Aurora Driver integrated into Chrysler Pacificas. Photo courtesy of Aurora Innovation.

Aurora Innovation

This self-driving car company will provide the sensors, brains and data services for automaking giants Hyundai and Fiat Chrysler’s vehicles, in partnerships announced earlier in 2019. With feet in both Silicon Valley and Pittsburgh, Aurora has been described as a “supergroup” with deep roots in autonomous vehicles at Google, Tesla, MIT and Carnegie Mellon’s groundbreaking win at the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge. Aurora has raised more than $620 million, according to Forbes. The company has more than 100 employees in Pittsburgh and has been expanding rapidly in Lawrenceville.

Optimus Technologies

This high-tech manufacturer develops biodiesel fuel conversion systems for trucks, giving trucking fleets a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet renewable fuel targets. With the increasing threat of climate change, this is a breakthrough. Optimus recently won the top prize of $1 million in the 76West Clean Energy Competition and plan to expand to New York and add several dozen jobs there and at their Point Breeze headquarters.

Honeycomb Credit

Honeycomb Credit is a crowd-funding site with a pronounced focus on local business. My Goodness, a market in Regent Square, used Honeycomb Credit to raise $35,000 for refrigeration equipment. Scroll through their site and it’s full of new Pittsburgh businesses: Casa Brasil, Rolling Pepperoni, The Speckled Egg, etc.–as well as many from other cities seeking funding for crucial projects. Honeycomb Credit was begun to address the disappearance of small community banks, which hurts local businesses that depend on their loans. They are currently hiring in Detroit and Philadelphia, as well as their headquarters in Pittsburgh.

Carnegie Learning

For those of us who grew up learning math from dog-eared textbooks with Led Zeppelin logos scrawled in the margins, the way math is taught today can come as a bit of a shock. Downtown-based Carnegie Learning, for one, has tutoring software called MATHia that was recently awarded a near-perfect score for its middle school and high school math solutions from EdReports.org, an independent nonprofit that evaluates instructional materials. MATHia, an AI-driven tutoring software that provides a math coach for every student and allows the teacher to see exactly how they are progressing. Where was this when we were struggling in school?

Lightwave International

As a kid who watched a lot of “Star Wars,” I assumed our future had a lot more lasers in it. It doesn’t unless you’re Kanye West, Madonna, Rihanna, Roger Waters or Wiz Khalifa, which means you’re using lasers from Washington County’s Lightwave International for your touring stage show. They’ve also provided lasers for the Point State Park fountain’s return, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Stanley Cup runs, and movies like “Captain America: Winter Soldier.”

Leah Lizarondo photo by TH Carlisle

412 Food Rescue

One in seven Americans goes hungry yet 40 percent of the food produced in America ends up in landfills. 412 Food Rescue has found a novel way to attack both problems, via an app that connects those with excess food (grocers, restaurants, etc.), with volunteers who deliver the food to nonprofits that distribute it to those in need. It’s as easy as hailing an Uber and has diverted more than 7.6 million pounds of food from landfills since 2015, providing more than six million meals. In May, 412 Food Rescue was hailed by Fast Company in their World-Changing Ideas issue.

Their founder, Leah Lizarondo, is all over the country speaking and accepting major awards. And now, after a major collaboration with Food Donation Connection and expanding their model to Cleveland, Philadelphia and San Francisco, they plan on opening in 100 new cities by 2030. They made the top tech companies list last year with their work in turning surplus food into shelf-stable, fresh, healthy and affordable meals. And they just keep innovating with new programs and collaborations.  Let’s hear it for world-changing ideas like this one.

That rounds it out for 2020. Check out our tech companies to watch in 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014. That’s one for every year that NEXTpittsburgh has been around.

Got a tech company you’re watching this year? Let us know in the comments below.