Stage AE was standing-room-only Tuesday for an unlikely star attraction, the Innovation Works 2014 Demo Day.

Through the years, the IW annual event has moved to larger and larger venues, from office spaces and factory floors. To accommodate the exploding interest in the local startup scene and the 620+ people who wanted to attend this year, IW went for a full-blown concert-style venue with a wide stage and plenty of seating.

“In case you thought you were at the Foo Fighters, this is Demo Day,” Rich Lunak told the audience. “Pittsburgh, are you ready to rock?”

“This room is a testament to what’s going on in Pittsburgh,” added Peter Watt-Morse of Morgan Lewis in his opening remarks.

The largest-ever audience was captive to a morning-long demonstration by the 12 startup companies in the AlphaLab and AlphaLab Gear programs. Each startup, in turn, was introduced by a presenter, all seasoned entrepreneurs and venture capitalists from across the region.

The day was also an opportunity to circulate the recently published IW 2014 Annual Report, a numerical snapshot of the progress being made on the local startup scene.

2013 was a watershed year for the region’s startup community, said Lunak. “There’s just a real sense this entrepreneurial community is energized and has real momentum behind it. And we don’t see that momentum slowing down.”

Among the highlights:

+ Innovation Works invested $6 million in regional companies in 2013, a leap in from the previous three years. IW invested $4.8 million in startups in 2012, $4.9 million in 2011 and $4.6 million in 2010.

+ Over 14 years, IW’s support has helped to scale up and attract $1.6 billion in follow-on capital. In 2013, 28 companies raised $1 million on their own beyond IW.

+ IW was recognized as the 6th most active seed investor in the U.S. in 2013 by TechCrunch.

+ A record 37 companies received first-time investments through IW’s programs; 460 jobs were created in 2013.

+ AlphaLab Gear was created last year, an incubator for startups in the hardware and manufacturing space.

+ The IW pipeline has expanded to more than double what it was five years ago.

+ The first quarter of 2014 saw the best deal flow in the region in five years.

“Every day of the week an entrepreneur can go to an event or meetup (in Pittsburgh),” says Lunak. “It’s all part of the kind of culture and community we want to build here.”

The exploding number of new grassroots organizations and accelerators that are feeding new entrepreneurial energy into that pipeline is a fantastic contributor to the region’s success, he adds.

Deb Smit

Deb is an award-winning journalist who loves ancient places and cool technologies. A former daily newspaper reporter and Time-Life Books editor, she writes mostly about Pittsburgh. Her stories have appeared...