If you had to name Pittsburgh tech’s best features, which would you pick? Its robotics expertise, cultural scene, affordability?
One America Works, an organization that connects growing tech companies with growing tech scenes across the county, this week hosted its inaugural City Pitch Series event, which gives three cities a chance to pitch their tech scene to an online audience of entrepreneurs and technologists.
This first session highlighted the strength of smaller cities across the Midwest, giving Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Columbus each a 15-minute window to promote their local tech industry leaders and broader social and cultural communities. Patrick McKenna, founder of One America Works and executive chairman and cofounder of Baltimore-based Facet Wealth, explained in his introduction that the recent onset of remote work during the pandemic reflects not only a response to that crisis, but a new and changing economic landscape where talented workers have more options.
Pittsburgh’s pitch was led by Pittsburgh Regional Alliance Senior Director for Talent Alison Treaster. After showing an introductory video featuring prominent local industry leaders like Duolingo founder and CEO Luis Van Ahn and Astrobotic CEO John Thornton, Treaster went on to talk about Pittsburgh’s prowess in robotics and animation.
“Big brand name tech companies come here to work on their hardest problems and coolest tech,” she said, mentioning that Amazon’s local offices focus on Alexa development, Facebook’s on its virtual reality platform, and Microsoft’s on its cloud capabilities.
To help speak to the groundbreaking nature of Pittsburgh’s automation technology and research, Treaster invited Jessie Smith, a software engineer for the simulation team at self-driving company Aurora. When she decided to look for a job outside of her hometown of Reno, Nevada, Smith wanted to find a solid robotics scene outside of Silicon Valley.
“Pittsburgh was the best by a long shot,” she said. Here, Smith emphasized, she can do life-changing and revolutionary work that she’s excited about in the autonomous vehicle sector. “It has the potential to change the fundamental landscape of how we move things and people in the world.”
Treaster also invited Dan Law, senior director of capital development and strategy at The Andy Warhol Museum, to speak about Pittsburgh’s cultural vibrancy outside of the tech industry. Broadcasting live from the famous Silver Clouds exhibition room at the museum, Law and local entrepreneur Nisha Blackwell spoke about the social communities that exist in Pittsburgh around both institutions like the Warhol and through casual meetups for outdoor activities or other cultural events.
Blackwell, who is also the CEO and founder of sustainable bowtie company Knotzland, highlighted the deep support of entrepreneurs across different backgrounds here.
“You say you want to do a thing in Pittsburgh and people rally around you,” she said.
Treaster closed the pitch by answering a few audience questions about resources for early-stage startups and why Pittsburgh is considered (by some) to be a highly livable city. For startup growth support, she named Innovation Works, which operates the AlphaLab, AlphaLab Gear and AlphaLab Health accelerators, and for local funding, she mentioned the newly formed venture capital arm of Black Tech Nation. And as for livability, Treaster pointed to an undeniable fact of all three cities at the showcase — they’re a lot cheaper to live in than Silicon Valley.
A recording of the event will be available through the One America Works website early next week.
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.