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development (PPND).

“It’s available in simple, easy to use format that decision makers can access instantaneously,” says Grant Ervin of 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania. “The big thing is it will save time and money.” --TC

Source: Grant Ervin, PPND, Bob Gradeck, CMU

Image courtesy of Carnegie Mellon Center for Economic Development

KIZ report shows the need to grow tech sector

While Pittsburgh has a robust economy, it needs to focus on sustained growth in the rate of technology start-ups to be competitive with similar markets, according to two reports issued by the Greater Oakland Keystone Innovation Zone (GO KIZ).

The reports, by the Milken Institute and Battelle Memorial Institute, provided “really good analysis and confirmation of strengths and weaknesses and suggestions for activities across a very broad spectrum of policies and programs,” says Don Smith. chairman of the GO KIZ Board of Directors and director of the University Partnership of Pittsburgh. The most important message? Since 65% of the difference in regional growth rates is accounted for by tech growth, everyone in the region needs to be concerned, he says. “The whole purpose of the study was to mobilize the region.”

While Smith can not offer any numbers at this time, he says, “What the KIZ is working on right now is how many additional start-ups we think we can hope to foster.”

To achieve suggested growth, they will focus on four main areas:
1. Increase the pool of experienced entrepreneurial managers
2. Increase amount of early stage risk capital
3. Attract new anchor companies to help recruit top talent
4. Build upon the physical environment such as available or incubation lab space and step-up space in close proximity to other companies, universities and hospitals.

“Our priority plans will emphasize efforts to pump up tech start-ups. It’s something we believe in, and these reports reinforce the impact those kinds of efforts can have,” Smith adds.

Writer: TC
Source: Don Smith, GO KIZ

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