Draper Triangle leads round in Mezu, a Venmo competitor

Ever want to electronically tip your waitress or leave money for the person cleaning your hotel room while staying anonymous, and without putting it on your bill? One local venture capital firm, Draper Triangle, aims to help you do that by leading the Series A investment into anonymous payment vendor Mezu.

Mezu plays in the same space as Venmo, PayPal and Zelle, allowing you to transfer money via phone as if it were cash. But unlike the other vendors, Mezu is anonymous. You don’t need the other person’s name, e-mail or phone number. Instead, you transfer via QR code that their phone reads from yours, or by creating a four-digit code for a virtual drop zone and designating the amount you want to pay. Your drop zone is geo-fenced, only working for a limited time within five miles.

Draper Triangle led the $10 million Series A round with a $3 million investment. Other investors from out of state put up the remaining $7 million.

According to Mike Stubler, managing director at Draper Triangle, his VC firm had already successfully invested in a 2005 startup called TOA, belonging to Yuval Brisker, Mezu’s founder. TOA was acquired in 2017 by Oracle. Stubler’s decision was guided by that previous success with Brisker, as well as by what he thought was a good concept. Stubler says the Mezu business plan is designed to potentially be implemented globally.

Innovation Works wins Department of Energy competition for $150K, more possible

The blossoming Pittsburgh tech economy was given another shot in the arm last week, when the U.S. Department of Energy named Innovation Works (IW) one of four winners of its AIMOnshore Competition.

The AIMOnshore prize provides $150,000 to be used to help local energy-related companies start manufacturing operations in Southwestern PA by teaming with local contract manufacturers.

Pam Eichenbaum, business development associate at Innovation Works, told NEXTpittsburgh that the North Side-based economic development organization hopes that six to eight start-ups will participate in the program, which lasts 15 weeks and will help them connect with local manufacturers. The start-ups will initially be drawn from IW’s seed fund portfolio and companies that have gone through AlphaLab Gear’s incubator program. No word yet on whether non-IW companies will have the opportunity to participate.

Innovation Works is also competing against other economic development organizations from Chicago, Albany and San Francisco for an additional prize of up to $250,000. It will be awarded based on the best performance of the four organizations against the DOE goals for the initiative. According to Eichenbaum, variables determining that prize include participation and how many energy start-ups successfully connect with local manufacturers.

Pittsburgh Public Schools wins grant for students to have high-speed internet at home

The 1Million Project has awarded $250,000 to Pittsburgh Public Schools so that underprivileged high school students will have high-speed internet access at home. The grant is expected to cover up to 700 Wi-Fi hotspots, tablets and other devices, as well as access to unlimited data and technical support from Sprint.

According to PublicSource, 29,000 households in Pittsburgh do not have Internet access.

Funded by Sprint, LG and Motorola, the nonprofit aims to connect one million students nationally who are unable to afford high-speed Internet.

City ranking seems to suggest that millennials will be happy in the East End

Shadyside-based Niche.com released its list of 2018 Best Cities and Neighborhoods for Millenials. Pittsburgh ranked 15th on their cities list. Within the city, Squirrel Hill North topped the neighborhood ranking — with all top 10 Pittsburgh slots going to neighborhoods in or near the East End.

Upcoming business, career & networking events

Entrepreneurship in the Arts
Tuesday, June 26, 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. at the Burns White Center

The Art of Negotiations
Tuesday, June 26, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at Ascender

CIO Insights with CIOs from GNC and 84 Lumber
Thursday, June 28, 7:15 – 9:30 a.m. at the Rivers Club