The ingenuity of entrepreneurs in Pittsburgh is changing lives, simplifying daily tasks and improving our health.
The region is on the forefront of promising technologies and products, from a polka-dot robotic stroller that unfolds in a snap to apps that easily teach foreign languages to the world and surgical glues that hasten healing. These companies are growing and supplying the region with jobs.
With dozens gaining traction, narrowing the list to a worthy handful was no easy feat. To assist in the selection, local business leaders and investors were asked to offer nominations.
The following 14 companies were mentioned repeatedly as among the rising stars based on their successful track record in raising money, employee hires and new product launches and sales.
In a two-part series, here are the Top 14 companies to watch in Pittsburgh in 2014, beginning with the first seven.
Industrial-strength batteries that go easy on the environment are one of the most promising areas in energy today. Aquion makes large-scale, energy storage systems so impressive that Microsoft’s Bill Gates ponied up his own funds to get the enterprise off the starting block last year.
Aquion is currently ramping up production at its battery factory in the former Sony site in Westmoreland County and has raised a whopping $100 million, $55 million in 2013 alone.
The production line will be running at full capacity by later this year and will have the ability to produce over 200 megawatt-hours of storage per year. Aquion currently employs 125 people and will continue to hire throughout the year.
The plant is expected to create more than 400 skilled manufacturing and engineering jobs. Its headquarters is in the old railcar building in Lawrenceville.
Facilitating fast and seamless connections with The Cloud (aka data storage) is what Avere is all about. The company is on the forefront of data storage systems, revolutionizing the way enterprise applications interact and network within the data storage environment to provide higher capacity storage and greater flexibility at a better price point.
Ron Bianchini is leading the charge from his command post on the North Shore in the Old Del Monte building. His force is 104 strong with noses-to-the-grindstone, building cutting-edge systems for some of the biggest names in the computing world, several of which are never-to-be-named.
In the last two years, the firm has become a dominant force in the VFX industry; twelve of the top blockbuster movies of 2013 used Avere’s system in the video rendering of the movie’s special effects. One of the film’s, Gravity, took the 2014 Academy Award for Best Special Effects for the work done by Framestore, an Avere client.
Avere raised $52 million last year and recently announced the release of a new cloud product that connects companies with Amazon’s storage.
This University of Pittsburgh success story is gaining traction with its absorbable surgical adhesives and sealants.
Cohera Medical raised $9.3 million in financing in 2013, bringing the total amount to $75 million. At present the company continues its drive toward final FDA and CE Marking (the European equivalent) approvals for its surgical adhesives TissuGlu and another for bowel surgeries.
The unique composition of Cohera’s surgical adhesives allows it to cure in the presence of moisture. It uses no human or animal-based ingredients and forms a bond between tissue that is stronger than other products on the market and promotes faster healing, says Cohera.
The company employs 20 including an office in Europe.
Vintage fashion was a quiet indie trend until ModCloth figured out a way to catapult it to the top in a Google search. So ModCloth was born and Susan and Eric Kroger, CMU grads and high school sweethearts, have grown their mod-style clothing line into a household name, one happy customer at a time.
Growth continues to ripple through the whole organization, which continues to make the Inc. fastest company in the country list. While the company moved part of its operation to Los Angeles and San Francisco, Pittsburgh handles the merchandising, fulfillment and customer care operations.
ModCloth has 509 employees across the three offices with 297 employees located here. It has also raised a total $48 million to date, with $25 million raised in May 2012, the same year it delivered more than $100 million in revenue.
Community online engagement continues to be a focus, allowing customers to influence and engage with the brand through features both on mobile and desktop. In 2013 ModCloth released two private label brands, both designed and produced in-house, across a full range of sizes.
Luis von Ahn and his language learning startup is bringing education to the world. The Shadyside company was making news before it was barely out of the gate as a top education app on iTunes and Google Play. In 2013, Apple named it App of the Year.
In typical von Ahn fashion, Duolingo works by accomplishing several tasks at once: while people learn a foreign language they are simultaneously translating text and thereby teaching foreign languages to others. The app has grown to 20 million users (10 million actives) to date and continues to garner praise and awards.
The company employs 34, continues to hire and has raised a total $38.3 million to date, $20 of which was raised in 2014. A Duolingo Test Center is next, giving users the ability to be language-certified for select jobs.
Jawbone acquires BodyMedia
Wearable health technology and personal data analysis is a red-hot trend for 2014, which can only mean that BodyMedia has been ahead of its time.
The Pittsburgh company was acquired by Jawbone in 2013 for an undisclosed amount and is now a fully owned subsidiary. Two armbands bear the BodyMedia name, the LINK and CORE; they are the only technology of their kind to be registered with the FDA as a device clinically proven to enhance users’ weight loss.
The company employs 50 in its downtown Pittsburgh office.
Wombat Security Technologies
The problems associated with online security and privacy is not going away anytime soon. Enter Wombat Security Technologies, a former CMU spinout, which is making a name for itself through cyber security training and filtering solutions for businesses and employees.
Having outgrown its space on Craig Street in Oakland, the firm is moving into new digs in the Strip District. In 2013 Wombat Security raised another $1 million added to it total $3.7 million raised to date. The company has 44 full-time and part-time employees.
The latest news is Dell SecureWorks has signed on as a partnership which is expected to accelerate the company’s growth. Wombat Security is enjoying triple digit growth to date through direct sales.