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What should Pittsburgh’s employment pitch be? Come here ‘to work on really high-impact hard problems’

"Because that's what Pittsburgh is very good at," Mach9 Robotics' Alexander Baikovitz said. He and other RealLIST Startups founders said they mostly prefer to hire from within the city, but there's more to be done to make that easier.

Now hiring. (Technical.ly photo)

This editorial article is a part of Universities Month 2023 in Technical.ly’s editorial calendar.

At a certain point, a startup needs more than funding and good ideas. It takes employees, too.

Technical.ly asked the founders of our 2023 RealLIST Startups for insight into their hiring practices. Several were kind enough to share how they find talent, outline the pros and cons of hiring locally, and tell us why employers benefit from having so many prestigious universities in town.

From the perspective of Kamron Khodjaev, Koop Technologies’ cofounder and chief commercial officer, Pittsburgh is a great place to work, and the company’s leadership finds it most feasible to seek out senior talent within the city. He finds the startup is able to take advantage of the proximity to professionals working at larger companies and institutions within Pittsburgh.

Yet, as Koop is developing insurance for autonomous technology, he said that with regard to employees who need to have insurance expertise, specifically, the company opts for remote employees in places with stronger insurance industries.

“Because we’re at the intersection of robotics and insurance, when it comes to insurance, New York is better,” Khodjaev said. Pittsburgh is top for the former, though (re: “robotics capital of the world“).

Khodjaev wasn’t the only person who finds Pittsburgh to be a good place to find talent if you’re running a startup. Mach9 Robotics cofounder and CEO Alexander Baikovitz said thanks to the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, plus a plethora of experienced tech pros who might be looking for their next challenge, the Steel City has a large pool of talent to tap into if you’re in the market for technologists.

Recall these stats, from the Pittsburgh Tech Council’s fall 2022 State of the Industry report: The region counted around 11,300 graduate students in science, engineering and health fields in 2020. A whopping 76% of them represent two schools: CMU and Pitt.

“There certainly is so much great talent that we’ve been able to see come out of larger companies and join more of a startup ecosystem, where they can be able to help them build the next generation of companies in Pittsburgh,” Baikovitz said.

At the same time, Pittsburgh must overcome a talent retention challenge. Nonprofit research organization RAND Corporation found in its January report that the region has the potential to be a prominent technology hub, but first it must find a way to get more tech workers to stay in town.

Baikovitz observed that although the city has well-respected engineering programs, oftentimes, grads choose to find jobs elsewhere.

“Some of the underlying challenges … that some of our companies have is there is a lot of talent that leaves Pittsburgh to go to Silicon Valley, to New York City to Boston to other technology hubs,” Baikovitz said. “It’s important for leading companies, whether you’re a technology company or outside of that, to represent Pittsburgh in a way that we can keep talent here to work on really high-impact hard problems, because that’s what Pittsburgh is very good at.”

Still, in the Commonwealth, sometimes the issue isn’t whether or not people want to stay — it’s the hoops employers have to jump through to bring people on. Melinda Su-En Lee, cofounder and CEO of Parcel Health, has found “there’s a lot of paperwork that comes with hiring within Pennsylvania and the City of Pittsburgh that’s extremely fragmented compared to other cities,” she said.

Less red tape would go a long way — something newly minted Gov. Josh Shapiro pledges to work on.

_

Are there anything you’d like to see the city or state do to make hiring easier? What would you say to a university grad to convince them to stay in the city? As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts: pittsburgh@technical.ly.

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: Koop Technologies / Mach9 Robotics / Parcel Health / University of Pittsburgh / Carnegie Mellon University
Series: Universities Month 2023

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