With a new year comes a new RealLIST, and another first for Pittsburgh.
Each January at Technical.ly, it’s become tradition for the reporters in each of our mid-Atlantic markets to take a look back at our reporting, our notes and our emails to rank the most promising young tech companies that are creating “real” impact for our cities.
We’ve now been naming companies as RealLIST Startups — companies with impressive missions, goals, money moves or founders — for the last six years. But this will be our first in Pittsburgh, since launching our full-time presence here last June.
Our criteria for the companies chosen were as follows:
- Founded no earlier than 2019, or three years ago, thanks to our longstanding definition of a startup
- Make the lion’s share of their revenue from a specific product offering — so, no agencies
- And have not been through a significant exit event like a merger or acquisition
So without further ado, here are the Pittsburgh startups that we’re most excited about, and hope to see push innovation and entrepreneurship for the city in 2022 and beyond.
10. Parcel Health
Recently named to AlphaLab Health’s second accelerator cohort, Parcel Health specializes in the creation of sustainable medication packaging. Seeking to solve the problem of the more than 8 billion plastic prescription bottles used every year in the US, Parcel Health makes packaging that it hopes will both reduce that environmental impact and increase efficiency for medical professionals and patients alike. Its prescription packaging is fully recyclable, compostable and biodegradable.
You can find Parcel’s Phill Boxes — the name of its eco-friendly packaging — at Blueberry Pharmacy in West View and Saline Pharmacy in Michigan, where the company originated. Early last year, the startup was also a finalist in the 2021 Michigan Business Challenge for the Seigle Impact Track.
Pittsburgh had two startups in the summer 2021 cohort of Y Combinator companies, and one is Mindstate Design Labs. The startup, founded only last year, develops psychedelic drug therapies for mental health conditions that are difficult to treat. It focuses on understanding the biological basis of the experience behind these psychedelics, with the hope that it can elicit the therapeutic advantages they yield in its two lead products, which include a second generation MDMA and a second generation psilocybin.
After Y Combinator’s demo day last fall, national tech industry publication TechCrunch highlighted Mindstate as a company to watch. In particular, the publication noted the applications for Mindstate’s psychedelics in treating conditions like PTSD through the development of MDMA that is safer, doesn’t cause post-treatment depression and has increased efficacy for the mental health condition.
Founded at the beginning of 2021 by Carnegie Mellon University grads Alexander Baikovitz and Haowen Shi and University of Pittsburgh grad Josh Spisak, Mach9 was accepted to Y Combinator last summer. The young startup specializes in the development of hardware and software for remote sensing of underground environments to create a visual map for utility installations. Mach9 also hopes utility companies can use its tech to also monitor existing infrastructure and update it as needed, saving huge costs in time and money.
Beyond its acceptance to Y Combinator, Mach9 made local headlines last year when it won first place in the graduate track at CMU’s annual McGinnis Venture Competition. The startup also won second place last spring in the MIT $100,000 Launch Competition.
Pandemic-born sustainability startup Kloopify is on a mission to change the supply chain industry. Though still in early stages, founder and CEO Daniela Osio earned the esteemed Young Transform Award at the most recent Transform Fest — an event hosted by Future Insights Network, a global network for supply chain engineers. That gave her recognition from executives at some of the largest companies in the world, including Bayer, Johnson & Johnson and PepsiCo.
Kloopify is also part of Ascender’s community of entrepreneurs, and centers on a platform that gives industry purchasers the data they need to understand how shipping, distribution and other supply chain dynamics affect their companies’ emissions. Most recently, the company was named to the seventh cohort of PGH Lab, a City of Pittsburgh-run accelerator program enabling startups to test their products with customers in real time.
Bloomfield Robotics was one of the first startups Technical.ly covered after launching our full-time Pittsburgh presence, and for good reason. Since its founding in 2019, the startup has earned over $1.1 million from grants, including one from NASA to develop a version of its smart crop camera for the greenhouse at the International Space Station. Bloomfield robotics also participated in the prestigious THRIVE accelerator program from SVG Ventures — a big deal in the agricultural tech world — and won the Innovation Icon Award at the program’s final demo day.
To cap off a successful start to the year, the startup also announced it had raised $1.8 million in a new investment from Japanese farm equipment company Kubota, which CEO Mark DeSantis said will look to attach the smart camera to its products. He also shared his view that this success is only one of many that will soon come for agtech in Pittsburgh.
“It might look like a trend,” he told Technical.ly. “But I draw back to the bigger picture and say, well, not so much. This trend is yet another application of AI to solve the big problems in the world. So definitely you’re going to see more agtech, but you’re going to see a lot more other businesses, too.”
Though Pittsburgh tech is perhaps best known for its expertise in AI and robotics, a fitness tech startup founded by a pair of CMU and MIT grads is making the case for the sector’s growth here. After earning a $3.3 million seed round in the middle of 2021, CoPilot also recently raised a $6 million Series A, which CEO Matt Spettel told Technical.ly will help the startup hire key executive, technical, administrative and business development roles. The company also has plans to put its personal training virtual service on the Android platform and consider moving into nutrition outside of strict fitness.
Initially an idea to help people access personal trainers from the comfort of their own homes, CoPilot’s business took off during the pandemic, when remote fitness classes and alternative workout options became more popular. “I guess I don’t accredit the pandemic to inspiring our growth,” Spettel told Technical.ly. “But I think what it did do was really open people’s eyes to seeing that a lot of these services that we traditionally thought of as just being in person could actually function pretty well online.”
Despite the comparatively low VC totals for Pittsburgh this year, autonomy insurance startup Koop Technologies raised a $2.5 million seed round — much more than startups typically attract at such an early stage in Pittsburgh. But perhaps that could have to do with the company’s novel and complementary business idea: to provide autonomous tech companies with insurance models that are catered to the machine-centric decisions behind these innovations.
Beyond bringing attention to the Pittsburgh startup scene from big name firms like Palo Alto-based Ubiquity Ventures, the milestone funding for Koop is a sign that Pittsburgh has reached a certain level of success in the autonomy industry. Once the core industry is established, one sign that it’s here for the long term is that supporting firms like Koop start to crop up. While the funding went toward further product development, customer acquisition and team expansion last year, Technical.ly will be looking out for what comes next for Koop in the new year.
Technically, CytoAgents’ founding date, December 2018, falls just outside of the three-year requirement set for our RealLIST Startups. But the life sciences startup was too close — and too impressive — not to include. (Plus, what’s a month of difference in a startup ecosystem, anyway?)
Beyond being part of AlphaLab Health’s inaugural accelerator cohort earlier last year, the startup has also gone on to successfully complete Phase I clinical trials for its signature drug candidate, GP1681, which treats conditions, diseases and disorders associated with Cytokine Release Syndrome, more commonly referred to as a “cytokine storm.” The startup also attracted a $6 million seed round in August, and shared that it plans to pursue a larger Series A round early this year to support its Phase II trials.
The team of CMU grads behind this food service tech startup attracted one of the larger raises of last year, with $10 million in SAFE notes. The startup, founded in early 2020 by former CMU students Evan DeSantola and Alex Litzenberger, specializes in the development of its signature Kitchen Awareness platform, which uses cameras to collect data from in-store, drive-through and online orders, and find ways of improving business practices in operations, staffing and kitchen protocols. The AI-powered technology can also detect errors in customer orders in real time and correct them before delivery. Agot also won first place in the undergraduate track at the 2020 McGinnis Venture Competition.
Agot operates out of the Lohr Building in Wilkinsburg, in an Opportunity Zone just outside of the city limits. That means that as the company grows, so will benefits for the surrounding community, which is important to founders who want to bring the opportunities of tech beyond its concentration in East Liberty. In an interview with Technical.ly last year, the startup also hinted at some big customer deals in the works.
Though only founded in 2020, this gaming startup has attracted some of the largest and fastest funding in the Pittsburgh startup scene for a while. Starting with a $3 million seed round in December 2020, the startup quickly went on to raise $8.65 million more in May of last year to support its platform of connecting expert gamers with students who pay for one-on-one coaching.
The idea is to create a new source of revenue for expert gamers, who can use Metafy’s platform to make money. Last year cofounder Josh Fabian told Technical.ly in April that one of the coaches was on track to make $100,000 in 2021. Fabian and Metafy are also known in the startup world across the globe for the company’s push to keep operations public, through an ongoing Twitter thread and open Discord server. At this rate, the company will likely look to raise a new round in 2022, and Technical.ly will be on the lookout for even more updates from this startup.
- Finish Robotics — Through the use of autonomous mobile robots, this young startup is joining the local autonomy industry in an effort to resolve labor limits for construction jobs.
- Pralent — Run by undergraduate students at CMU, Pralent is a virtual community platform for events, networking and other programs, most notably used to host the university’s annual McGinnis Venture Competition.
- Sustainible — Selected for the sixth cohort of city-run accelerator PGH Lab, Sustainable uses an Input/Output-powered platform to evaluate the sustainability and feasibility of a given business model.
- Emergence Dental — A research and development stage medical device company, Emergence Dental specializes in the development of resorbable implantations and regenerative products using metallic magnesium alloys for dentistry.
- Robot Armin — Selected for the seventh cohort of city-run accelerator PGH Lab, Robot Armin is a small company run by Armin Samii, specializing in visualization tools for bike riders and other applications.
- sovaSage — This medical tech company uses computer vision and machine learning to help improve therapy for sleep apnea patients when treated by home care providers.
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.