One big challenge for a tech startup is getting through the door.

Let’s say you’ve got new technology for a more efficient way for a company to get things done. You know it’s great: it will save costs and time and both employer and employee will benefit.

But how to get to the decision maker?

In Pittsburgh, tech startups have long complained about a lack of access to people who matter.

That’s why Pittsburgh Entrepreneurs Forum founded an awards event that honors corporations that not only provide access to local startups but also provides feedback about their services or in some way helps them shape their business, thereby supporting the tech community.

On May 11th, the Pittsburgh Entrepreneurs Forum will host an event to spotlight Champions of Tech on the top floor of the Union Trust Building. After a networking session under the glass dome, attendees will be ushered into the auditorium to hear two speakers.

There the winnerbased on nominations from the local startup communitywill be announced, setting the stage for future events which they hope to host annually.

“The purpose of the award is to get companies to emulate the winner,” says Forum member Kit Needham, who is deputy director and Entrepreneur-in-Residence for Project Olympus and the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon.

One nominee is Giant Eagle which was instrumental in the success of the local startup, PHRQL (pronounced Freckle).

“We got in the door because we were introduced by our attorney who also knew people in Giant Eagle,” says Paul Sandberg of PHRQL. “The project we tried to sell was not the one they wanted. They told us about the problem they were trying to solve and said, it looks like you guys have a lot of the pieces. Are you interested in bidding on this?

“It was for a product they didn’t even have,” says Sandburg. “But it was an interesting market and Giant Eagle would be a good customer—and if we could solve Giant Eagle’s problem we could potentially capture a large market share.

“We bid on, it, won the contract and then worked closely to make sure that tech met their needs.”

The result? “It completely changed the company,” says Sandberg. PHRQL took the “supermarket-based nutrition-product” to 400 supermarkets in 25 states. And while that market didn’t turn out to be as attractive as they initially thought, they are now expanding to more community health services, connecting healthy systems and health departments.

Giant Eagle is one of the nominees for the Champions of Tech award along with American Eagle, Bosch, and several others.

“We feel that the corporate–startup connection is the next piece for Pittsburgh’s evolution into a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem,” says Steve Cherin, president of the Pittsburgh Entrepreneurs Forum. “With this award, we want to highlight the corporation that has helped with customer discovery, product design or development. In addition, we want to discuss what other cities are doing in this area and share some best practices to encourage our locally-based corporations to support our local startups even before they are ready to make an actual sales call.”

Before the presentation, Eric Weissmann of  Cintrifuse in Cincinnati will share how the corporate leadership in Cincinnati created a $58M fund to support entrepreneurs.

Also, Mark DeSantis, CEO Roadbotics and former CEO of kWantera, will share how three corporations in and out of the Pittsburgh region helped his company grow and thrive.

The event will be moderated by Dan Gilman, Pittsburgh City Council.

Register here for the event.

Tracy Certo

Tracy is the founder and Editor at Large of NEXTpittsburgh which she started in March 2014 and sold in December 2020. She is passionate about making Pittsburgh a better place for all and connecting people...