Innovation works

Innovation Works received a major funding boost this week thanks to a $800,000 federal grant that will go to substantially expand the AlphaLab program.

The funding will be used to broaden operations and improve service offerings to AlphaLab, build out the investor network and manage and train the mentor network, says Rich Lunak, CEO.

“We will continue to build our national reputation,” he says. “This will help us to scale (our offerings) and go viral.”

Federal dollars cannot be used to directly fund companies, Lunak adds. Insiders in the local investment community, however, report this week that news is expected soon on a possible new investment fund for the region. Lunak declined to comment specifically on those plans.

IW, part of a state-sponsored network through the Ben Franklin Technology Partners, has invested more than $60 million in over 168 technology startups since it began in 1999. Earlier this year, TechCrunch named AlphaLab the sixth best startup accelerator program in the country.

“There was a day when Innovation Works could interact on a one-to-one basis with entrepreneurs,” says Lunak, reflecting on the growth and activity in Pittsburgh’s entrepreneurial community. “This will help us to address and work with more companies.”

The award was given by the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration. The funding is expected to create 300 jobs and lead to $225 million in private investment, according to a press statement from the commerce department.

“This has been a terrific year for Pittsburgh investment,” says Lunak, referring to the announcement last week of $41 million for 4moms as well as funding in the millions by startups including NoWait ($10 million), Complexa ($13 million) and The Resumator ($15 million).

“Innovation is crucial to economic success in today’s global economy,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Jay Williams in an issued statement. “The EDA investment announced today will provide support to entrepreneurs and startups in southwestern Pennsylvania, enabling job creation and economic growth for the region.”

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 in Fast Company, Ozy and Pittsburgh Magazine.