• Ben Franklin 4 PA

Pittsburgh Gets High Marks as a Place for Innovation

This article was originally posted on Pittsburgh Today.


by Jeffery Fraser, September 22, 2021

Pittsburgh skyline
📷: Lance Anderson on Unsplash

Pittsburgh has one of the world’s top emerging startup ecosystems from which companies are born from new ideas, talented innovators and investment in their development, according to a new report.


California’s Silicon Valley is still far and away the best ecosystem for startups, followed by London, New York City, Beijing and Boston. But Pittsburgh is among the places with the potential and momentum to develop into a major hub for spawning and nurturing innovative companies, particularly in artificial intelligence, robotics and biotechnology.


Pittsburgh is ranked 23rd among the top 100 such emerging startup ecosystems in the world, an analysis done by Startup Genome, an innovation policy advisory and research firm, suggests.


Startup ecosystems “are the growth engines of our economy,” said Rich Lunak, president and CEO of Innovation Works, the largest seed-stage funder of young companies in southwestern Pennsylvania. “We sometimes forget that every large company starts out as an idea from an entrepreneur, risk-taker, innovator. As these companies grow, they create jobs, attract investment, retain key talent in the region and have a strong ripple effect in our economy.”


The report crunches data on local startup performance and market reach, funding, talent and other factors to rank startup ecosystems. Pittsburgh is ranked among the top 30 in regional ecosystem funding, talent and experience. The value of its ecosystem is estimated at $5.2 billion.


“It’s great to see the region recognized in the rankings, but as an investor who as been working here close to 10 years, it comes as no surprise,” said Ilana Diamond, managing partner of the 412 Venture Fund. “For a city of our size, Pittsburgh has an outsized innovation ecosystem. The number of companies bringing innovation here is growing every year.”


Pittsburgh is particularly strong in cutting-edge technologies, including artificial intelligence, robotics, advanced manufacturing and those related to the life sciences. Young companies such as the Aurora Innovation, Argo AI, Motional, Waymo “have put down roots to solidify Pittsburgh as a global hub for self-driving technology,” the report states.


The report also highlights efforts in Pittsburgh to develop the innovation ecosystem with an eye on widening the tech talent pool to allow more women and minorities opportunities for careers.


Pittsburgh’s research universities and companies provide a broad, rich base of innovation to draw from. Apollo Neuro, which developed a device to improve a person’s resiliency to stress, started as a spin-out from the University of Pittsburgh in 2016 with funding from the university’s Innovation Institute at Pitt. “Pittsburgh definitely does punch above its weight,” said Kathryn Fantauzzi, the company’s co-founder and CEO.


“There’s strong talent here from clinical research and basic science, to engineering, software and hardware engineering, computer science. When you have that kind of talent in a small pool, it’s easy to navigate. Lots of people know each other well, they may have worked with each other in the past, which allows you to build a team quickly. I’m not from Pittsburgh, I’m from New York. I can tell you that Pittsburgh cares about Pittsburgh, and that matters. People are very supportive of each other and help businesses grow.”


“I think Pittsburgh is well-positioned for growth,” Lunak said. “I personally think we are capable of being one of the very top global hubs for technology and entrepreneurship.”