Pittsburgh’s economy depends as never before on the success of our tech industry.
Yet the tech sector is growing and changing in ways that are hard to predict. Ten years ago, self-driving cars seemed like some future sci-fi. Now, Pittsburgh is one of the world’s major engineering hubs for this technology and it continues to grow.
We’ve reached a point where most of the biggest tech firms have Pittsburgh engineering offices: Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Uber. Their formidable presence, while impressive, can overshadow the amazing things happening in Pittsburgh’s homegrown tech clusters.
As we usher in the next decade, we asked local experts about the Pittsburgh tech companies we should watch in 2020. Which ones are killing it now? Which ones are poised to be the next breakout stars? Who’s doing what to make their mark in a variety of ways in various sectors? With so much going on in Pittsburgh’s tech sector, it wasn’t easy to hone this list, our longest ever.
Here are 20 contenders large and small for 2020.
Duolingo is officially a unicorn, making the jump from startup to a company worth more than a billion dollars. And it only took them eight years. The ubiquitous language-learning app–where you can learn everything from French to Japanese to Klingon (yes, really), in a way that’s as engaging as playing a video game–has 300 million users and is now valued at $1.5 billion. They’re the first venture capital-backed company from Pittsburgh to be deemed a unicorn. Plans are to soon hire 100 people across their four offices and Pittsburgh headquarters in East Liberty.
It sounds like a way to buy Spongebob a drink at a tiki bar, but Pineapple Payments is actually one of the stars of Pittsburgh’s growing fin-tech (financial tech) scene. They make payment processing technology for merchants of all sizes. Based Downtown, Pineapple Payments is poised to grow fast organically and through partnerships with companies locally and in Boston and Texas.
You want to trust that your power plants aren’t falling apart, right? Gecko Robotics’ wall-climbing robots like EVA and TOKA 2 creep slowly along giant industrial pipes and power plants, scanning for fissures and breaks. It’s a major improvement in manual/visual inspections, which can be slow, inaccurate and dangerous. This past year has been a story of growth for the North Point Breeze-based company, which moved into the oil & gas and paper industries and opened a new office in Houston. Gecko Robotics just raised a cool $40 million in Series B funding (that follows seed funding and Series A).
The Finch robot and Hummingbird Robotics Kit teach kids the fundamentals of computer programming, robotics, and engineering design, letting kids become creators of their technologies, rather than just passive consumers. This Uptown Pittsburgh-based company claims that students in 40 countries now use their products, from kindergartners through college. Recently, they won the Champion of Global Entrepreneurship Award, given to one company on the Inner City 100 list (of the 100 fastest-growing companies in America’s inner cities). For 2020, the next generation of Finch (Finch 2.0) is ready to launch, along with a set of electronic math tools they are developing with Carnegie Mellon and the National Science Foundation.
Though Uber and Argo AI get the most attention, this self-driving car company is also making big moves. Their vehicle traveled 3,400 miles, from San Francisco to New York City, in 99% fully-autonomous mode. Though based in Dublin, their main R&D operations are in Pittsburgh, born out of the acquisition of CMU spin-off Ottomatika. They will be moving to Mill 19 in the vast, much-anticipated Hazelwood Green development, as the first commercial tenant. This will give the company, which currently includes 200 employees based in RIDC Park, room to double its operations. With a $4 billion joint venture with Hyundai Motor Group, its operation is well-funded.
This startup (see photo at top of story) is building a robotic vertical farm in industrial Braddock, growing food indoors at a fraction of the cost and space of traditional farming. The company, originally known as RoBotany, will power its 60,000-square-foot facility partially with solar, using 95% less water than a traditional farm of the same size. They expect to grow 500,000 pounds of lettuce, spinach, kale, arugula and herbs in the first year, giving Pittsburghers a source of year-round fresh produce without the environmental cost of shipping it in from, say, California.