James Swartz mingles at the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship launch. Image courtesy of CMU.

The Pittsburgh startup community welcomed the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship on Tuesday during its official debut at Carnegie Mellon University.

More than 350 people—among them representatives from 30 members of the local startup community—gathered at the Jared L. Cohon University Center to mark the opening of the Swartz Center, a system of programs and activities “that offers a unique path of entrepreneurship—education, engagement, collaboration and opportunity—for a truly transformative learning experience.”

The occasion was part of LaunchCMU, an event showcasing innovative work from students, alumni, faculty and staff to investors and regional business leaders.

Though the center has operated for some time, the event served as its official launch. In the works is a physical space for the center, slated for completion in mid-2018.

“We all have one objective: to make Carnegie Mellon University the destination of choice for the best entrepreneurs in the world,” said CMU alum James Swartz, whose generous $31 million gift made the center possible. The Coraopolis native co-founded Accel Partners, a venture capital firm that invested in tech giants such as Facebook, Dropbox and Spotify.

James R. Swartz with this 2016 class of Swartz Entrepreneurial Fellows. Image courtesy of CMU.
James Swartz with the 2016 class of Swartz Entrepreneurial Fellows. Image courtesy of CMU.

Dave Mawhinney, named executive director of Swartz Center last May, says the center adds to CMU’s legacy as a contributor to Pittsburgh’s innovation economy, along with others such as the University of Pittsburgh, UPMC and Innovation Works.

“We’re very excited about this new era of entrepreneurship,” says Mawhinney, an associate professor who also serves as the executive director of CMU’s Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. “I’ve been a part of this community since the 1980s and to see the transformation of the region, as well as the continued strength of Carnegie Mellon, has been amazing.”

Since 2009, CMU faculty and students have created nearly 150 spinoff companies.

Mawhinney describes the center as a “not one-size-fits-all” environment where students and faculty from many fields can learn valuable entrepreneurial skills. It mainly focuses on providing opportunities for funding, networking and mentoring. For example, students can receive coaching from CMU’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence program, which has attracted Robb Myer of the restaurant reservation app Nowait and Craig Markovitz of the robotics surgery company Blue Belt Holdings.

The center will also host CONNECT, a series of workshops covering more than 50 topics of entrepreneurship, including how to build a product and find investors. There will also be a series of free workshops open to the public.

“We embrace the community, and we invite them to come to Carnegie Mellon and interact with our students, faculty, staff and alumni,” says Mawhinney.

To help young companies grow, the center will look at how entrepreneurs can access resources and talent in major tech hubs outside of Pittsburgh as well. In order for startups, and for the region as a whole to succeed, says Mawhinney, we need to build bridges to other innovative communities like Silicon Valley and New York, which are home to high concentrations of CMU alumni.

“If we just think locally, we’re going to die,” says Mawhinney. “We need to open up our horizons and get a free flow of ideas, capital and people coming and going from here.”

Amanda Waltz

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated to covering Pittsburgh film culture. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and oversized house cat.