A new hire will lead a major entrepreneurship organization’s Pittsburgh chapter, and she already has local startup experience in her repertoire.
Venture for America (VFA) announced this week that Megan Butler would take over as the organization’s director of Pittsburgh. The role that will make her a central contact for regional startups looking to take on fellows through the program.
The nonprofit places its fellows in two-year roles at startups in cities with emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems, with the hope of training and growing the next generation of entrepreneurs. Fellows may come out of the program with a plan to start their own companies, but even in cases where that doesn’t happen, VFA encourages them to stay connected in their local startup communities.
Butler will oversee all of that and more in her new role as Pittsburgh’s director, through which she will facilitate connections to local startups and provide support for VFA fellows, in addition to working with the area’s philanthropic organizations to boost funding for the program. She comes to VFA already familiar with much of the local startup ecosystem, after pursuing a bachelor’s and master’s degree in policy and management at Carnegie Mellon University and working as a project manager for health IT SaaS startup Treatspace. Following her nearly three years there, Butler took a role as program associate at the Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF), moving up to become an innovation associate and most recently, an innovation manager.
"One of the reasons I'm really excited about VFA is that it's this great opportunity to funnel high quality talent to the Pittsburgh region."
“I had a really unique opportunity at JHF to look at the Pittsburgh region at a high level and try to work toward [the question of] how can we really put the work on the map specifically for healthcare innovation and life science innovation and technology,” Butler said of her experience before joining VFA. While working for a startup after college helped her understand the dynamics of an early venture, working at JHF gave her a chance to “look at the ecosystem as a whole.”
VFA initially came to Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh in 2015, and has since supported over 30 fellows at local startups and ecosystem support organizations including Honeycomb Credit, Civic Champs, Maven Machines, DeepLocal and CivicScience. (Six were placed in the most recent cohort.) And some of those fellows have gone on to start companies of their own, such as Talpha Harris, a former VFA fellow with Bridgeway Capital who is now the cofounder and CEO of business model tech startup Sustainible.
Butler said she’s excited to continue the pattern of working with these startups and establishing new connections with others, particularly in the realm of life sciences and healthcare since she’s worked in that space before.
“I am excited to bring my specific background in healthcare and life science innovation, and hopefully build up that representation in the VFA community as well, especially because healthcare and life sciences are two major industries here in Pittsburgh,” she said. That industry comes with its own set of challenges that are different from the kind that startups in other industries will face, and Butler’s experience in working through those challenges is something she hopes she can impart to VFA’s Pittsburgh fellows.
Companies and fellows are still in the middle of the connecting process for VFA, so the numbers for this year’s Pittsburgh cohort aren’t yet final. But no matter how many people or startups Butler will help coordinate this year, her main hope is that VFA will excite entrepreneurs about Pittsburgh and encourage them to stay here in the long term.
“One of the reasons I’m really excited about VFA is that it’s this great opportunity to funnel high quality talent to the Pittsburgh region,” Butler said. “And it’s people who wouldn’t have otherwise maybe considered Pittsburgh as a place to live if they hadn’t gone through the VFA fellowship. So I think it’s just a really exciting opportunity to get new, diverse talent from other regions.”
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.