Five years ago, compiling a list of the rising stars on the local tech startup scene was a fairly straight-forward task. Investment experts and educators generally agreed on the most promising among them, possibly because there were fewer in the field to choose from. But those days are gone.
The technology startup scene in Pittsburgh has grown considerably since then. The city currently ranks sixth in the country in the number of tech companies funded by venture capital (in the third quarter of 2015 year to date) located here (60 in 2015), well above the average benchmark (46), just behind Austin (81) and ahead of Denver (52) Baltimore (33), and Raleigh-Durham (33), according to Pricewaterhouse Cooper Money Tree.
And the bar is rising.
Experts surveyed this year nominated 30 tech companies as the hottest to watch in 2016 in terms of growth, new hiring, product development and national traction. The finalists range from recently launched early stage startups to mid-size companies hitting their stride. Eight have more than 100 employees. The next Pittsburgh IPO may be among them.
The Top 16 Tech Companies to Watch in 2016:
4moms What began as a five-person startup is a global brand today employing 170 people in a downtown office that bears its name. The maker of robotic baby gear promises two new verticals in 2016: a magnetic high chair and the first self-installing infant car seat that gives the tech-savviest of parents peace of mind in knowing the car seat is coupled correctly on every installation.
ALung This South Side firm will guide its respiratory dialysis product through the final phases of the FDA clinical trial process in 2016. The Hemolung RAS made significant progress in 2015 and is already saving lives in Europe. ALung, which closed on a $10.5 million funding round this month, employs 22 in the U.S. and 5 in Europe.
Aquion What the world desperately needs is a sustainable battery capable of storing renewable energy for large-scale use for those times when the sun doesn’t shine and wind doesn’t blow. The Aquion battery does just that. With competition heating up—the Tesla Gigafactory for starters—Aquion is holding its own. The company celebrated a big year in 2015 and founder Jay Whitacre won the prestigious Lemelson-MIT Prize as an inventor who will change the world. The firm has 150 employees worldwide, has raised $125 million to date and will announce a new fundraising round in 2016.
Avere works with an impressive list of companies (like film studios) and cloud providers (like Amazon and Google) to turbo-charge their computing power. H3 Biomedicine in Cambridge, MA, is speeding toward a cure for cancer thanks to this North Side firm. 2016 will bring challenging new work with Microsoft. Some speculate Avere may be Pittsburgh’s next IPO.
BoXZY is on the forefront of a new age in printing. Its all-in-one desktop maker space is perfect for hobbyists and small businesses. Developed by Pittsburgh brothers Joel and Justin Johnson, BoXZY triples as a CNC Mill, 3D printer and laser engraver. The startup raised an impressive $1.2 million on Kickstarter this year in a little more than a month. Autodesk is a major partner.
ContainerShip Imagine you want to lift your house up off its foundation and move it to another place. That’s what ContainerShip accomplishes on a software level– “dynamic portability” that allows companies to facilitate work flows by switching hosting providers and database technologies while making it easier to use the public cloud. Look for several big announcements this year including key partnerships and a 2.0 version of the platform.
Digital Dream Labs What can be more promising in this age of STEAM than a toy that engages young children and teaches them to code and program? Popular Mechanics named Digital Dream Labs one of 33 Best Toys of the Year for 2015. Need we say more?
Duolingo Hands down the hottest language-learning app in the world. The free science-based platform is constantly adding new languages (most recently Russian and Polish) and personalizing its lessons to individual learning styles. Having outgrown its Shadyside digs, Duolingo will move to East Liberty in 2016 and double in size to 110. Stay tuned for the rollout of a “new super secret app,” says founder Luis von Ahn.
Interphase Materials This marine green AlphaLab Gear startup, founded by Pitt grad Noah Snyder, is developing “antifouling coatings” for underwater metal hardware, which basically means the coatings prevent the accumulation of organisms such as barnacles and algae on pipes or underwater surfaces — without the use of toxics harmful to the environment. First up is an application for nautical parts. The long-term focus is medical implants.
Jazz The company made a bold decision to rebrand its recruitment platform this year with a name change from The Resumator to Jazz, a nod to its mission of bringing harmony to the chaos of the modern-day workforce. Jazz has worked with more than 4,000 companies in recruiting and retaining talent. Most recently, Pete Lamson, formerly a VP at Carbonite, signed on as CEO. Founder Don Charlton will remain as Chief Product Officer, a move expected to accelerate the company’s growth.
Niche, the leading online site for college searches in the U.S., increased its traffic by 150 percent with the help of two new verticals, Niche K-12 and Niche Local, which provides an array of stats on neighborhoods, cities, schools and suburbs. Company growth is at the forefront and the Shadyside firm plans to be at 40 employees by year-end. “All hires will be local,” says founder Luke Skurman.
Word is Rorus‘s inexpensive, portable Filter Pack (it looks like a king-sized pillowcase) will be a game changer in the water purification market if it succeeds in selling it to companies in places like India and Africa. Rorus will deploy its Filter Packs to more than 20 nonprofit partners in 2016. Beyond that, the team plans to tap the military and outdoor recreation market.
Schell Games Founder and CEO Jesse Schell, recognized nationally as an expert on future trends in gameplay, has dubbed 2016 the “Year of Virtual Reality.” The interactive game company is ready with three virtual reality projects. One of the games, “I Expect You to Die” on Oculus Share, was released in June 2015 and has already garnered high ratings with gamers. Educational games will remain a priority.
Sole Power Walk a thousand miles in these energy-generating shoes and you may turn into a light bulb. Sole Power received national recognition from the White House this year as a technology capable of making a global impact. The team was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list. The first shipment went to the U.S. Army this year and they’re already they’re clamoring for more. The first consumer product will launch in 2016.
Uber Pittsburgh Uber’s new Advanced Technologies Center will open in the Strip in 2016 and employ 400. While competition remains fierce in the ride sharing (and automated driving) space, the San Francisco company will continue to rely on the research prowess at Carnegie Mellon University in the development of breakthrough technologies.
Wombat Security Technologies acquired competitor ThreatSim in 2015 and brought in co-founder Trevor Hawthorne as Chief Technology Officer. Wombat employs 100 and plans to keep growing since security-based online training and education is something workforces of the world desperately need.
Kudos to the other 14 Finalists who deserve our attention: AARP, Astrobotic, Cohera Medical (which will, sadly, move to Raleigh, NC, May 2016), Conversant Labs, Diamond Kinetics, Dynamics, Heavy Robotics, Knopp Neuroscience (making a strong comeback), NoWait, PieceMaker, RE2, Titan Robotics, Thread and Tiversa.