This Thursday NEXTpittsburgh and sponsor ImaginePittsburgh presents a lively evening with five dynamic companies starting up or tearing it up in the tech world. From space travelers to local connectors, you’ll learn from every one of them. Then you’ll get to meet them in the reception following.

What’s Next for Tech? takes places Thursday, September 11 at 6 pm at Alpha Lab Gear as part of Thrival Innovation + Music Festival. The CEOs and founders of the tech companies will tell us in  5 minute talks what they’re up to and what’s next for their companies.

Following a Q+A, we’ll feature a feast of a reception with 5 local craft breweries including Hop Farm, Roundabout Brewery, Milkman Brewer,  Hitchhiker Brewery and Grist House Brewery. The guys from Port a Beer will be there, too. And we will have wine, along with Maggie’s Farm rum, Arsenal Cidar and other beverages including a special concoction just for us from Wigle Whiskey. Plus  food from Bluebird Kitchen and Whole Foods.

Of course, there will be plenty of opportunity to network and a chance to win a VIP weekend pass to Thrival. You must be present to win.

Register here for only $20. Not able to swing it right now? We have a dozen tickets not yet claimed. Email us.

Here’s the lineup for the evening:

John Thornton of Astrobotic
John Thornton of Astrobotic

John Thornton is CEO of Astrobotic Technology, a company that flies hardware systems into space for companies, governments, and universities. By accommodating multiple customers on a single flight, Astrobotic offers unprecedented flexibility at an industry-defining low price. Originally spun out of Carnegie Mellon University in 2008 by William “Red” Whittaker to compete for the Google Lunar XPRIZE, Astrobotic is pioneering affordable planetary access that promises to spark a new era of exploration, science, tourism, resource utilization, and mining. Astrobotic is based in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.

John Thornton has grown Astrobotic’s business of delivering affordable space robotics technology and planetary missions by attracting technology contracts, equity investment, and payload customers.  At Carnegie Mellon, Thornton led the build of Scarab, a NASA concept robot for lunar drilling, and the first robot to carry a prototype of NASA’s RESOLVE payload. He founded Carnegie Mellon’s Advanced Composites Lab, a research, training, design, and manufacturing lab specializing in high performance, lightweight composites for robotics.


Luke Skurman is the CEO and founder of Niche, a community-driven network for choosing schools and neighborhoods. Luke launched the business as College Prowler in 2002, and has grown it into one of the largest content start-ups in the United States. A native of San Francisco, Luke came to Pittsburgh in 1998 to attend Carnegie Mellon University, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and has since become the youngest trustee in their history. He is a co-founder and chairman of Thrill Mill, a non-profit with three parts: business plan competition, accelerator, and the Thrival Innovation + Music Festival. In addition, he is the founding curator of the Global Shapers Pittsburgh Hub, an initiative of the World Economic Forum. Luke has won national awards related to entrepreneurship from BusinessWeek, Fast Company, and Inc. Magazine and has been featured in numerous outlets including The New York Times, CNN, and Fortune.


Covey consist of five mom entrepreneurs including CEO Vanessa Jameson who was a software engineer with Google for seven years; Jessica Ghilani, Ph.D. assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh in Greensburg; Sarah Aerni who leads business planning and research; Paige Beaucherin, an OB RN who heads up the user experience and Julie Pezzino (not pictured here) who is the executive director of Grow Pittsburgh. The women met through circumstance when their babies were first born and provided invaluable lifeline support for one another during that period. Now they are determined to make sure other moms get the chance to build relationships like theirs.

Their mobile app enables busy moms to branch out and easily meet other moms in person. Covey tells moms about other moms nearby, matches them with moms of interest, and allows them take the relationship in whatever direction they choose: to build moms groups, plan play dates, and make lasting friendships. Any first-time mom would totally get this one.

Patrick Colletti of Net Health
Patrick Colletti of Net Health

Patrick Colletti is president of  Net Health,  the leader in software solutions for specialized outpatient care. Known for being experts in The Art of the Right Fit™, their fully interoperable EHR solutions serve eight medical specialty markets in 3000 facilities. The company is one of the fastest growing in the region and a best place to work in Pennsylvania.

Patrick’s previous experience includes strategy and sales roles with Dorland Data Networks and American Lawyer Media, where he was part of the team that launched the online marketplace and content portal, now He has also been an Associate Professor of Marketing at Point Park University. He, along with CTO Chris Hayes, won the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2010. Patrick is a graduate of Muskingum University, with double majors in Business and Philosophy.


Anne Lopez is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and holds an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art. As a creative professional, Anne has contributed to the Pittsburgh community by teaching the region’s undergrads, creating public art for the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, and providing creative direction to some of Pittsburgh’s finest corporations and non-profits.

As the CEO of Romeo Delivers,  her mission is to provide a simple and creative way to maintain and strengthen the connections we share with all of the important people in our lives. “Whether you just want to remember a cousin’s birthday, or you want to do something truly special on your wedding anniversary, we can help. The important thing is that we make it as easy as possible for you to make a big impact on the people you love and care about, and our entire catalog is filled with fun ways to do just that.” The way she sees it, she is helping to built a community of problem-solvers seeking to support the Pittsburgh region by creating jobs and contributing to the culture of innovation that is part of the city’s heritage.

Dennis Yablonsky of the Allegheny Conference
Dennis Yablonsky of the Allegheny Conference

Dennis Yablonsky, our commentator for the event, began his career as a programmer with a software startup in Cincinnati, going on to becoming the firm’s COO by age 32. He returned to his native Pittsburgh in 1987 to transform artificial intelligence software developer Carnegie Group from unprofitability into a $32 million publicly traded company.

He was tapped to run the Pittsburgh Digital Greenhouse, a consortium that funded 35 research projects around electronics design. Dennis simultaneously served as founding CEO of the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, which helps bring innovations in biotechnology and healthcare IT from concept to commercialization. He served as secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development for six years, gaining a reputation as an out-of-the-box thinker who never stopped learning.

Dennis returned to Pittsburgh in 2009 to lead the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, of which is an initiative. is a virtual concierge for people looking to advance their careers in the 10-county region. Its job search engine is a one-stop shop, updated nightly from 900+ sources including corporate websites and such job boards as Monster, Career Builder and LinkedIn. There are more than 20,000 jobs available in the region today.

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Tracy Certo

Tracy is the founder and Editor at Large of NEXTpittsburgh which she started in March 2014 and sold in December 2020. She is passionate about making Pittsburgh a better place for all and connecting people to do the same.