Calling all startups for a chance to run a pilot program with the City of Pittsburgh.
Applications recently opened for the seventh cohort of PGH Lab, a government incubator program that gives local startups the chance to test new products and services with city government. Over six months, PGH Lab not only allows startups to learn more about their markets and improve their products, but it also keeps the city directly tied to innovation from the community.
Started in 2016 under Mayor Bill Peduto, the program has several notable alumni that are now important members of the Pittsburgh tech industry: Meta Mesh, CleanRobotics and Honeycomb Credit are among the companies that have grown and made progress since going through the program. The most recent cohort included AdSkate, Beamdata, Civic Champs, pathVu, Jireh Mobile and Sustainible.
Formerly in person, PGH Lab went completely virtual for its sixth cohort, which wrapped up earlier this summer. But that didn’t keep the program from achieving its goals, said Trever Stoll, the program’s manager and a civic innovation specialist at the Department of Innovation and Performance, which is the department behind the incubator.
“This past success using the virtual environment while conducting the program we will be continuing with 7.0 as a virtual space with hybrid operations available as needed case by case,” he wrote Technical.ly in an email.
Each year, the application opening announcement includes different categories of solutions the city will be looking for, as well as a general open call for any startups that might not meet those specific goals. Those categories are based both on Peduto’s priorities as mayor, as well as any needs identified by other departments, Stoll said.
“One ‘City Challenge’ we are issuing again this year is a request for a complete inventory of the city sidewalks and ADA compliance,” he said. “We found success in the Downtown and Homewood areas of the city with pathVu in Cohort 6.0 and want to continue to build on this work in the next iteration.” Other categories this year include resident engagement and government accessibility, smart city technology, sustainable and environmental pilots and creation of an internal city process.
Programs like PGH Lab demonstrate Pittsburgh’s openness to new technology over the past decade — the kind of outlook that has made innovation in robotics and autonomous vehicles possible. Here, the City is asking entrepreneurs to test new products and services right on its streets. And when government regulations need to change in response to future disruptive tech, that openness matters in making Pittsburgh a competitive hub for business headquarters.
“PGH Lab offers our startup communities not only the chance to test their products in a live environment, but also offers an inside look into the functions of local government,” Stoll said of that point. “The City and our partners get the opportunity to find innovative solutions while offering startups a play by play of the internal mechanisms that need to happen to implement solutions.”
Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.