Exploring Pittsburgh's Future As A Leader In Robotics

Apr 7, 2016

Pittsburgh is known as a leader in the steel, sports, livability, and…robotics?  As the technology and robotics field continues to expand, entrepreneurs and start-up companies have flocked to Pittsburgh for a chance to work with cutting-edge researchers and generous investors. 

Recently, the Pittsburgh-based Alpha Lab Gear hosted an event with the MIT Enterprise Forum to draw attention to the exciting happenings regionally in the field of robotics.

Alpha Lab Gear is an accelerator for physical product companies, giving entrepreneurs the tools they need to be successful, including an initial investment of $50,000.  Alpha Lab partners with Startbot, a venture firm which invests solely in robotics.  Together, they provide the entrepreneurs with mentorship, space, plans for manufacturing, and protection of intellectual property.

Ilana Diamond, Managing Director of Alpha Lab Gear says their program selects 8-10 companies in each cycle. These range from Identified Technologies, a drone company, to Maven Machines, which produces Bluetooth headsets to identify fatigue and distraction in truck drivers on the road.

“We have a wide range of industries and a wide range of products, and then there is a specialized track for robotics and robotics technologies companies, and then they get support from Startbot,” Diamond says. 

David Kalson, a Cohen and Grisgby, P.C. law partner and Chair of the Emerging Business Group, works primarily with early stage and private midmarket technology companies.  He explains the attorney’s role in technology companies as a catalyst in creating, financing, operating, and in some circumstances, selling the company.

“We’re really involved with them in the planning, the strategic thinking, and the execution of pretty much every phase of their growth,” Kalson says.

Robotics, according to Kalson, has evolved and grown significantly in recent years because people finally understand its necessity in the marketplace.

“Now industry can see how problems can be solved with robotics, which augments their workforce and enables them to be much more efficient and much more competitive,” Kalson says.

John Whitehill, Chairperson of the MIT Enterprise Forum Pittsburgh, says Pittsburgh has become a true leader in robotics with its reputation for its research facilities, especially at Carnegie Mellon University. It’s even attracted companies like Uber, which chose Pittsburgh for its Advanced Technologies Center this past year. 

“Pittsburgh is not only an entrepreneurial center, we're a research center and now we’re an application center,” Whitehill says. 

As far as diversity in the field of robotics goes, Diamond says Alpha Lab focuses on reaching out to organizations such as Urban Innovation21 and universities to encourage people to apply to their program.

“We would love to have 50 percent women, and we would love to have the same number of underrepresented groups that exist in our community, in our program,” Diamond says.

For Whitehill, he is hopeful that the growth of the robotics field will also lead to the growth of inclusivity.

“Science knows no discrimination,” Whitehill says, “If one has the talent, the world is more than an oyster.  It is a pearl.” 

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