Penguins, Pirates, Steelers, And Startups - InformationWeek

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6/5/2008
03:55 PM
John Foley
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Penguins, Pirates, Steelers, And Startups

Pittsburgh is known for its sports teams, three rivers, steel-manufacturing heritage -- and increasingly for its technology innovation. The Penguins' championship bid just ended and the Pirates are in last place, but there are other reasons for "the Burgh" to cheer. A startup incubator has just opened on the city's South Side, and the Gates Center for Computer Science is under construction to the east.

Pittsburgh is known for its sports teams, three rivers, steel-manufacturing heritage -- and increasingly for its technology innovation. The Penguins' championship bid just ended and the Pirates are in last place, but there are other reasons for "the Burgh" to cheer. A startup incubator has just opened on the city's South Side, and the Gates Center for Computer Science is under construction to the east.If I've learned anything about Pittsburgh on two recent trips, it's sports and software. A statue of Franco Harris' "immaculate reception" in the 1972 NFL playoffs greets visitors to the Pittsburgh International Airport. A few weeks ago, I couldn't get a hotel room anywhere downtown. Why? The Cubs were in town to play the Pirates. And last week, when I went to ship a package at Carnegie Mellon University's mailroom, the guy behind the counter was dressed in full Penguins regalia -- pads and all.

Pittsburgh's close-knit tech community is thriving. Since the collapse of its steel industry 20 years ago, the city has re-established itself as a tech center with expertise in areas such as gaming, health care, and robotics. My colleague Bob Evans and I recently met with more than a dozen local technologists, businesspeople, and entrepreneurs. You can view many of our interviews below.

I've told you about the sports scene. What are some of the distinguishing characteristics of Pittsburgh's tech scene?

  • There's a lot of startup activity on the city's South Side, the neighborhood across the Monongahela River from downtown. As I wrote the other day, the AlphaLab has just opened there. (See "Startup Incubator Opens In Pittsburgh.)

  • Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, and other local schools are a rich source of software and engineering talent. Apple, Google, and Intel are just some of the big tech companies drawn to the area for that reason. (See my blog post, "Computer Science 101: Gates And Google.)

  • Indian expats provide a supportive, international base for startups and established tech vendors. The Pittsburgh chapter of TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) has joined with the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance in an initiative called iPort to encourage collaboration between and opportunities for businesses in Pittsburgh and India.

  • An experienced VC community makes money available to people with good ideas. Two examples: The Meakem Becker Venture Fund was founded in 2005 by Glen Meakem and Dave Becker, formerly top executives with FreeMarkets. And Pittsburgh Equity Partners is in the process of creating a fund for early-stage companies.

  • Pittsburgh-area startups offer a diverse range of products and services. A sampling: Landslide's "workstyle management" software for salespeople, mSpoke's RSS personalization engine, and Tiversa's P2P intelligence services for business.

    In other words, Pittsburgh's tech community is unique, eclectic, and an important part of the global tech industry. The city's shift from steel to software is a remarkable, and ongoing, story.

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