Pittsburgh May Hold Key to Future of Tech

Local entrepreneurs gathered on Thursday at AlphaLab Gear to discuss technology in Pittsburgh and how it will transform the city.

by Megha Satyanarayana, McClatchy News Service / September 12, 2014

Hardware and software coming together. Women. CEO-level talent. More venture capital.

These are some of the things that will make Pittsburgh's tech future, according to a group of local entrepreneurs who gathered on Thursday night at AlphaLab Gear to talk about technology in Pittsburgh and how it will transform the city.

That future includes a company trying to deliver payloads to place on the Lake of Death on the moon, an app started by five women to connect new moms, a health care information technology company that deals with specialties like physical therapy, a company that gathers school reviews for upcoming college students and a service that delivers personalized, artsy gifts.

The discussion was part of the weeklong Thrival festival, taking place through Sunday at various sites in the East End.

“It's amazing how technology can influence what we do in this world,” said Vanessa Jameson of Covey, the app that helps new moms network. “People are trusting it to inform what they do in the real world.”

Covey uses geolocation to bring moms together, whether for something as simple as a walk with another adult to sharing supplies in a pinch or parenting tips for the long haul. The product came to be after Jameson and four women who she met by happenstance became friends and realized such a thing could be facilitated by a mom-driven social network.

Their app will be introduced at the end of September.

Technology influencing decision-making is also a hallmark of Niche, a company that gathers college data and reviews to help high schoolers choose their next academic steps.

Niche used to be called College Prowler, but the company, which has completed a recent hiring binge, now boasts high school reviews, and soon, information on classes.

Dennis Yablonsky, chief executive officer of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, moderated the event.

When he returned to Pittsburgh in the 1980s to run a technology company, he said, there were a few dozen companies, no incubators and no buzz. Now, he said, there are more than 25,000 jobs available in the area for tech and life science.

John Thornton of Astrobotic said Pittsburgh is the obvious choice for companies that make a physical product. His plan to deliver goods to the moon involves a 9,000-square-foot space in the Strip District that elsewhere would be far too expensive.

Romeo Delivers started out as a subscription service, sending buyers each month a package of artistic notes and gifts to help communicate with, thank and surprise friends and loved ones. As the company has grown, the plans now include personalized items.

While software companies that cater to health care providers work in a one-size-fits-all model, Patrick Colletti said his company, Net Health, is geared toward specialists such as rehabilitation facilities, wound care providers and those parts of health care that don't quite fit into current medical software frameworks.

His business has led to 100 jobs, he said.

Yablonsky said there are two things he thinks will solidify Pittsburgh as a tech hub. One is local venture capital. There's not enough, he said, and when Pittsburgh companies are funded from the outside, he believes they tend to leave.

“If the lead investor is in Pittsburgh, the company will stay in Pittsburgh,” he said.

Yablonsky said the area also needs more executive talent and a great source is “boomerangers” like him, people who left the city in their youth, and now, because of a low cost of living and opportunities to succeed, see the right reason to return.

©2014 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)

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