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RealLIST Startups 2023: Meet Pittsburgh’s most promising young tech companies

From robotics to life sciences to social enterprises, these 10 startups (plus 10 runners-up) are poised for growth in the new year.

OtterTune founders (L to R) Dana Van Aken, Andy Pavlo and Bohan Zhang. (Courtesy OtterTune)
Pittsburgh, it’s January — which means it’s time for a new RealLIST.

Here at Technical.ly, we take this time to revisit our past coverage, talk to the tech community and conduct new research to gauge which young, local companies are on their way to making a significant impact in the new year.

We’ve been calling the companies that make the grade RealLIST Startups — meaning they’re “real,” or serious, with impressive products, goals, founders or funders — for seven years. 2023 marks only the second year Pittsburgh has published a list, yet the companies are no less impressive.

The companies that made the RealLIST met the following criteria:

  • Founded no earlier than three years ago — so, 2020 or later (though we know founding dates are kinda BS)
  • Make most of their revenue from selling a product — so, no agencies
  • Haven’t undergone a significant exit event, such as an acquisition or IPO

In Pittsburgh, the companies we follow most closely tend to congregate around certain industries — robotics, life sciences, AI and social enterprises, for instance. The below list reflects those trends.

Now, meet your 2023 RealLIST Startups.

10. BLK DYMND Rewards

BLK DYMD Rewards is a banking app that incentivizes buyers to make purchases from Black-owned businesses by providing them with cash back when they shop using the company’s rewards app. On the business side, if a company partners with BLK DYMND Rewards they could gain customers through the loyalty often associated with a rewards program. Since its founding in 2020 by Art Robinson, the startup has participated in the 2022-2023 Ascender cohort where it was awarded a grant for an undisclosed amount in the summer of 2022, per Crunchbase.

9. Heny

Members of the heny team. CEO Marielle Gross is at right. (Courtesy photo)

When most people think of NFTs, digital property debates probably come to mind. Dr. Marielle Gross thinks they can be used to de-identify biosamples for patients. During research studies, doctors may discover an illness or genetic marker for a future illness in a sample. But because doctors strip identifying features from medical samples to protect patient’s privacy, the patient would never be informed. Heny developed an app where NFTs will be used to keep breast cancer patients connected to their biopsy results, all while still protecting their identities. Currently the app is a part of a pilot program launched in October 2022 at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Precision Medicine.

8. Advanced Optronics

Advanced Optronics is developing biocompatible sensor systems trying to reduce the trauma during cochlear implant surgery by providing surgeons with real-time feedback. So far the company has participated in the Rice Business Plan Competition, the 2022 AlphaLabs cohort, the Carnegie Mellon University McGinnis Venture competition, and the summer 2022 VentureBridge program.

7. Meerkat Village

Crystal Morrison receives her big check. (Photo by Atiya Irvin-Mitchell)

Meerkat village is a platform designed to keep the doctors, parents, and caregivers of children with special needs on the same page about the child’s care. The platform does this by providing a forum for all the adults — from family members to healthcare professionals — supporting the child to communicate about plans for their care. When Meerkat Village won second place and the $100,000 that went with it in the 2022’s UpPrize Social Innovation Challenge, founder Crystal Morrison said she created the app as an answer to the frustration she knows parents like her often feel trying to keep their children’s caregivers in sync.

6. Resilient Lifescience

With 5,168 residents reported to have died from overdoses in 2021, Pennsylvania hasn’t been immune to the national opioid epidemic. More than that: On average 14 Pennsylvanians die from an overdose daily. Resilient Lifescience wants to combat overdoses with a wearable medical device designed to detect and reverse overdoses using naloxone to prevent deaths, even if no one else is around. So far the startup has secured an investment for an undisclosed amount in pre-seed funding from Tau Ventures. Resilient Lifescience additionally presented at the 2022 Innovation Works Portfolio Showcase, and lastly, the company raised $675,000 in 2022.

5. Mapless AI

A Mapless AI vehicle with an employee. (Courtesy photo)

Mapless AI is an autonomous vehicle company co-headquartered in Pittsburgh and Boston. Eventually, the company wants to give Uber and Lyft a run for their money by creating an autonomous rideshare service. While Mapless doesn’t yet have a fleet of self-driving cars in every city, its remote-controlled cars are being piloted at the Pittsburgh International Airport through the xBridge program.

4. Dashcam for your Bike

Armin Samii. (Photo via LinkedIn)

Technical.ly named Armin Samii’s young company a runner-up for our 2022 RealLIST Startups roundup, and what was once called Robot Armin has made strides since last January. Dashcam for your Bike empowers cyclists with an app that allows them to obtain video evidence in the case of an accident. After participating in PGH Labs 7.0, the startup secured a partnership with the City of Pittsburgh to use its Hazard Map to allow cyclists to report hazards on the road to the city’s 311 hotline. Soon, the Hazard Map will be launched in a city to be named at a later date. Dashcam for your Bike also recently launched its Anti-Vibration Phone Mount which is used to mount smart phones on bicycle handlebars without blocking the camera. If that sounds like something you need, you can get it on Amazon.

3. MindTrace

Surgery can be scary. MindTrace wants to make it a little less risky. How? By developing a technology that lets surgeons practice surgeries through its machine learning platform. By doing a dry run on the platform, the idea follows, surgeons will be able to better predict the outcome of a patient’s surgery. Many an org has been impressed with MindTrace’s tech so much so that it took home first-place at the LifeX Labs and Pittsburgh Life Science Greenhouse’s in 2021. The following year, the company was featured in the fall Innovation Works Portfolio Showcase. In 2021 MindTrace raised $150,000 from AlphaLab and an undisclosed amount from Innovation Works, per Crunchbase.

2. Finish Robotics

Finish Robotics is another 2022 RealLIST Startups runner-up that made further moves in the past year. The autonomous coating systems company makes robots that can work alongside human crews on construction sites. Notably, in April, the startup’s FinishBots painted more than 100,000 square feet at RIDC Westmoreland Innovation Center as part of a pilot project. Last year it also raised seed funding from Innovation Works and an investment from 99 Tartans.

1. OtterTune

OtterTune is a database automation and optimization startup that uses AI and machine learning to analyze and optimize the hundreds of configuration settings in database systems. Last spring, it made a splash in the Steel City tech industry for raising an impressive $12 million Series A. The company’s CEO, Andy Pavlo, told Technical.ly then that the money would be used to expand its engineering team and improve the product’s features. Since then, the company’s added management features and health checks for database optimization as a part of its latest update.

Honorable mentions, in no particular order

  • Sustainible — This PGH Labs 6.0 alumni from Talpha Harris uses an Input/Output platform to make sustainability a more feasible option for businesses. Since it was mentioned as a RealLIST runner-up last year, the company announced a partnership with Honeycomb Credit to bring business assessment tools to more Pittsburgh startups.
  • Miror — Cassie Guerin’s platform is designed to bring people together by offering support groups on topics ranging from divorce to the ups and downs of new parenthood. In 2022, the company presented in Innovation Works’ Portfolio Showcase.
  • Roadies — Roadies is a blockchain-powered web platform that allows art enthusiasts to invest in artists. It garnered a $50,000 investment from Innovation Works and AlphaLab.
  • Equa Health — This wellness and fitness service provides a mindfulness coach in your pocket in the form of an app. Since its founding, it’s raised $750,000 in pre-seed funding from Innovation Works and AlphaLab.
  • Agni AI — Agni AI is an efficiency platform that helps law firms draft, review, and analyze contracts. Additionally the startup was a 2022 VentureBridge cohort member.
  • EachDay — This org aims to make managing ADHD a little easier with an app providing tools and medical resources. In April 2022, it reportedly raised from IndiBio and SOSV.
  • Live — Live wants to make learning math less dull by employing teenage math whizzes to teach interactive, livestreamed classes through its website. Although it’s fairly new within the preexisting company Expii, since Live began, the CMU professor-led org has trained 100 students to become instructors, plus enrolled 1,000 students internationally in its online courses.
  • Outcome Logix — Outcome Logix helps tech firms build scalable applications or in some cases improve the ones they already have. In 2022 the company was honored by the Pittsburgh Technology Council as a Tech 50 finalist.
  • Green Bean — Green Bean is a platform that gives companies the ability to reward their employees for decarbonizing via stipends and discounts when they buy clean energy products. While the startup has only worked with a handful of companies so far, as a newly inducted member of the PGH Labs 8.0 cohort, it’ll get to try its platform out on city employees.
  • Voaige — This startup creates affordable, AI powered robotic arms designed to supplement any staffing shortages. It was also a 2022 VentureBridge cohort member.
Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2024 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: Voaige / Green Bean / LIVE / EachDay / Agni AI / Equa Health / Roadies / MindTrace / Mapless AI / Resilient Lifescience / Meerkat Village / de-bi / BLK DYMD Rewards / OtterTune / Dashcam for your Bike / Sustainible / Finish Robotics / Expii
Series: RealLIST Startups / RealLIST

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