Pittsburgh’s tech boom has the potential to rebound the local economy from the fall of its 20th century leadership in manufacturing to a robotics and AI powerhouse. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that global success in some tech sectors here is all but certain.
However, despite far-reaching titles like “robotics capital of the world,” Pittsburgh still struggles to ensure this growing industry benefits everyone who lives here now. This goes beyond the tech industry and into the roots of the city’s social structure itself: In 2019, a significant report from the City of Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission showed with data that Pittsburgh is actually one of the least livable cities in the country for Black women.
But that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. The cool thing about the tech industry is that it has nowhere to go but up in Pittsburgh. Opportunities abound as more and more companies look to set up shop here and leverage local talent of all kinds. From workforce development programs to regular community events to civic initiatives, there are so many people and organizations in Pittsburgh working to make tech an industry that can uplift more people.
So, in honor of our June editorial calendar theme focused on racial equity in tech, Technical.ly put together a resource roundup highlighting some of those we know of who are doing that work. Have another organization or program in mind that we should add to this list? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The local chapter of this apprenticeship model is run by Fortyx80, the nonprofit arm of the Pittsburgh Technology Council. It launched the program last year with a focus on creating new pathways to local tech careers for underrepresented groups without college degrees.
The Apprenti model removes the cost of a college degree or coding bootcamp and provides paid training with existing Pittsburgh tech employers. During the apprenticeship, participants can earn 60% of the pay associated with the job they’re training for, and receive stipends and other services like childcare to defray some additional costs. If all goes well during the apprenticeship, participants in the program will already be in contact with an employer about a full-time job, taking away the challenge for an added career search once training is complete.
Cofounded by Max Dennison (a RealLIST Connectors honoree who is also a digital inclusion specialist and Rec2Tech coordinator for the City of Pittsburgh) and Anthony Harper, Beta Builders Pittsburgh provides community engagement, trainings to improve tech job placement for local students, and access to tech education opportunities for people of all ages. Information about all of the program offerings are listed on the Beta Builders website, as well as links to resources related to the Rec2Tech programming from local gov.
Where Black Tech Nation looks to provide a community and network for Black technologists across the US and beyond, Black Tech Nation Ventures brings investments to underrepresented founders. The venture arm of the main organization was launched only a year ago, but has already started investing in minority-led startups across the Midwest. Getting involved with either organization is a great way to make connections with a diverse range of people working in tech with the goal of promoting racial equity in the industry. Whether you’re just starting out at a coding bootcamp or have a startup looking for seed funding, keep these two organizations in mind.
Catapult Greater Pittsburgh is a local nonprofit that provides a number of programs engaged in economic justice across all kinds of startups and small businesses. Some of its better-known programs include Startup to Storefront and Gallery Retail Incubation, which both provide incubator resources to qualifying businesses run by minority entrepreneurs. Earlier this spring, Catapult opened its new Gallery on Centre in the Hill District, an entrepreneurship and retail incubation space that’s also supported by the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA), Mayor Ed Gainey, the PNC Foundation and others.
An elementary school-turned-small business and entrepreneurship hub, Community Forge has a mission of creating an equitable economy in its home borough of Wilkinsburg and in Greater Pittsburgh overall. The organization hosts several community events offering business advice, in addition to providing coworking space and office space to qualifying companies and founders. It also operates its own eight-month incubator, and invites outside programs to collaborate. That includes Resilient Coders, which launched a Pittsburgh chapter of its bootcamp last year.
Founded in 2021, Emerald City is a new 12,000-square-foot coworking space in Downtown Pittsburgh run by the Greenwood Plan. Despite the existence of several other coworking spaces across Pittsburgh, Emerald City has a specific mission of providing resources, education and other related opportunities to Black businesses and entrepreneurs. Membership rates are not publicly available on Emerald City’s website, but benefits of joining include access to the usual amenities of a coworking space — private conference rooms, event spaces, printing services and yes, free coffee.
Formed in 2005, the Diversity Business Resource Center is a collaboration between the Riverside Center for Innovation and the MWDBE Governmental Committee with a mission to provide resources to disadvantaged entrepreneurs across the 10-county region of Southwestern Pennsylvania. According to the center’s website, it has assisted over 4,500 entrepreneurs, which have contributed more than $204 million to the local economy. And it’s supported by several local philanthropic and economic development orgs including the URA, Richard King Mellon Foundation and Neighborhood Allies.
This new program from the URA is one of two the organization launched to increase investment into local minority founders. URA Ventures is a new $3 million fund for higher-risk portfolio investments that prioritize impact over economic return, while its partner program, the Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise Developer Equity Fund, will provide a total of $2 million in direct equity investments in real estate development ventures. Both initiate new action from local government entities toward providing concrete investments in Pittsburgh’s minority founders.
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.