What does it mean to be one of the Steel City’s RealLIST Connectors? We define it as a person who makes meaningful connections in local tech and entrepreneurship, who convenes and informs others. Sometimes that means helping students have access to STEM education through partnerships and programming. Sometimes it’s helping promising workers find the apprenticeships of their dreams. Sometimes it’s board leadership to ensure Pittsburgh is a prominent player in modern spacetech innovation.
Whether they came from startups, nonprofits or college campuses, the folks you’re about to read about landed on this list because of a public nomination or a recommendation from a peer, or because they made an impression in our past reporting. (P.S. Our RealLIST nominations are open year round, so if you know of a person or company that belongs on our next list, let us know.)
Pittsburgh, here are your 2023 RealLIST Connectors.
- Director at E3 Alliance of Pittsburgh
- In addition to being a self-described business, education and workforce development leader, Alexander is at the head of the Equitable Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Alliance (E3 Alliance) of Greater Pittsburgh. His responsibilities include ensuring that the organization fulfills its mission to lead and synchronize stakeholders in the development of strategies that mesh with the long-term goal of making Pittsburgh’s ecosystem sustainable. Alexander is also passionate about creating easily accessible resources for Black and brown entrepreneurs.
- Director of the Carnegie Science Center
- Every year, from student groups to families, the Carnegie Science Center gets an estimated 700,000 visitors who go to the North Side to take in the museum’s educational exhibits, participate in workshops, and even get a crash course in the physics of sports. Previously, as the Science Center’s science and education department senior director, he’s credited with putting together a team that served thousands of Pittsburgh students and teachers. Additionally, Brown developed the Teaching Excellence Academy teacher professional development initiative and helped expand the Carnegie STEM Excellence Pathway program which expanded from western Pennsylvania to 700 schools in 30 states and internationally today. As the director, Jason Brown oversees it all. Since transitioning from interim director to director in 2020, he’s led the Science Center’s re-accreditation efforts with the American Alliance of Museums, ensuring the museum stayed in compliance with the Center for Disease Control’s pandemic guidelines, and collaborated with the Moonshot Museum to ensure that both entities’ space programming are accessible to students in the region.
- Pittsburgh city director for Venture for America
- Since 2022, Megan Butler has been Venture for America’s Pittsburgh city director. This makes her the central contact for regional startups desperately seeking entrepreneurial recent college grads within the city. Butler also works with philanthropic organizations in the area to make sure the program’s never without the necessary funding. Prior to this position, Butler earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in policy and management at Carnegie Mellon University. Post-grad, she held positions at the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and Treatspace as a project manager and a program associate, respectively.
- Program director at Deeplocal’s Gizmology program and STEAM ecosystem lead for Remake Learning
- Kirk Holbrook has spent the past 20 years acting as a servant leader in ways such as organizing community members to rally for issues in public education across Pittsburgh, being Rep. Jake Whealtly’s chief of staff, and even serving on the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Equity Advisory Panel in 2018. Now, Holbrook can be found splitting his time between Deeplocal as its equity-focused apprenticeship program’s program manager, and Remake Learning as the org’s regional STEAM ecosystem lead, which means creating accessible educational programming for students around the region.
- Founding board member and board chair at Keystone Space Collaborative
- The Keystone Space Collaborative is on a mission to help the commercial space sector in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia grow through outreach and building connections between companies and the space industry. As an attorney, Justine Kasznica makes sure the organization follows nonprofit law and remains financially stable. Additionally, she serves on the board for the Moonshot Museum and startup resource hub Ascender. A lawyer by trade, Kasznica also serves on the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Space Law Committee and Aeronautical and Space Law Section, per her LinkedIn.
- Director of relationships for Remake Learning
- As Remake Learning’s director of relationships, Stephanie Lewis makes sure that students, schools and external organizations don’t operate in silos. That means Lewis’ job is to ensure that all the different parties work together to create equitable educational opportunities for students, including in STEM. Previously, Lewis acted as the director of initiatives for the Bible Center Church and the director of Allegheny Partners for Out of School Time.
- Partner solutions manager at Google
- As a partner solutions manager for the Big Tech company with a Pittsburgh office, most of Matthews’ job is to manage the company’s local partnerships. This can mean helping to ensure that celebrations for funding Black Tech Nation Ventures go off without a hitch or ensuring that internal projects run smoothly. Additionally, she manages a team of engineers to make sure that they meet their deadlines and keep the user’s needs in mind. Outside of Google, Matthews’ resume includes being a volunteer board member for Gwen’s Girls, a board member for The Pittsburgh Project, and a member of the board of advisors for the Women’s Professional Network.
- Senior associate at Frost Brown Todd
- Derrick Maultsby is an attorney whose focus is in serving as a business advisor and corporate transactional lawyer to startups, small to mid-sized businesses, and Fortune 50 companies. When he’s not practicing law, Maultsby is a mentor at Techstars, a regional advisory board member for Venture for America, and VP of the Duquesne University Black Alumni Network. “He is also passionate about connecting like-minded leaders in the city, often ensuring leaders in local nonprofits, corporates, universities, and government entities are working together towards the goal of making Pittsburgh a better place to live and work,” his nominator wrote. “The Pittsburgh region is lucky to have Derrick as a part of the community!”
- Executive director of the STEM Coding Lab
- Casey Mindlin oversees the STEM Coding Lab on its mission to bring coding classes to under-resourced Pittsburgh schools whose teachers lack the training to enact STEM programming. In the past year, the organization has gone from providing 40 classes in the city per week to 85 classes per week, across 30 locations and nine school districts. When he’s off the clock, he volunteers as a board member for Trying Together, an early childhood education advocacy program.
- Partner at Black Tech Nation Ventures
- David Motley is a corporate executive, an entrepreneur, and the CEO and cofounder of a board director for MCAPS, LLC which is a professional consulting and managed services company. Not content to wear just one hat, Motley is also a managing partner and cofounder for BlueTree Venture Fund and a general partner for Black Tech Nation Ventures. Out of the office, Motley holds board member positions for Koppers, Inc. and Deep Lake Capital. Go to him for insights on local investing trends.
- Co-organizer of XchangePGH
- Adam Paulisick is a serial entrepreneur who can be found a little bit of everywhere. He’s currently the cofounder of Skillbuilder.io, an investor and advisor to several startups, and a professor across several schools at CMU. This year in particular, you could find the high-energy Paulisick running events for XchangePGH, the initiative he cofounded with Kit Mueller to help the Steel City’s innovation ecosystem grow. Most recently, the two organized Xchange Innovation Week, a series of events that brought together technologists and entrepreneurs to learn and collaborate.
- Director, talent attraction and STEM development at the Pittsburgh Technology Council
- Maria Pelloni went from the world of education and children’s librarianship to tech. Despite the obvious differences between the professions, from her time as the STEM engagement coordinator at Fortyx80 to her current position, much of her career has been spent boosting access to STEM education, both for students and via workforce development.
- Manager of member experience and engagement at Highmark Wholecare
- Candice Pulkowski hails from the world of nonprofits, going so far as to have cofounded her own in the form of Benevine, an organization that connects young professionals with opportunities to serve their communities while gaining career experience. Through her role with Highmark, she looks for ways to leverage technology to break down the barriers that prevent individuals from receiving the health treatments they need. Pulkowski also serves on the board for the Pittsburgh Hispanic Development Corporation and reports a doctorate in business with a focus in AI and neuromarketing.
- Founder of Girls of Steel
- Patti Rote cofounded Girls of Steel at Carnegie Mellon University’s Field Robotics Center in 2010. During the org’s earliest days, it welcomed students in grades 9 to 12, and now encompasses up to 17 FIRST Robotics teams that consist of students in grades K through 12. Through the years, Rote has received honors such as the Girl Scouts of Western PA Women of Distinction award in 2014 and the A. Nico Habermann Educational Service Award from CMU in 2022. Rote remains a mentor within Girls of Steel, a board member of the Pittsburgh Robotics Network and a FIRST Robotics Outreach Manager, her nominator wrote.
- Executive director of sustainability at the University of Pittsburgh
- Aurora Sharrard is the first-ever sustainability ED role for the University of Pittsburgh. This entails overseeing sustainability staff and the university’s sustainability efforts, policies, and partnerships related to its sustainability strategy. Sharrard was previously the Green Building Alliance’s executive director for 11 years and cofounded the Pittsburgh 2030 District, a network designed to ensure that communities and buildings are sustainable. In her spare time Sharrard is a board member for the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services and co-chairs the Pittsburgh’s Higher Education Climate Consortium.
- Co-director of Carnegie Mellon University’s AI Institute for Societal Decision Making
- Aarti Singh is a professor in Carnegie Mellon University’s Machine Learning Department and, as of May, the head of the new AI Institute for Societal Decision Making. As the institute’s co-director, she’ll be responsible for overseeing its mission to bring social sciences and tech research together to figure out how humans and the technology can better interact: “We need to have social scientists and AI researchers collaborate to come up with solutions that will leverage AI capability while ensuring social acceptance,” Singh previously told Technical.ly Over the years, Singh has received awards such as the Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation.
- CEO of Astrobotic
- In his 15 years at Astrobotic, John Thornton has seen the North Side-based space technology company through funding lunar lander missions, partnerships with Carnegie Mellon University, and lucrative contracts with NASA. During Thorton’s tenure, he’s received the Chairman Award from the Carnegie Science Awards, been named to the Time 100 Next list, and the 2020 Smart Business Smart 50. Most recently Thornton has participated in the planning of the pending Space Innovation District.
- VP of inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility of Carnegie Museums
- Gina Winstead is described by her peers as an advocate of tech equity. She was brought on because Carnegie Museums felt that she’d be well-equipped to help make the institutions more accessible while advocating for inclusion in STEAM programs, thanks to the combination of Winstead’s nonprofit work, her familiarity with the city as a Pittsburgh native, and her experience with the city’s tech sector. Prior to her current position, she acted as the director of diversity and inclusion for the Pittsburgh Technology Council and remains the VP of Women in Tech PGH.
- Director of xBridge Innovation Center
- The xBridge Innovation Center gives startups and universities the opportunity to test out their tech inside the Pittsburgh International Airport. Wolfson oversees xBridge as it deploys the tech while helping the Pittsburgh startup ecosystem grow. Prior to his current position, Wolfson was a senior program manager at Innovation Works accelerator AlphaLab Gear. He’s also the owner of Petagogy, an independent chain of super-premium natural pet food stores. Catch him sharing his startup expertise either as a domain expert or at CMU’s Project Olympus or even at AscenderPGH, where he volunteers as a mentor.
- Program officer of Richard King Mellon Foundation
- Over the next 10 years, the RK Mellon Foundation plans to invest a whopping $50 million in startups aligned with the foundation’s top priorities: economic development, economic mobility, health and well-being, and conservation. As a program officer for this prominent Pittsburgh philanthropic institution, Bobby Zappala is focused on finding and fostering that social impact-minded tech innovation. In past lives, Zappala has also been the CEO and cofounder of AscenderPGH and a managing partner at Localize Capital Management.
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