412 Food Rescue volunteers load a ZipCar with donations. Image courtesy of 412 Food Rescue.

In an economy where even bakers need to understand web analytics, every company is on some level a technology company. But there are, of course, the tech companies that blaze trails and create the breakthroughs that change our daily lives — and perhaps generate impressive profits along the way.

The experts consulted for this list say 2018 was not a time of new milestones for the local tech industry, as much as it was a year when Pittsburgh comfortably and confidently settled into its reputation as a global hub for cutting-edge research and development.

“Finally our region really has a belief in itself as a place for innovation to start and to grow and to take hold,” says Terri Glueck, director of community development and communications for Innovation Works. “That’s incredibly exciting.”

Here is our list of the top tech companies to watch in 2019:

1. nanoGriptech

2019 is the year this Craig Street-based startup goes worldwide. nanoGriptech was just awarded $1.7 million from a venture capital firm based in Taiwan to help the company expand the Asian client base for its revolutionary Semtex material. Mimicking the natural adhesive properties of gecko feet, Semtex is essentially a silent velcro with a wide variety of applications in fields from apparel to medical care to robotics. The company was originally spun off from Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering in 2009. Since then, it has won numerous research awards from institutions like the National Science Foundation and NASA.

The Haven model from Module, similar to what will eventually be built on Black Street. Rendering courtesy of Module.

2. Module

This East Liberty-based startup, which graduated from Innovation Works in 2016, will build their patented modular homes across Pittsburgh in the coming year. After much lobbying from the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation (BGC), Pittsburgh City Council passed a resolution that eased zoning restrictions to allow landowners to convert existing properties into small occupancy homes of approximately 1,000 square feet. The new zoning laws also give Module new freedom to bring their houses to the streets of Pittsburgh. Beyond just making compact, energy-efficient homes that can slot easily into existing urban spaces, Module has patented a Lego-like design that allows clients to easily add more units to their homes. Working with the BGC, Module plans to begin construction on two homes in Garfield in early summer, and will also be announcing further partnerships in the private sector.

3. Roadbotics

Roadbotics was spun off from CMU’s Robotics Institute in 2016 with patented software that can measure and calculate the condition and maintenance needs of roads via images collected with a standard smartphone camera. Instead of relying on human inspectors to recommend repairs, local governments can save time and money by simply driving around and soaking up data. While the company’s clients already include more than 80 local governments across the U.S. and Australia, Roadbotics just signed an agreement to provide their technology to Detroit, their first work with a major American city. Along with the $3.9 million in venture capital raised in November, this means Roadbotics will shift into high gear in 2019.

4. iraLogix

One of the fastest-growing financial tech firms in the city, iraLogix provides fully cloud-based services that help financial firms and advisors provide individual retirement accounts (IRAs) to customers at a fraction of the standard cost. As a result, they are creating a path to financial security for the approximately 50 percent of Americans who receive no retirement benefits. The company relocated to Pittsburgh from Miami in 2016, setting up their headquarters at Nova Place. And they raised $5 million in venture capital from a group of investors including local tech patrons Riverfront Ventures. CEO David Bernard says that iraLogix will use the money to expand their software to cover financial services beyond IRAs.

Nina Wilson labels fabric at Thread International in Homewood. Photo by Martha Rial.

5. Thread

2018 was a year of milestones for Thread International, which makes stylish bags and garments from recycled plastic waste collected from underserved communities in Haiti and Honduras. Those milestones set the stage for growth in 2019: Working with a $1.5 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the company moved from East Liberty into a larger workspace in Homewood. The new offices provide the company with space to train and employ staff from the local community to stitch and assemble the bags — creating jobs to help battle unemployment in Homewood, while growing their eco-friendly business. Most of all, the space allows the company to work on bringing their new line of designer bags into stores in the coming year.

6. 412 Food Rescue

Since it launched in 2015, 412 Food Rescue now works with more than 600 charity groups across seven counties in the region, including Allegheny. Their most well-known endeavor — a simple but brilliant Uber-like app that connects charities and businesses with leftover food to volunteers willing to make deliveries — will soon become available in other major cities. CEO and co-founder Leah Lizarondo recently announced that the nonprofit will work with partner organizations in Philadelphia, Cleveland and San Francisco to expand and adapt their app to the needs of each respective food economy. Since 2015, 412 Food Rescue has saved three million pounds of excess food and distributed it to partner organizations around the region.

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.