Acquisitions / Autonomous tech / Biotechnology / Business / Business development

SPAC deals, IPOs and acquisitions: These are Pittsburgh’s biggest money moves of 2021

Though VC numbers are down from last year, these public offerings, exits and other deals have propelled growth in the local tech industry.

The Stronghold Digital Mining team in New York on the first day of trading. (Courtesy photo)

Even as Pittsburgh saw less venture capital flowing in the first three quarters of this year compared to others, big deals were being made and elevating the region’s reputation for producing tech bigwigs.

From SPAC deals to IPOs to acquisitions, here are some of Pittsburgh’s biggest money moves of 2021:

Pittsburgh’s favorite unicorn went public.

A roundup of the biggest exits in Pittsburgh this year wouldn’t be complete without Duolingo’s IPO this summer. The language learning and edtech unicorn is one of the best success stories in the past decade of Pittsburgh tech, coming out of Carnegie Mellon University and growing to hundreds of employees and millions of users.

Already, the company has announced an office expansion in Pittsburgh and plans for new product launches in the future, as well as a new emphasis on social impact at a local level. This exit will undoubtedly generate new wealth for the city, but it also puts Pittsburgh on the map once more as a place to be for tech.

Aurora became the first autonomous vehicle company to go public through a SPAC deal.

Autonomous vehicle companies across the country are gearing up for commercial launches in the next couple of years, hoping to make the new transportation method mainstream before the end of the next decade. And in Pittsburgh, Aurora Innovation is leading the charge. After announcing a series of industry partnerships, pilot programs, safety measures and more, the company went public through a special purpose acquisition company deal with Reinvent Technology Partners Y.

With a new full headquarters in Pittsburgh, the hope is that any new equity and other income from the offering will come back to local employees, who in turn might try their own hands at entrepreneurship, sparking a flywheel of new business. Aurora shares didn’t see a huge jump in its first days, but since then, the stock has fared well amid announcements of a new finance team and a partnership with Uber Freight.

Stronghold Digital Mining became the first crypto firm to launch an IPO.

In a bid to make Southwestern Pennsylvania a leader in bitcoin mining, Stronghold Digital Mining launched an IPO this fall. In doing so, it became the first cryptocurrency firm to go public through that process, which requires significantly more scrutiny and paperwork than a SPAC deal.

The company’s technology is based on the use of power plants to generate energy from coal remission that can then be used to support bitcoin mining data centers. While shares soared on the first day of Stronghold’s offering, pushing the company’s valuation to over $1 billion, it’s since trended downward and hovered around a share price between $15 and $20.

Stronghold Digital Mining co-chairmen Bill Spence (L) and Greg Beard. (Courtesy photo)

Cognition Therapeutics had a $40 million IPO.

If Pittsburgh truly is on the brink of rapid life sciences growth, Cognition Therapeutics‘ $40 million IPO might be the start of it. The small pharmaceutical company has half of its employees working out of lab space in Pittsburgh’s South Side, where they specialize in the development of therapies for central nervous system diseases like Alzheimer’s.

And if Cognition Therapeutics is successful in its clinical trial process, it’s looking at a big market opportunity where pharmaceutical giants have struggled. will be looking out for more news from the small life sciences firm as the industry here continues to grow.

Castle Biosciences acquired Cernostics for upward of $30 million.

Shortly after the Cognition deal, another life sciences company announced a public offering, though this time through an acquisition. In October, AI and spatial biology-focused firm Cernostics announced that it had been acquired by Castle Biosciences for at least $30 million, with more on the table depending on company performance.

The larger resources of Castle for production, distribution, sales and other important operations will help Cernostics bring its product to market more efficiently. And, when spoke with Castle’s CEO about the deal, he mentioned that the company has plans to keep building in Pittsburgh.

Vigilant Technologies got acquired by a $2 billion company.

CMU spinout Vigilant Technologies (VIT) announced this fall that the startup had been acquired by international musculoskeletal health and wellness company SWORD Health. The deal price was not disclosed, but since its completion, SWORD achieved a valuation of $2 billion thanks to a raise of $163 million at the end of November.

While there are no official plans yet for an expansion of the business in Pittsburgh beyond the former VIT employees who remain here, the startups cofounder and former CEO Andy Chan told that a future increased presence in Pittsburgh is likely.

JazzHR was acquired by a private equity company.

Recruiting software company JazzHR that it was acquired by private equity firm K1 Investment Management in May for an undisclosed amount. The news came along with two other acquisitions by K1 in the same industry, making the company a destination for recruitment services for firms of all sizes.

The deal allowed the company to retain its brand name, and a press release noted that JazzHR would be adding more local employees. In August 2021, JazzHR was named to the Inc. 5000 list, ranking at #3,191.

Pineapple Payments got acquired by Fiserv Inc.

Founded in 2016, fintech company Pineapple Payments is one of a growing number of companies leveraging Pittsburgh’s banking expertise for technology applications in the industry. In the second quarter of this year, it was acquired by Fiserv for approximately $206 million.

At the time of the acquisition, Pineapple Payments had 25,000 merchants using its software platform for payment processing. Since then, the company has maintained a presence in Pittsburgh, growing with the new resources and customer base offered by Fiserv.

Any big deals we missed? Any bigger ones you spot on the horizon? Let us know:

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.
Companies: SWORD Health / Cognition Therapeutics / Stronghold Digital Mining / JazzHR / Duolingo / Cernostics / Aurora

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