Since July, more than a dozen companies have been working around the clock within the walls of Nova Place to perfect products and pitches that could revolutionize healthcare, education and childcare in America. Or at least make a lot of money.
These nationally ranked accelerators for software and hardware businesses were created by Innovation Works, a venture capital firm that invests in and mentors start-ups across Western Pennsylvania. The companies they help grow operate in sectors including voice-based tech, robotics, AI, advanced materials, the IoT (“internet of things” smart devices) and SaaS (software as a service).
Speaking before the presentations, AlphaLab Gear Managing Director Ilana Diamond and AlphaLab COO/Managing Director Jim Jen told the packed crowd that beyond technical expertise, it’s the spirit of community and collaboration among the local start-ups that has made these incubators enough of a success story to sell out Stage AE for a presentation like this.
Innovation Works partnered with several local foundations to host the event, including The Pittsburgh Foundation and the BNY Mellon Foundation.
“But our most important partners,” said Diamond, “are our entrepreneurs.”
Here are a few of those entrepreneurs and the cool tech they showcased last night:
- Arieca is a materials company specializing in “Thubber.” While it can’t make cars fly or rig basketball games, the company says the specialty rubber has “the mechanical properties of soft silicone and heat conducting properties approaching stainless steel.”
- Exgwear specializes in wearable devices that allow customers to communicate with smart home appliances and other robotics through eye movements and facial gestures.
- Lumis is a healthcare education company that creates virtual and augmented reality games to help train medical professionals.
- C.C. Busy, a voice-activated platform made to assist childcare professionals. This app was recently awarded $100,000 in the UpPrize competition.
Innovation Works offers accelerator and incubation programs to support small companies through every stage of their development. Along with financial support, this includes training in everything from honing their fundraising skills to actually making working prototypes of their services.
This year’s event was especially auspicious, as Innovation Works is celebrating major milestones for its signature programs. AlphaLab, one of the first and most prominent accelerators in the U.S., began 10 years ago. AlphaLab Gear, an accelerator specifically for hardware companies, is turning five. And Riverfront Ventures, a venture fund that invests in some of the highest-growth Innovation Works portfolio companies, also began five years ago.
While some companies have relocated since incubating with Innovation Works, the organization seeks out and awards companies that will keep jobs and capital in their communities. Among the companies in their portfolio, 77 percent have at least three-quarters of their workforce based in the Pittsburgh region.
Local companies that began with support from Innovation Works include CivicScience, a polling and data analytics firm based in Shadyside, Aurochs Brewing in Emsworth and the Homewood-based clothing company Thread International.