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Pittsburgh Money Moves: AlphaLab Gear’s latest cohort includes a vinyl record service and biofeedback sports sensors

Plus, the Dept. of Energy funds sustainable EV batteries, and the NSF backs surgical implant tech.

Reps from companies in AlphaLab Gear's new hardware accelerator. (Innovation Works)

Time flies when it’s the shortest month of the year, but February still saw plenty of movement in the Pittsburgh startup scene.

Catch up on all the money moving with our regular roundup of which local companies received grants, raised funds, joined accelerator programs or found other ways to land that critical influx of cash.

AlphaLab Gear announces new hardware cohort

Pittsburgh’s main hardware accelerator is boosting a new vinyl record service, a new biofeedback tech for sports and a new chemical that could protect industrial workers as part of its latest cohort.

AlphaLab Gear, an Innovation Works-backed program, offers founders guidance, networking connections, and financial support. Past cohort members have included AlgenAir, Module and 2022 RealLIST Startups honoree CleanRobotics.

The accelerator provides cohort members with up to $100,000 in funding, mentorship, a manufacturing boot camp where they can create prototypes for scalable productions, and access to the Tech Forge office and workshop space.

“Our team is composed of entrepreneurs, so we’ve walked in these founders’ shoes, understand their challenges, and know how to help them reach their goals,” said Kevin Dowling, Innovation Works managing director of hardware. “This cohort includes cutting-edge technologies that don’t just fill a market need but also make a strong societal impact.”

The new group of participants includes:

  • Lead-In Record Co.: an end-to-end vinyl record manufacturing service for independent  artists
  • Sensi Fit: a technology in testing with D1 teams that provides real-time quantitative data, biomechanics feedback, and training guidance for sports performance improvement without the use of wearables
  • Sensible Photonics: a manufacturer of low-cost fiber optic sensing that enables real-time predictive analytics to anticipate failures in distribution and energy storage assets before they occur.
  • Workers First: a personal protective equipment manufacturer that has developed an acid-neutralizing polymer to be used in many industrial applications to protect workers

DOE funding for EV batteries

As part of its latest sustainability initiative, the US Department of Energy is pouring millions into a Saxonberg-developed battery tech that could change the future of electric vehicles.

Coherent Corp, which was founded in 1971 and makes optical materials and semiconductors, is one of 27 companies selected to participate in the program out of the DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office. It snagged $3.3 million to support ongoing work on Li-S batteries, which it says offer more stability and durability over a long period of time.

“The innovations behind sulfur immobilization are based on more than a decade of research by Coherent to make sulfur cathodes and Li-S batteries a commercial reality,” Rob Murano, Coherent senior director of product development and commercialization told the Pittsburgh Business Times. “This selection recognizes the unique ability of Coherent’s technology to unlock the potential of sulfur cathodes – storing more energy in less weight at lower cost.”

NSF Grant for cochlear implant tech

A system that aims to smooth surgery for people with hearing loss is getting backing from the National Science Foundation.

Oakland-based Advanced Optronics, a 2023 RealLIST Startups honoree, is developing biocompatible sensor systems trying to reduce the trauma during cochlear implant surgery by providing surgeons with real-time feedback.

The company gained acclaim through its participation in the 2022-2023 AlphaLab Health cohort, after introducing its product to the national cochlear implant community at the 2023 American Neurotology Society conference.

Now, it has been given a vote of confidence in the form of a $650,000  National Science Foundation Convergence Accelerator Phase-I grant. The funding will support the company’s efforts to transform medical instruments using a bio-inspired approach to incorporate advanced sensing capabilities, per a LinkedIn announcement.

“Our sensors enable flexible surgical devices to detect shape and force changes in real-time, giving surgeons more awareness and control during complex surgeries,” Advanced Optronics said. “While our initial focus is on enhancing cochlear implant procedures, we want to expand these capabilities to cover a wide range of minimally invasive surgical instruments.”

Other Pittsburgh money moves:

  • Blackbird Health, a Butler-based mental health practice, raised $22.7 according to an SEC filing.
  • Vigilant Ops, a cybersecurity company, raised $4.85 million according to an SEC filing.
  • Novasenta, a novel therapeutic development company, raised $15 million according to an SEC filing.


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: AlphaLab Gear / Innovation Works (Pittsburgh)

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