Business / Entrepreneurs / Funding / Municipal government / Pittsburgh

Autonomous vehicles, unicorns and mayors: Here’s your primer on Pittsburgh tech’s biggest recent moves

As launches our daily newsletter in Pittsburgh, here's a look back at some of the most exciting news we've covered since we started reporting on the city full-time in June.

Pittsburgh. (Photo by Willie Fineberg on Unsplash)

Hey, I’m Sophie, your newest reporter. This week marks two months since I officially started as our first full-time reporter in Pittsburgh.

I grew up here, and am so excited by all the ways our local economy is changing through the tech scene. A lot is happening for Pittsburgh startups, growth companies and entrepreneurs right now, and we want to tell those stories and more. We recently launched a newsletter to help us do that, and make sure that Pittsburgh tech news reaches everyone in the city and beyond. Right now, we send it out a few times per week, but soon our newsletter will be daily. You can subscribe to it here.

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Below, here’s a look back at some of the coverage we’ve done here so far. Beyond what’s here, you can check out all of my stories so far, and also join’s public Slack community. Plus, pitch me anytime (or just say hey) at Hope to be back in your inbox soon!

Three local tech companies are going public

The end of June launched a hat trick in Pittsburgh tech companies announcing plans to go public by the end of this year. Starting that trend off was the city’s first unicorn, Duolingo, which filed its S-1 a month ago, and yesterday released a target price range of $95 to $100 per share. We covered the initial announcement, as well as what local industry leaders think this move will mean for Pittsburgh tech.

Shortly after that first filing, autonomous vehicle company Aurora — another unicorn that has its East Coast headquarters in Pittsburgh — shared news that it will go public through special purpose acquisition company (aka SPAC) Reinvent Technology Partners Y. Argo AI, another AV company with headquarters in the area, also confirmed that it’s preparing to go public by the end of the year with an expected valuation of $7 billion.

These public offerings will be groundbreaking for the Pittsburgh economy, in terms of talent attraction, job growth and local wealth that could translate into future angel investments.

The autonomous vehicle sector is booming

If Pittsburgh was already a contender as the autonomous vehicle capital of the world, recent announcements from local companies in the sector might cement that status. In addition to its plans to go public later this year, Argo AI also just shared that it will launch its first commercial product through partnerships with Lyft and Ford by the end of 2021 — making the company one of the first to fully bring autonomous vehicle technology to consumers.

Two other companies with offices in the area, Aurora and Motional, previously announced plans to launch their technology by the end of 2023 through similar partnerships. Pittsburgh hasn’t been announced as one of the cities for these rollouts, but with so many AV companies headquartered and located here, seeing self-driving cars on area streets is undoubtedly in the near future.

And with all this car talk, we wondered: What are the environmental concerns should we keep in mind? Local AV companies are keeping sustainability in mind, but researchers and city officials still have concerns about the disruptive technology’s unknowns.

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Pittsburgh will have a new mayor come November

After State Rep. Ed Gainey defeated incumbent Mayor Bill Peduto in May’s primary, Pittsburgh will have a new local government leader in 2021. Gainey would still have to win over his main challenger former police officer Tony Moreno, but this November will nonetheless mark the end of Peduto’s eight-year run, which saw huge advancements in Pittsburgh’s tech industry prowess.

We are reaching out to Moreno’s team for more stories as the general election nears, but we’ve already covered Gainey’s campaign platform, which centers on making the last decade’s economic boom more accessible to all residents of Pittsburgh. We’ve administered a survey to him as well — and plan to do so for all candidates who will be listed on the ballot this fall — to better understand his priorities when it comes to the tech industry.

Money moves from the Richard King Mellon Foundation

Every tech scene needs investment to thrive, but not every tech scene has a foundation as generous and supportive as the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

In the last two months alone, we’ve covered the foundation’s $150 million grant to Carnegie Mellon University to develop a new innovation hub at Hazelwood Green (where it had already been funding the development in collaboration with companies like OneValley), its support of equitable coding bootcamp Resilient Coders and of new efforts from the Pittsburgh Robotics Network. We’ll be keeping track of all of these projects and more as the foundation continues to back Pittsburgh tech development.

Local startups making waves

In June, CMU spinoff Marinus Analytics won the third place prize of $500,000 at the IBM Watson AI XPrize — a five-year global competition aimed at finding the most innovative artificial intelligence technology today. The North Side-based startup was the sole representative of the United States among the three finalists for the competition, and uses its core technology to help law enforcement dismantle human trafficking networks.

Bloomfield Robotics, another company that came out of CMU, won the Innovation Icon Award in June after participating in the SVG Ventures’ THRIVE accelerator program, which focuses on agricultural tech. The robotics farming startup also won first place at the OneValley Pittsburgh Startup Challenge, which took place in-person at the newly opened Hazelwood Green roundhouse.

Subscribe to our Pittsburgh newsletter 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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