With the expansion of a recently relocated startup in Pittsburgh, the city moves closer to building an industry of overlap between the life sciences, robotics and artificial intelligence.
Wichita, Kansas-founded neuroscience and robotics startup Neuraville announced this week, a year after it moved its headquarters to Pittsburgh, that it would be expanding to a larger space this spring.
The company first moved to Pittsburgh back in July, to a 260-square-foot office on Craig Street in Oakland. Neuraville’s new offices — at 1,200 square feet, more than four times the size — will be just down the street at one of three current locations for Avenu, the system of coworking spaces managed by local entrepreneurship organization InnovatePGH. While the building, which is located between the campuses of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, will have its lease transferred over to Neuraville before it moves in May, InnovatePGH has plans to name a new location for Avenu to replace this one later this year.
“We had an office on Craig Street and we knew that proximity and location next to CMU was a large selling point and we wanted to make sure that we were holding space for companies that would eventually need it,” Pittsburgh Innovation District Director Mike Madden told Technical.ly about how the deal with Neuraville came about. The startup’s recognition of the value in both Pittsburgh and that office space was validating, he added. “The approach in the process that we hoped would lead to companies becoming major players and grow the innovation district worked.” Both Avenu and the Pittsburgh Innovation District are initiatives of the umbrella public-private partnership organization InnovatePGH.
"We need to have access to world-class talent as well as a very strong robotics community to partner with. Pittsburgh checked those two boxes."
Founded in 2020, Neuraville’s mission is to “develop a brain for robots,” according to the company’s website. Specializing in neurorobotics, the startup plans to develop a sort of central nervous system for multi-purpose service robots that can eventually be integrated into daily work and household life. That crossover of the computational biology behind neuroscience and robotics hardware needs fit Pittsburgh’s areas of expertise well, and align with the growing amount of local life sciences-related companies with a computational or AI-driven approach.
“Neuraville‘s mission is to lead the way in making service robots to become mainstream and for us we need to become an international leader in the design of intelligent control system for robots to make that happen,” Neuraville founder and CEO Mohammad Nadji wrote in an email to Technical.ly. “To achieve this mission we need to have access to world-class talent as well as a very strong robotics community to partner with. Pittsburgh not only checked those two boxes but also provided a cost effective environment for our startup to grow roots.”
Though Nadji said the Neuraville team is still relatively small, he has plans to grow in Pittsburgh. The startup recently added a new engineer to its team and has plans to expand by at least one more by the end of the spring. Current open positions listed on the company’s career page include a full-time Python developer and a part-time internship for robotics artificial intelligence engineer.
While several companies are still grappling with the balance of in-person and remote work amid the ongoing pandemic, Nadji said that 90% of Neuraville’s work will be in person at its new office, with only limited operations taking place remotely. That’s a running theme for much of Pittsburgh’s robotics sector, which often requires hardware innovation and design challenges that are difficult to translate to a video call.
More than that, “it’s hard to replicate the benefits of university adjacency from your house. By being close to CMU, by being close to Pitt, you have now access to students, faculty, staff, partnership opportunities, the resources at these universities,” Madden said. And while some industries or companies have found ways to be self-sufficient in working from home, “I think when you are looking to grow a company and expand your footprint capabilities through partnerships, you have to be near the universities themselves.”
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-