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The ‘Burgh’s Startups are Transforming the Community

Brandon Pollak

Head of Global Affairs, 1776

We often hear how corporations view startups as investment vehicles. But really, startups are community vehicles, and that is certainly evident in Pittsburgh.

The evening before Challenge Cup Pittsburgh, 1776 and the Urban Redevelopment Authority convened Mayor Bill Peduto and a group of startup community leaders for a discussion on inclusive innovation. In cities like Pittsburgh, startups are not tucked away in exclusive enclaves but embedded in the community, including neighborhoods with economic disparity.

High-growth companies play an important role creating jobs locally and opening opportunities for talented residents growing up in underserved parts of the city. The impact that startups can have on Rust Belt cities can be profound.

While big names such as Google and Uber have considerable presence in Pittsburgh (not to mention those cool self-driving cars) and put the city on the tech map, if you will, it has been backyard strategy that’s led to a booming startup community. Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh have cultivated talent and R&D in areas such as robotics for years, and Mayor Peduto has ushered in a forward-thinking entrepreneurship agenda that will benefit the city’s future for decades to come.

Mayor Peduto has rallied key stakeholders such as corporations, foundations, venture capitalists, banks, universities, and incubators to collaborate in order to diversify the local economy.

Pittsburgh has become a model for Rust Belt reinvention. When policymakers from around the world come to 1776 to meet with me to discuss building their innovation policy agendas and growing their state, local, or national startup economies, I advise them not to look at Silicon Valley as a model to follow, but rather cities such as Pittsburgh, Columbus, Austin, Nashville, and Boulder. It’s not possible to emulate Silicon Valley’s success, and these are examples of cities that are growing because of collaboration between local stakeholders.

Pittsburgh has become a destination for international mayors who are looking to develop cities of the future that benefit all citizens.

Pittsburgh’s startup community isn’t limited to robotics and self-driving cars; it includes companies reinventing urban housing, transforming energy efficiency for buildings, interactive education platforms for K-3 students, and wearable devices with real-time analytics to prevent truck drivers from falling asleep at the wheel. These were some of the exciting technologies on display at our local Challenge Cup pitch competition in Pittsburgh.

Twelve incredible startups were selected to pitch and represent the local ecosystem at Challenge Cup Pittsburgh. The competition at the Covestro Brightspace located in the Energy Innovation Center was electric and packed with entrepreneurs, investors, policy leaders, corporate executives, and more. The field was diverse with founders born and raised in different Pittsburgh neighborhoods and immigrant entrepreneurs who came to the city to build their startups.

After 12 great pitches and tough deliberation among our judges, the winning startup was Adrich, led by its CEO Adhithi Aji. Fresh off her stint in AlphaLab Gear’s accelerator program, Aji gave a compelling pitch on enhancing supply chains.

Adrich is developing intelligent labels for everyday products that connect supply chains in a new way and provides data that could be utilized for better consumer protection. The intelligent labels can also analyze information on usage on a company dashboard to understand consumer behavior.

Pittsburgh will be well represented at Challenge Festival this November, and now we move on from this Rust Belt city to the Pacific Northwest — the city of Portland, Oregon has its local Challenge Cup competition next.

Brandon Pollak

Head of Global Affairs, 1776

Brandon Pollak is part of the founding team of 1776 and serves as Head of Global Affairs. He leads market strategy and outreach to influencers, including corporate CEO’s and Chief…