PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE & PITTSBURGH BUSINESS TIMES? May 2012 witnesses the shuttering of the successful Technology Collaborative as Innovation Works takes its place. Even in the tough economic times that brought down the Technology Collaborative, Pittsburgh still keeps a comfortable place at the table for robotics.
Got robot, will fund
Innovation Works, a Pittsburgh regional investor and advisor for seed-stage technology companies as well as being the Ben Franklin Technology Partner of Southwestern PA (a state initiative under the Department of Community and Economic Development), will assume support for the region’s digital and robotics industry cluster from the Technology Collaborative (TTC). Sadly, after more than a decade of yeoman service to high-tech and robotics, the Technology Collaborative is coming to an end and will transfer its key programs to Innovation Works.
?Pittsburgh: from steel to nothing to the Moon.?Allison Jones ?MoonRush?
Innovation Works will now provide assistance to develop and commercialize advanced electronics and robotics technologies, recruit world-class talent, incubate and mentor early-stage companies and facilitate networking. Innovation Works is also committed to sustaining Technology Collaborative’s commercialization awards which have had a significant impact on the progress of its member companies.
“It will be a smooth transition from the Technology Collaborative?s programs to Innovation Works, as IW already provides vital investment and business assistance to start-up robotics and digital technology companies,” said Rich Lunak, president and CEO of Innovation Works. “Since there is already a fair amount of co-investment and mentoring to companies supported by both organizations, I’m confident the stakeholders in the electronics and robotics community will find this to be a good match for their needs,” Mr. Lunak said.
The Wall Street Journal dubbed Pittsburgh?Robo-burgh? in 1999
In 1999, the Technology Collaborative (resulting from the merger of the Pittsburgh Digital Greenhouse and the Pittsburgh Robotics Foundry) was formed. That same year the Wall Street Journal dubbed Pittsburgh ?Robo-burgh.? For over a decade thereafter the Technology Collaborative delivered on programs and services that helped make the digital and robotics cluster an important part of the region’s innovation economy. Technology Collaborative portfolio companies have generated more than 3,100 high-value jobs and attracted more than $525 million in follow-on funding.
The Technology Collaborative received funding from the state through the Department of Community and Economic Development. Since 2005, the DCED through the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority has invested $14 million in 55 companies.
Times have changed, reports Malia Spencer in the Pittsburgh Business Times. ?Over the last two years TTC has been evaluating its programs and cutting back as state funding has been cut back. In 2010 the group cut its staff from eight to three people, cut funding amounts from $150,000 to $120,000, dropped a defense robotics initiative, dropped a workforce development program and cut back on promoting the region?s robotics industry cluster.?
An able alternative at the ready
Last year, 72 percent of all venture deals in the region went to companies in the portfolio of Innovation Works, a South Oakland-based (PA) tech incubator in its 12th year of providing funding, business resources, office space and the aid of seasoned entrepreneurs to promising start-ups.
The organization’s seed-fund companies raised $218 million in funding last year and all of its supported companies raised a total of more than $1 billion in annual revenue.
Mr. Lunak told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that local startups should only expect the flow of funding coming to the region to increase. “The news is remarkable in terms of revenues alone, but these companies are making international news while driving the engine of growth in the region,” he said.
Each May, Innovation Works kicks off its annual Investor Day with a fresh lineup of startups and updates from proven portfolio companies. Investors, inventors, developers and those interested in developments out of Pittsburgh’s tech sector are welcome to attend.
Innovation Works’ AlphaLab program
Investor Day is a golden moment to capitalize on the increased attention to show off technologies that have been hidden in university labs or launched online to little fanfare.
Greg Coticchia, entrepreneur in residence at the University of Pittsburgh, agrees: “This is a great opportunity to get exposure, to help build management teams, to meet someone who may be an entrepreneur or a leader in the community who could help commercialize [the technology].”
For companies in Innovation Works’ AlphaLab program unveiling technologies that were just in the idea stage at the beginning of January, the event is a chance to show off how much teams can accomplish through the 20-week program.
The highly competitive startup accelerator program chooses six companies twice a year to receive investment capital, office space and other supportive resources.
David Ruppersberger, president and CEO of the Technology Collaborative, will become the joint director for strategic economic initiatives for Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. He also will act as liaison with the City of Pittsburgh’s PowerUp initiative. “The region’s entrepreneurs are fortunate that we have an organization like Innovation Works that can assume and build upon TTC’s core programs, thus preserving the prior investment of the Commonwealth and local foundation supporters,” Ruppersberger said.
A significant award from Pennsylvania’s Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED) bolsters the transfer of programs. A Discovered in PA ? Developed in PA grant of $800,000 will enable Innovation Works to administer the 21st round of the Technology Commercialization Initiative, a competitive selection process that awards funding for projects that address key engineering design challenges, show a high degree of innovation, and identify a clear path to commercialization for digital and/or robotics-related companies in Pennsylvania.
Strong, dynamic technology and economic development expertise
“Our region is fortunate to have strong, dynamic technology and economic development expertise that helps to commercialize university research, fuel the process for green-lighting start-up companies and grow industry clusters.
We are delighted to have David Ruppersberger on board with us,” said Dr. Jared L. Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University. “Meanwhile, the companies involved with the Technology Collaborative will have a great champion in Rich Lunak ? who is a robotics technologist, successful entrepreneur and passionate advocate for tech start-ups. These transitions will be beneficial to the region’s technology ecosystem.”
“President Cohon and I have worked closely with David Ruppersberger for many years, as the co-chairs of the TTC board, and we have enormous respect for him. He will bring a deep reservoir of experience, connections and expertise to his new role as the leader of joint technology efforts for our two universities, and one of his most important responsibilities is to provide support for Mayor Ravenstahl’s PowerUp Pittsburgh initiative,” said University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. “Our shared goals include attracting and retaining top talent, spinning out new companies, growing high-paying jobs, and extending the benefits of the innovation economy throughout the broader community.?
Pittsburgh recently hired an innovation strategist who will work directly with Mr. Ruppersberger to help start-ups go from idea mode to job-creating mode. The hire is part of the mayor’s and local leaders’ PowerUp Pittsburgh initiative, which seeks to improve collaboration across sectors in order to capitalize on the city’s burgeoning tech- and innovation-based start-up community. From helping entrepreneurs find an affordable space to start their businesses to providing funding and technical and referral support, the new position will bring forth available City assets that can help entrepreneurs.
“Part of PowerUp Pittsburgh’s mission is to make sure that local government provides as much support as possible to the city’s growing innovation and technology economy,” Ravenstahl said. “This partnership has already experienced early successes, and with the hiring of two unique positions at the City and universities, we are poised to see more jobs and economic development result.”Read More