Funding / STEM / Universities

Money Moves: Pittsburgh racked up new funding for STEM fellowships, mapping software and space tech

Here's who's raising capital and dedicating grants to tech and workforce development in the Steel City.

Mine Vision Systems' FaceCapture mapping system provides real-time insights. (Courtesy photo)
Money Moves is a column where we chart the funding raises of tech companies across the region. Have a tip? Email us at

Blink and a month has come and gone since Pittsburgh’s last Money Moves roundup. Miss a few headlines and you could miss millions of dollars in developments for companies. But all’s not lost, because makes it a point to keep track of these things, even when you can’t.

From funding from the Shapiro administration to university fellowships, here’s where dollars are going in the Steel City.

CMU Rales Fellowship program launched with $150 million

Carnegie Mellon University and the Norman and Ruth Rales Foundation are partnering to give members of groups who’ve been traditionally underrepresented in STEM careers an easier path into the field.

The university is hosting the new CMU Rales Fellowship program which will give participants the opportunity to gain a doctorate or master’s degree in STEM at no cost. The program also offers its students a stipend along with free tuition. It’s open to those of “underrepresented and underresourced backgrounds, including first generation students and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.”

To start, the program will be offered to students in the College of Engineering, Mellon College of Science, School of Computer Science, Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Neuroscience Institute, but will be open to grad students in all CMU STEM programs in the future. If you’re a student from an underrepresented background, you’re encouraged to apply.

“Addressing the challenges of our modern world will require the concerted efforts of a highly talented pool of STEM trailblazers who can bring a diversity of ideas and experiences to engender solutions,” CMU President Farnam Jahanian said in a statement.

The Rales Foundation is contributing a $110 million investment, CMU is committing to $30 million in endowed funds, and jointly the two entities are establishing a $10 million fund to support the program’s developmental years.

Carnegie Mellon University STEM students. (Courtesy photo)

Mine Vision Systems landed a new contract

Mine Vision Systems, the East Liberty-based 3D-mapping software company, will soon be seeking a Series A investment, according to the Pittsburgh Business Times’ reporting. But the CMU spinout already has a win for 2023 with its announcement that it’s entering into a multi-year agreement with Idaho’s Hecla Mining Company.

Together, the two entities will bring Mine Vision Systems’ FaceCapture mapping system into two of Hecla Mining Company’s mines in North America. According to a company statement, the new technology will bring higher-quality information to its geologists while they’re in the mines and enable them to make critical decisions thanks to data it provides. Mine Vision Systems’ leadership is hoping to benefit from Hecla Mining Company’s experience.

“Hecla has over 130 years of experience driving and embracing new and innovative methods to achieve company objectives,” Mine Vision Systems CEO Mike Smocer said. “We are proud to support Hecla’s culture of innovation and desire to provide better data to key employees when they need it.”

The Shapiro administration is investing in space tech

Gov. Josh Shapiro kicked off March by proposing increased investment in innovation and STEM education. This could mean a 50% increase in funding for the Manufacturing PA Innovation Program which enables universities and colleges to use their assets to support manufacturing in the commonwealth. Additionally, the state’s PA Smart Program could receive a 25% increase in funding for its work preparing program participants for computer science and STEM careers.

During a recent visit to Astrobotic, a North Side-based space tech company, Shapiro also announced that in partnership between the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, the Keystone Space Collaborative would be awarded $400,000 grant to support the space industry and workforce. The Keystone Space Collaborative is a nonprofit that supports the space industry in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia while trying to bring business opportunities to the area.

Astrobotic CEO John Thornton said the investment would help ensure that Pittsburgh is at the forefront of this latest version of the space race.

“There’s a new kind of space race in America,” Thornton said. “Imagine the opportunity for continued small business growth and job creation Pennsylvania could see if we bolstered state investment towards this burgeoning new space industry. Pittsburgh is leading America back to the Moon — and this is just the beginning.”

Inside the opening of Astrobotic’s Manchester HQ, October 2020. (Courtesy photo)

LegalShifter gets funding

Carrick Capital Partners announced it closed its investment in LegalSifter, a McCandless-based, artificial intelligence-driven legal tech company. While the amount of capital the San Francisco-based investment firm has committed to the company hasn’t been disclosed, a press release reports the funding will be used to expand LegalSifter’s offerings and scale operations.

As a part of the deal, Carrick Co-CEO Jim Madden and Director Ivan Whittey plan to join LegalSifter’s board of directors, as will Varun Mehta, CEO of Carrick portfolio company Factor, which is also investing in LegalSifter.

LegalSifter CEO Kevin Miller says he’s excited to leverage Carrick’s funding, as well as their expertise to accelerate the company’s growth.

“As a growth-focused private equity firm with a differentiated level of expertise and network in our space, Carrick is an ideal partner,” Miller said. “Their wealth of experience helping build legal sector pioneers such as Axiom and Factor will be extremely valuable as we enhance and scale the company.”

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 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: LegalSifter / Astrobotic / Carnegie Mellon University
Series: Money Moves
People: Josh Shapiro

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