Last spring, we interviewed a group of women who are leaders in Pittsburgh’s technology community. We wanted to learn more about their work and their history, and to discuss everything from AI breakthroughs to Pittsburgh’s future as a global technology hub. As the new year begins, we’ve circled back to check in with five of these powerhouse talents from Pittsburgh’s tech scene.
Since the last time she spoke to NEXTpittsburgh early in 2018 for our Top Women in Tech series, Professor Manuela Veloso has moved from Fifth Avenue to Wall Street. But only temporarily.
In May, Veloso announced she was taking a two-year leave of absence to work at JPMorgan Chase as head of the company’s artificial intelligence research, a role created specifically for her.
Speaking to NEXTpittsburgh in December, Veloso said that she was eager to take the opportunity to see how the research and innovations she has pioneered at CMU can be applied in the real world. While she’s spending a lot more time in New York, Veloso says she’s back in Pittsburgh regularly to advise her 10 Ph.D. students and attend to several beloved machines.
Looking to 2019, Veloso says she hopes to see the tech community, both in Pittsburgh and around the nation, start thinking more about how artificial intelligence can be used to ethically and effectively address social issues like criminal justice and climate change.
“We have this powerful tool, AI, so we have to invest more in education,” says Veloso. “Not just technical values, but social values.”
Read our profile of Manuela Veloso here.
Pittsburgh Technology Council President and CEO Audrey Russo spent 2018 shepherding her organization through some of the biggest changes it has experienced in its over 20-year history.
In October, Russo and the Council’s board of directors oversaw a passing of the baton from long-standing board chairperson Jim Cashman to its new chair, entrepreneur Jason Wolfe. Just a few weeks later in November, the Council moved its offices from South Oakland into Nova Place on the North Side.
While Russo is pleased to see the local startup economy continue to blossom, in the coming year she hopes to see local leaders steer more investment to the kind of public works that will make the city attractive to new tech talent.
Russo says that more direct flights to and from the airport are just the beginning. “Attention to amenities including accessible ground transportation, bicycling, riverfront development for recreation, cultural venues, restaurants along with schools matter.”
Read our profile of Audrey Russo here.
For Lenore Blum, 2018 was the year she became, in her words, an accidental activist.
In response to what she has described as mistreatment under the new entrepreneurial structure at Carnegie Mellon University, Blum resigned from her post at the school in September and talked to NEXTpittsburgh in an interview detailing her experience.
While she was initially nervous about how the decision would affect her career, Blum now tells us her public stand has brought her into a whole new movement looking to change the culture of academia.
“I had no idea that my story would resonate with so many women, both on and off campus. My story seemed to highlight the pervasiveness of institutional sexism and the toll that countless microaggressions take on women’s personal and professional lives,” says Blum.
In November alone, she gave keynote speeches at conferences in Beijing and Heidelberg.
In 2019, she looks forward to seeing more reflection and evolution in the local innovation industry.
“For some time, it’s been fashionable for the corporate and tech communities to give lip service to the many virtues of a diverse workforce,” says Blum. “However, in the past few months, I have noticed that some in the Pittsburgh tech community have started to go beyond that, by acknowledging the inequities in their workforce and asking what effective actions can they take.”
Read our profile of Lenore Blum here.
After a 2017 where she spent “every spare minute” on her burgeoning startup Lanespotter, Regent Square native and serial entrepreneur Lynsie Campbell spent much of 2018 getting her work/life ratio into a more healthy balance.
“I shifted focus, spent more time doing the things that I love,” she says, “and it made all the difference in the world.”
Over the past year, Campbell says she’s been pleased to see greater awareness of the need for inclusive policies at all levels of the tech community. In particular, she singled out the work of Jessica Strong and Priya Amin of Flexable, a company that provides childcare with certified caregivers at offices and corporate events.
“I think there’s finally a complete understanding that not everyone who works in tech is a single, 20-something white male,” says Campbell. “I hope to see more women taking on leadership roles in the tech community. Whether that’s as a founder, sitting in the C-Suite at a tech company or in venture capital.”
Read our profile of Lynsie Campbell here.
In 2019, AbiliLife President and CEO Courtney Williamson and her team plan to roll out more of their signature healthcare innovations, including AI smart technologies that will allow a device to monitor a patient’s vital signs while they are wearing it.
A Nova Place tenant, AbiliLife makes wearable medical products that are used by more than 50 hospitals in 30 states.
In addition to her work at AbiliLife, Williamson has become an in-demand speaker and advisor for other local startups looking to navigate survival in the tech ecosystem.
Williamson recently told us that as a young entrepreneur of color, she hopes to see more venture capital firms all over the country steer more resources toward groups that remain underrepresented and underfunded in the wider tech community in 2019.
“There is more of a focus on funding black and brown women in tech — at a 0.2 percent fund rate, we are significantly underfunded,” says Williamson. “It’s fantastic to see the work that some funds such as Backstage Capital, lead by a black woman VC, are doing to close the funding gap.”
Read our profile of Courtney Williamson here.
Check out the rest of our 2018 list here, and stay with NEXTpittsburgh in 2019 for more stories of positive disruption.