Startups

Innovation Works added these 7 startups to its investment portfolio, from adtech to hardware

The investments range from $50,000 to over $200,000. One of the companies, AdSkate, is already using its success to look toward a seed round later this year.

Bakery Square.

(Photo by Flickr user Norton Gusky, used via a Creative Commons license)

A fresh crop of Pittsburgh startups just got some new funding.

Today, entrepreneurship hub and early-stage investor Innovation Works presented the latest additions to its investment portfolio across its accelerators AlphaLab and AlphaLab Gear and the organization’s seed fund. In total, Innovation Works announced seven new companies developing products or services across robotics hardware, surgical devices, manufacturing materials and more. Outside of Innovation Works, many of the companies also received previous support from other local organizations like the City of Pittsburgh, the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute, Carnegie Mellon University and more.

One of the new portfolio companies, AdSkate, previously participated in the AlphaLab accelerator. The leaders of the advertising tech company, which specializes in the development of cookie-less contextual advertising solutions, had big hopes for the showcase.

“What we essentially want to get out of it is to one, potentially try to connect with more likeminded folks in terms of investors or companies that are in the same realm as us,” cofounder Akaash Ramakrishnan told Technical.ly. “And also, we wanted to use this event to vocalize as to who we are and make ourselves be known in the Pittsburgh environment.”

Ramakrishnan and his team had a successful 2021, starting out the year by participating in the city-run PGH Lab accelerator and growing its customer base from zero to six. The cofounder said AdSkate has plans to nearly quadruple that number in 2022 as it prepares to launch its first product at the end of this month. That product aims to improve contextual relevance in advertising while also preserving user privacy.

“Understanding what people are watching, [reading or listening to] and then actually placing relevant ads for them — that’s where we come in,” Ramakrishnan said. Because AdSkate doesn’t rely on cookies to obtain data, the startup’s product also complies with an increasing number of privacy and data regulations going into place across the country right now. Looking ahead, the cofounder added, the startup will be looking for a seed round raise of a few million dollars later this year to support growth of this platform for ads in readable content, as well as video and audio media.

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Akaash Ramakrishnan. (Photo via LinkedIn)

Beyond AdSkate, the portfolio showcase featured short pitches from six other companies, nearly all of which expressed plans to grow their teams, marketing and product development with the new funding from Innovation Works.

While the seed fund program through the organization typically offers larger sums or pathways to funding and resources, both AlphaLab and AlphaLab Gear invest up to $50,000 in the startups they support. A representative for Innovation Works underscored that any discrepancies in funding amounts given to each startup do not represent a difference in potential for success, but rather reflect the varying capital efficiencies and stage of development for each of their unique business models.

Outside of AlphaLab and AlphaLab Gear, Innovation Works recently launched a third accelerator, AlphaLab Health, that focuses on life sciences startups. That program operates on a cohort basis while the other two have rolling applications, and because of that has separate showcase events for companies who complete the program. The showcase for the second AlphaLab Health cohort will take place in April.

Here are the seven new startups in the portfolio, their business descriptions and the amount of investment they each received from Innovation Works:

AdSkate

AdSkate focuses on the development of solutions and services on a business to business model for the advertising world that prioritize contextual tools while also preserving user privacy. The startup does this through its cookie-less process for identifying the content of given written, audio, visual or video media and ensuring that advertisers don’t publish ads within that content that don’t align with it. Rather than focusing on the best brand strategy for companies, AdSkate provides businesses with tools to provide the best experience to the end user.

  • Investment amount: $50,000 (AlphaLab)

Equa Health

A CMU spinout, Equa Health specializes in the development of personalized and interactive digital mindfulness training with the end goal of improving workplace resilience, team dynamics, cooperation and peak performance. By making digital mindfulness training more personal, Equa Health improves user retention rate and takeaway value of its platform, which it emphasizes is needed to make mental health resources more accessible as the need for counseling and other services grows.

  • Investment amount: $50,000 (AlphaLab)

Make It Home Safe

Make It Home Safe uses live motorist identification to improve the safety and security of traffic stops by allowing for insight into driver and vehicle registration information to improve transparency for civilians and public safety officials alike. Through the startup’s system, drivers who are pulled over will receive a notification for the reason, and the system will also send a notification to a loved one letting that person know where the driver has been pulled over and why.

  • Investment amount: $50,000 (AlphaLab)

Core Power Magnetics

Core Power Magnetics aims to solve the problem of large, heavy and inefficient magnets through the creation of smaller and lighter power electronic components made through a combination of patented advanced manufacturing processes and newly developed materials. The startup hopes to close the gap in technology as power grids everywhere shift towards more advanced, complex and smaller components.

  • Investment amount: $50,000 (AlphaLab Gear)

Mamalux

In developing a breastfeeding friendly nightgown, Mamalux hopes to meet the unmet need in the postpartum maternity space of comfort for new mothers while sleeping. Its leakproof postpartum sleepwear is one of the first of its kind according to founders, and will look to enter the $25 billion breastfeeding, maternity care and apparel markets.

  • Investment amount: $50,000 (AlphaLab Gear)

Endolumik

A life sciences company, Endolumik specializes in the development of a fluorescence guided esophagogastric calibration system that enables surgeons to better see the gastric calibration tube during minimally invasive bariatric surgeries such as laparoscopic and robotic procedures.

  • Investment amount: $100,000 (IW Seed Fund)

Estat Actuation

Estat Actuation gives robotics engineers new actuator hardware that is more lightweight, efficient and cost-effective than current ones. The startup’s signature product is a rotary electroadhesive clutch, which is three times as light and 600 times more power efficient than traditional electromagnetic clutches.

  • Investment amount: $206,000 (IW Seed Fund)

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. -30-
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