Joe Mullenbach
Joe Mullenbach, co-founder of Fluid Reality and associate researcher at CMU. Photo by David Radin.

At first glance, the sixth annual AI & Robotics Venture Fair, held on Monday, May 1 at the Fairmont Pittsburgh, looks like many of the other events that are hosted in Pittsburgh annually. But under the surface, the event had another agenda.

Similar to other business and technology events in the city, this event featured 18 executives from emerging companies presenting to potential investors in hopes of securing funding.

But this event could be considered a Trojan horse — it also aimed to showcase that Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University have more to offer investors beyond just artificial intelligence and robotics.

The audience at the sixth annual AI & Robotics Venture Fair on Monday, May 1, at the Fairmont Pittsburgh.

”I have a lot of incoming inquiries [from this event] saying, ‘We’re hearing a lot of great things about CMU and about Pittsburgh. Can we talk to you?’ So I share our master list [of investment opportunities],” says Reed McManigle, mentor-in-residence at CMU’s Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation, who also is one of the event organizers and serves on the fair’s selection committee. “Once they receive the list, they say ‘I had no idea you had all this stuff in energy and medical and biotech. I had pigeonholed in my mind what CMU is all about.”

That allows McManigle to offer a wider range of investment options to potential investors. As a result, his list of prospects has grown to around 400 individuals.

The formula has worked well. CMU also uses it to cultivate other communities, including an annual energy week fair. Additionally, CMU collaborates with a group of like-minded universities known as the MRUN (Midwest Research University Network), which brands itself as “the Midwest’s top-tier research universities and organizations collaborating to shrink geography and accelerate research commercialization.” The University of Pittsburgh is also a member of the network.

Dave Coleman, CEO of PickNik
Dave Coleman, CEO of PickNik. Photo by David Radin.

Yet, the AI & Robotics Venture Fair is still a flagship event.

“AI & robotics. That’s our brand,” McManigle says.

The event, which is run in conjunction with Innovation Works, was hosted by Jordan Marinkovich, platform community manager for Innovation Works. During the event, Innovation Works President & CEO Ven Raju, and Kit Needham, CMU’s assistant dean for entrepreneurship Initiatives, made brief statements.  

The companies featured at the venture fair were combined from three sources: CMU spinouts, Innovation Works portfolio companies, and external companies brought in from other regions. The selection process involved evaluating each company’s commercial success so far, whether they had received funding from reputable sources and the composition of their teams. Out of about 50 applicants, 18 companies met the criteria and were chosen to be featured.

“There were some that were clearly in; some that were clearly out. We fought about those in the middle,” McManigle says, about narrowing the list to 18.

The venture fair and the Cascadia Connect Robotics, Automation & AI Conference were held together for the second time. After the venture fair, a reception was held at Kingfly Spirits in the Strip District. The next day, Cascadia Connect, which is based in Seattle, continued discussing topics related to AI and robotics at the Fairmont. Investors were also given the opportunity to have one-on-one meetings with the companies.

David RadinCEO of Confirmed

David Radin is CEO of Confirmed ( For decades, he has been leveraging technology and techniques to transform the way his audiences and clients succeed.