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Why these entrepreneurs think pickleball might just be the best way to bring Pittsburgh’s tech community together

The newly launched Dinks and Deals is meant to be a space for players to learn about each other's work outside of showcases and pitch events.

Dinks and Deals in action. (Photo courtesy of Alexis Obernauer)

This editorial article is a part of Entertainment Tech Month of Technical.ly’s editorial calendar.

According to enthusiasts, pickleball is a game almost any person can play, even if they spent their formative years dreading gym class. It’s also the reason that every Friday, Pittsburgh startup community leaders and newcomers alike venture to Frick Park to grab a paddle, share the goings-on in their companies, and make some friends.

Meet Dinks and Deals.

The weekly game is the brainchild of RustBuilt’s Kit Mueller, cofounder of the XchangePgh innovation series launched earlier this year, who was looking for another way to convene founders, entrepreneurs and particularly angel investors. One of the angels he spoke to about this need for more connective events is actually building a pickleball course, and Mueller himself is a longtime player. The game seemed like a fun, low-stakes way to bring people together.

“When we were planning XchangePgh, I actually talked to this angel investor, and he was like, ‘Hey, we should do a pilot of that’ just because it’s such an easy sport for anybody to play,” he told Technical.ly. (If you’re not familiar with the sport that’s a cross of tennis, badminton and ping pong, check out this tutorial from USA Pickleball.)

Mueller hoped that the relative ease of the game combined with the recurring event’s lack of formality and minimal barriers would serve as a way for members of the tech community to build relationships. He also thinks Dinks and Deals can provide a space for attendees to learn about each other’s work outside of showcases and pitch events.

(Photo courtesy of Alexis Obernauer)

The first game was held during April’s XchangeInnovation Week, and heartened by the turnout of 21 people, the decision was made to do it again. Lawrenceville entrepreneurship hub The Salon was brought in as a collaborator for a summer series.

“We had some conversations with Salon PGH, where we had already partnered on some female entrepreneur events, and just brought it up and they said, ‘Why don’t we partner,'” Mueller said. “So, we can bring not just angel investors and founders together on a very accessible platform, but we can also create more awareness and engagement for the female founder community.”

Now, past the slides and swings in Frick Park, you can expect to find around 10 people engaging in the lighthearted game on Friday mornings, even amidst the threat of rain. Whether they’re looking to meet other entrepreneurs and exchange knowledge or just want to get some swings in, everyone shows up at Dinks and Deals for their own reasons.

(Photo courtesy of Alexis Obernauer)

For Kloopify CEO Daniela Osio, this week marked her first attending the event. She told Technical.ly she was excited to have the opportunity to participate in something athletic, as a former tennis player. Not only that, but Osio sees the event as a chance to grow her startup.

“As we continue to scale and grow Kloopify, it’s really important to stay close to the community and to expand our network,” Osio said. “Meeting some good people and getting a good workout in before that the rest of my day is just a plus.”

For Alexis Obernauer, special projects manager for The Salon, the draw was the chance to connect with more of the startup community. So far, she said, she’s already walked away from the games with a few additions to her LinkedIn network. She also appreciates having a chance to socialize away from alcohol in a city that hosts so many happy hours.

(Photo courtesy of Alexis Obernauer)

“This seems like a great opportunity to make an even bigger community and connect with the community that we already have,” Obernauer said. “Also, I don’t drink and so it’s excellent. I’m appreciative of having social opportunities that are fun and active.”

Obernauer is also a lifelong tennis player, so she gets to apply her athletic background during the meetup. She was pleased to realize that translating the skills she learned from the game to pickleball was relatively painless.

“It took a couple of minutes to get the stroke down, but it proved pretty translatable,” Obernauer said. “I’ve already met some very interesting people. And I left the first session saying, ‘This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time.'”

Dinks and Deals takes place every Friday at 7 a.m. Register here.

The pickleball court at Frick Park. (Photo by Atiya Irvin-Mitchell)

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2024 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.
Companies: Kloopify / RustBuilt
Series: Entertainment Tech Month 2023

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