According to Fred Brown, Pittsburgh has “become good at optimizing systems, but we have not become good at optimizing people.”
Referring to the products and services such as robotics and AI that have come out of the city, Brown, president of The Forbes Funds, is ready to take Pittsburgh on a new journey that brings together the tech community and the non-tech sectors to change the face of Pittsburgh.
He’s teamed up with other regional leaders including Adam Paulisick of Carnegie Mellon University and Kit Mueller of RustBuilt, each of whom has a track record of involving the community.
This team, along with dozens of others in western Pennsylvania, has created XchangePgh, an initiative that aims to involve tens of thousands of local leaders, entrepreneurs, creatives and citizens in spreading the impact of the internet economy and modern products, services and techniques to those who so far have not enjoyed the industry’s resultant prosperity.
Brown, whose career has put him in charge of several nonprofits, holds up his own experiences and the neighborhood of his youth, Homewood, as examples. Brown says Homewood was once a thriving community of 30,000 people, yet today has only 6,442 residents, not having gained many benefits from the technology and related economies that have grown in nearby neighborhoods.
In following their own formula for change, the leaders conducted the kick-off of XchangePgh in Homewood on Feb. 3 as the first in a yearlong series of events.
“I cleaned up well, but that does not mean I represent a different construct,” Brown told the crowd of almost 300 who gathered in a newly repurposed facility in Homewood called simply The Shop at 621 N. Dallas Ave. to see how they can get involved. “It represents my ability to change — and that’s what this place offers.”
The XchangePgh 2023 program includes four events that walk participants through various phases of taking advantage of the trends, techniques and networking to cross-pollinate ideas among various groups in the tech sector and outside of it.
“Some of the biggest companies in the region are tech companies posing as banks and medical companies,” said Mueller.
XchangePgh is meant to broaden that even further by having roboticists, singers and chefs learn from one another in ways that will impact each other.
“Everybody should be afforded the opportunity to be an entrepreneur — whether already in tech or in other roles such as child care or main street businesses,” Mueller said.
Beyond the initial gathering, XchangePgh has set up four events during 2023 to carry out its mission:
- XchangeIdeas is a design weekend at CMU’s Tepper School of Business from March 24-26 that will include a hackathon to help participants turn their ideas into concrete products or services. No prior design, research or technical experience is needed. Admission: $25-$100.
- XchangeInnovation, a weeklong event, is meant to grow the collaboration between the sectors of the economy. Details to come.
- XchangeValue in October will focus on how companies of any type can acquire customers and grow their businesses. Details to come.
- The finale, XchangeAwards in November, will celebrate Pittsburgh innovators, entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, and be a jumping point to continuing the XchangePgh cycle in 2024.
In Mueller’s eyes, the early February event was simply a “casting call for everybody to get involved. Pittsburgh is a world-class innovative community that goes well beyond Duolingo, CMU and Google, which are all that outsiders see when they think of the new Pittsburgh.”
“With XchangePgh, we’re doubling down on our strengths, and spreading the impact to the neighborhoods we’re not already in and to more people who should be benefitting.”