Essential Pittsburgh
4:46 pm
Fri August 30, 2013

The Thrill Mill: Contributing to Pittsburgh's Business Ecosystem

The Thrival Festival is a highly anticipated music and innovation event coming to Bakery Square in East Liberty this September.
Credit Somenametoforget / Flickr

Startup incubators provide entrepreneurs with opportunities to grow their ideas in an affordable space, with resources, mentoring and sometimes funding. They’ve sprung up all over Pittsburgh, especially in East Liberty. 

The Thrill Mill and its incubator space, the Hustle Den, is one of the new kids on the block. And while many incubators are focused on technology, Thrill Mill is supporting some diverse innovators.

For Bobby Zappala founder of the Thrill Mill, it all started when he moved back to Pittsburgh from Washington D.C. in 2006. He says he and his friends wanted to connect with other young people who had interesting business ideas. He says they host regular gatherings which became very popular.

“By years 4 and 5 we decided that we had built something that had a brand and a recognizable element to it.”

He took this popularity and turned it into a yearly innovation competition, called The Business Bout. He then developed the Hustle Den for startups with ideas that range from bicycle safety products to real estate innovation.

Zappala says his incubator is different from some of the others in town because they work with entrepreneurs in the very early stages.

“We want to provide them with the fundamental basic needs in order to take their idea and turn it into a real business.”

Zappala considers Thrill Mill to be a pipeline into some of the bigger incubators in town, such as AlphaLab who are looking for more well developed business plans and ideas.

As the Thrill Mill grows, the next component is the Thrival Festival, a highly anticipated music and innovation event described in the local media as a South by Southwest style festival with a Pittsburgh focus.