Entrepreneurs / Environment / Health / Innovation / Resources

Pittsburgh is a top ecosystem to watch for cleantech innovation

The latest report from Startup Genome names the city as one boasting growing support for clean and sustainable tech ventures.

Robotic farming brings out a row of leafy greens from the LED growing room at Fifth Season's Braddock location. (Courtesy photo)
Pittsburgh has robotics, the Steelers, hundreds of bridges and now, maybe, cleantech companies in its growing reputation.

Entrepreneurship research firm Startup Genome released its Global Startup Ecosystem Report: Cleantech Edition this week, listing the top ecosystems in the world to grow a cleantech startup. The report ranked 25 markets globally, with Silicon Valley coming in at the prime spot, followed by other US cities later in the list like Los Angeles, Boston and fellow market DC.

But beyond those top rankings, the report also shared five ecosystems to watch — and Pittsburgh came in as number one.

Pittsburgh’s mention in the cleantech edition likely comes as no surprise to those familiar with the Global Startup Ecosystem Report released by Startup Genome in September 2021, which ranked Pittsburgh in the top 25 of emerging markets across the world. Celebrated by leaders of InnovatePGH, Innovation Works, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance and more, the ranking then came as a sign that a decade-plus of work fostering local entrepreneurship was finally producing tangible results. This latest report highlighted many of the same strengths that its predecessor did, but added emphasis to the potential for cleantech here.

“Pittsburgh is home to a UN Center of Excellence on High Performance Buildings and was the second city globally to commit to the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” the report wrote of Pittsburgh. “A founding member of the 2030 District Network to reduce energy use and carbon emissions, Pittsburgh has 73 cleantech companies, 35,000 employed in the region’s energy industry, and over $103 million invested by the Department of Energy in university-based R&D in the last 5 years.”

See the report

The focus on cleantech in the report comes at a time when many investors are trending towards establishing funds specifically for companies with missions in combatting climate change and its side effects. And there are signs that’s where the money is.

In 2020, the post-money valuation of cleantech companies — what a firm is worth after a round of funding — increased by 23%. But in 2021, that rate of increased exploded to 176%. And, in the second quarter of 2021, the report found that there was a 77% growth from the second quarter in 2020 of the number of Series B+ deals for cleantech companies.

Though not included in the top 25 cleantech ecosystems in the report, Pittsburgh being listed as one to watch is still a notable accomplishment for a city that used to have a reputation for the pollution caused by its active steel industry. Perhaps because of that, the city has continued to push for a more environmentally conscious future — a tenet of former Mayor Bill Peduto‘s agenda and one of new Mayor Ed Gainey‘s as well. That industry will only become more prominent in the coming years, with investors already showing increased interest in promoting companies that achieve environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals.

Already, there are a number of strong startups and growth companies working in the cleantech space, whether it be in agricultural tech, operational sustainability or materials production. There are sustainably minded companies such as alternative energy powered bitcoin miner Stronghold Digital Mining as well as award-winning farming device startups such as Bloomfield Robotics. Even startups working in the medical space, like Parcel Health, have sustainability and waste reduction top of mind. Fifth Season, Clean Robotics, Sustainible and more are also working to advance to sector here.

Now, with Pittsburgh officially named as an ecosystem to watch for this field, here’s hoping these local trends will give way to new choices of innovation and entrepreneurship with broader attention and more jobs to support the surrounding communities.

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.

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