A new executive role will look to accelerate progress for Pittsburgh startups.
Earlier this month, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance appointed Lynsie Campbell as its first-ever startup czar — a position meant to build and connect the startup community here in the hopes that companies will stay in Pittsburgh as they grow and scale. The role signals a more formal recognition of entrepreneurship and other startup activity in the area, and of the importance that energy has for the local economy.
Campbell brings over a decade of experience in the startup world to her new role. A former founder of two companies and, most recently, a startup consultant and general partner in a venture capital firm, “I would say I kind of survived everything a startup can throw at you,” Campbell told Technical.ly.
In taking on this new role, “I realized that other people could be served by my experiences, good and bad.”
I do what I do because I want to have a real impact on the Pittsburgh startup community. Who's with me? #thisbetterwork
— Lynsie Campbell (@lynsie) October 25, 2021
The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance created the new role with a goal to help take Pittsburgh entrepreneurship to the next step and move it beyond an emerging startup ecosystem, said Mark Anthony Thomas, the economic development group’s president.
“I think we’re catching up to what is really the best practice in our industry — where entrepreneurship, local companies, local talent, can really transform a region without depending on other places to do it for them,” he said.
As for the unique title of the new role, Thomas said that the definition of the word “czar” itself overlaps with what he and the rest of the alliance hope to see Campbell bring to the role.
“For me, a czar really represents someone who was an ambassador for certain areas,” he said, adding that Campbell will be in touch not only with founders, but with those in charge of resources that can support local startups, too. This new role is also part of a broader expansion of the alliance supported by the Richard King Mellon Foundation, Thomas added, which provided much of the initial funding to establish the Allegheny Conference (the umbrella organization of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and more).
Campbell alluded to recent successes across the local startup and innovation community as even more justification of the need for her new role. Pittsburgh recently ranked in the top 25 emerging startup markets globally, and has seen an uptick of community events like the inaugural RustBuilt Pittsburgh Conference. There are more resources now than ever for growing a company here, across accelerators, locally focused venture capital firms and industry expertise from a recent slew of hugely successful company exits in tech, with more to come soon.
While all of these small pockets of entrepreneurship in life sciences or robotics or artificial intelligence have spent the last decade building, Campbell said there hasn’t really been someone to act as the bridge between all of them in the way she plans to as startup czar. Part of the reason she accepted the new position, she said, was because “I was going to be able to focus on this-10 county region, and really start to maybe connect some of the dots that hadn’t been connected previously, because there hasn’t been somebody in the role, who was acting as the ambassador for the entire community, versus an ambassador to a single kind of silo within that community.”
Connecting dots, she joked, is her superpower. But as for what exactly those dots are that need to be connected in Pittsburgh? Campbell’s on a mission to find out. As she begins her role, she’ll be doing a baseline evaluation of the startup ecosystem, building relationships and getting to know who’s who. Still, thinking back to her time as a founder based in Pittsburgh, there are some gaps in support and communication that she remembers.
“When I was starting my first two companies, both times I had to leave the region to find my first customers,” she said. She wants to make sure that today’s startups have an easier time finding their first investors, customers, mentors or whatever else they might need from the region.
Though Campbell is still settling into the new role, she encourages founders to introduce themselves via email (email@example.com) or social media. “Track me down, find me, I want to meet and I want to talk to you and I want to learn what you’re working on,” she said. “And I want to understand where the gaps are so that we can help solve them.”
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.-30-