Accelerators / Events / Robotics / Startups

What Robotics Factory’s Tech Forge digs represent for Pittsburgh

The program's leaders say the Lawrenceville hub will be a place for robotics startups to grow while staying connected to the tech community.

Robotics Factory's Activate event at Tech Forge, September 2023. (Courtesy Robotics Factory)

According to the powers that be at the Robotics Factory, Sept. 28 marks the last time its headquarters, Lawrenceville’s Tech Forge building, will be empty enough to hold an event.

The event in question served as the official launch of the Robotics Factory. Speakers representing Pittsburgh’s tech industry emphasized that Tech Forge’s significance to the program was that it’d be the hub allowing Robotics Factory to guide young robotics companies in their industry journeys. Spanning two floors, Tech Forge has plenty of room for the companies participating in the Robotics Factory to grow.

Robotics Factory work space. ( Irvin-Mitchell)

At the event, Pittsburgh Robotics Factory Interim Executive Director Jenn Apicella noted that in addition to providing robotics startups with space and guidance, Tech Forge — which is operated by the Regional Industrial Development Corporation of Southwestern Pennsylvania and also houses robotics tenants such as Caterpillar’s Pittsburgh Automation Center — contributes to Pittsburgh’s status as a growing tech hub.

“I might be a little biased, but I can honestly say that what we have here is a true global powerhouse of innovation and opportunity,” Apicella said.

Leaficient founders at Robotics Factory’s Activate event. (Courtesy Robotics Factory)

“We’re here as well, ensuring that the broader regional community and the broader community overall, they’re able to engage in this new economy, and they’re able to do so with equitable and accessible opportunities for all,” Apicella said.

Robotics Factory Activate event. ( Irvin-Mitchell)

Robotics Factory is funded by the federal Build Back Better Regional Challenge program, which in September 2022 dedicated nearly $63 million to Pittsburgh tech organizations focused on startup support and workforce development.

“Right now we have all the ingredients here, and … with these new programs, with the Build Back Better support, we’re combining those ingredients into recipes,” Apicella said. “And those recipes are now moving forward. We are creating a set of opportunities so that we can add more seats to the table, [so] that we can all enjoy in the wealth of this opportunity.”

The Factory, which is run by early-stage investment firm Innovation Works, includes three programs designed to set up robotics entrepreneurs to be self-sufficient and thrive in the local industry: Create, Accelerate and Scale. All three programs are housed inside, including the six companies that are participating in the first cohort of the Accelerate program, the Factory’s robotics startup accelerator. The space will also be where the in-house product prototyping, manufacturing, and other services offered by the Scale program take place.

“I would say the most important thing is not what we do in this building,” Robotics Factory Interim Managing Director Kevin Dowling told attendees. “It’s what you do for the robotics industry and their history.”

Robotics Factory Interim Managing Director Kevin Dowling. (Courtesy Robotics Factory)

These are the six startups in the first Accelerate program:

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: Innovation Works (Pittsburgh)

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