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These 10 startups vied for investor attention at the inaugural RustBuilt Startup Showdown

Three non-Pittsburgh companies —, Xena Intelligence and AirExpert — came out on top.

RustBuilt Startup Showdown attendees. ( Irvin-Mitchell) and XchangePgh share a mission of convening and informing technologists, entrepreneurs and other startup stakeholders. is a media partner for the XchangePgh 2023 event series.

Pittsburgh has been abuzz with entrepreneurial energy all week, but that energy was perhaps most concentrated in East Liberty on Thursday evening.

At the inaugural RustBuilt Startup Showdown, held during Pittsburgh’s first XchangeInnovation Week, 10 companies hailing from the Steel City and like cities from the region and beyond made their case for why their companies deserved funding while fielding questions from a panel of seasoned investors.

When the slide shows concluded and the judges had deliberated, New York’s, Louisville’s Xena Intelligence and Buffalo’s AirExpert came out on top and gained a promise of support.

For the companies that weren’t selected, the organizers were still thankful for their presence as XchangeInnovation Week isn’t just about dollars and cents, but the connections you make along the way.

“The idea is that we want to start to create more connections across our region,” XchangePgh cofounder and co-organizer Kit Mueller said. “Across the region [we] who fall into the Rust Belt have a shared legacy and I think we can also build a shared future by hearing more to each other’s voices.”

If you couldn’t make it to AlphaLab Gear to hear from the participating companies in person, read on: Here’s a snapshot what each business has to offer, from lost pet recovery to ecommerce data management, in the order they pitched.

Civic Champs

The Pittsburgh-based social enterprise makes a web-based mobile platform that gives nonprofits the ability to recruit and manage volunteers without endless paperwork. CEO Geng Wang pitched Civic Champs’ “opportunity youth” program focused on mentorship.

Civic Champs CEO Geng Wang pitches during the RustBuilt Startup Showdown. (Photo by Julie Zeglen)


This company founded by Carnegie Mellon University graduate students makes a diagnostic, wearable insole that provides early detection for patients suffering from diabetic peripheral neuropathy, which then informs their primary care physician of their condition and provides them with foot care information. Its tagline: “Happy feet, happy lives.”

D.Sole cofounder Saisri Akondi pitches during the RustBuilt Startup Showdown. (Photo by Julie Zeglen)


The Pittsburgh startup makes a wearable device and app that combines AI with behavioral health to inform a user’s support network if they’re in danger of a mental health crisis and or of resuming drug use.

Behaivior’s Ellie Gordon pitches during the RustBuilt Startup Showdown. (Photo by Julie Zeglen)


This Pittsburgh startup makes a digital platform that shows its procurement pro users how their purchases are contributing to their company’s overall green gas emissions.

Kloopify cofounder Daniela Osio pitches during the RustBuilt Startup Showdown. (Photo by Julie Zeglen)


This microchip technology company allows pet owners to register their animals in a “universal” database, and in the event that they’re lost or stolen, track them through their Peeva microchip. Founder Michael Hamilton is seeking a Series A to scale more rapidly.

Peeva founder Michael Hamilton pitches during the RustBuilt Startup Showdown. (Photo by Julie Zeglen)

“Data problems don’t happen in a vacuum,” cofounder and CEO Daniel Brady said. The company’s platform allows ecommerce companies to understand their customers by giving them access to data that reflects their history with a brand. cofounder Daniel Brady pitches during the RustBuilt Startup Showdown. (Photo by Julie Zeglen)


Run by Andy Hakes, a former aircraft technician, this company makes an operations control platform that enables aircraft operators to collaborate with other maintenance stakeholders, engineering and technical teams while leveraging data to avoid flight delays.

AirExpert’s Andy Hakes pitches during the RustBuilt Startup Showdown. (Photo by Julie Zeglen)

Sensible Photonics

As Sensible Photonics CEO put it John Belechak: “No one wants power outages.” The electronics manufacturing company is attempting to deliver safer energy infrastructure via low-cost fiber optic sensors.

Sensible Photonics CEO John Belechak pitches during the RustBuilt Startup Showdown. (Photo by Julie Zeglen)


This software from EagleHawk is designed to assist facilities managers by drone-collected data on a facility so that managers can improve maintenance, reduce costs and reduce safety hazards. The goal is to “make life easier for facilities managers.”

EagleHawk’s Patrick Walsh pitches during the RustBuilt Startup Showdown. (Photo by Julie Zeglen)

Xena Intelligence

This company makes an AI-powered ecommerce optimization tool that helps businesses grow by boosting their sales through data-driven ad campaigns. Founder Akhil Suresh Nair described being inspired by his dad, who is also an entrepreneur.

Xena founder Akhil Suresh Nair pitches during the RustBuilt Startup Showdown. (Photo by Julie Zeglen)

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: Civic Champs / Kloopify / RustBuilt / AlphaLab Gear / Behaivior

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