Pittsburgh’s strengths as a startup hub are gaining international attention as the unicorns (billion-dollar startups) have begun to fly out of the Strip District and East Liberty. Now, six new companies are hoping to build on that success.

Although robotics and AI get most of the attention, the city’s life sciences sector has long been its bread-and-butter. AlphaLab Health — a nonprofit accelerator program run by Innovation Works in partnership with healthcare giant Allegheny Health Network — is helping to nurture the six companies in its 2021-22 cohort that are working on innovations that may lead to breakthroughs across the medical spectrum.

“I think all six are incredible for different reasons: the market is huge, the problem(s) being solved is huge, the potential impact is huge, and/or the team is amazing,” says Terri Glueck, director of community development & communications for Innovation Works.

Parcel Health, which makes 100% recyclable, compostable and biodegradable packages for prescriptions, is one of those companies. Less than 1% of the eight billion plastic prescription bottles created every year for consumers in the U.S. are recycled.

Parcel Health packaging. Photo courtesy of Innovation Works.

“Parcel Health is really excited to work with AlphaLab Health,” says Melinda Su-En Lee, co-founder and CEO of Parcel Health. “We’ve already received amazing mentorship and feedback and spoken with important health system stakeholders. … We’re excited to grow and scale our sustainable packaging company with the strategic support and resources at AlphaLab Health.”

Most of the companies in the latest cohort have some sort of artificial intelligence component, combining several areas of Pittsburgh’s expertise.

For Telling.ai, the future is using AI to look into your lungs.

“The next area for self-learning devices is respiratory analysis,” says Glueck. “The company’s vision is to turn every smartphone in the world into a powerful remote respiratory monitoring device through a simple app that will improve wellness and prevent unneeded hospitalizations and ER visits.”

AlphaLab Health is based at the Allegheny General Hospital Suburban Campus in Bellevue, giving the companies space to grow.

The chosen companies range from first-time inventors to experienced serial entrepreneurs. They’ll be introduced to investors and potential collaborators, and have the resources of AGH Suburban’s labs and clinicians for partnerships.

“AlphaLab Health wraps entrepreneurs with a network of clinical and business experts who know how to help them succeed in the complex health care system,” says Megan Shaw, managing director of life sciences at Innovation Works. “The program brings together all the strengths of Innovation Works and AHN and then adds in mentors, access to customers, clinicians with deep experience and domain knowledge, and other resources that can help these talented founders leapfrog past the challenges they would otherwise face.”

The incubator is modeled after Innovation Works’ successful AlphaLab software accelerator and AlphaLab Gear, which helps early-stage companies build physical products. Since its launch in 1999, Innovation Works has invested more than $113 million in 729 companies. Those companies have gone on to raise more than $2.9 billion in follow-on investment from several hundred investors.

Here is the list of the other 2021-22 AlphaLab Health startups:

MindTrace is developing technology that allows neurosurgeons to remove brain tumors and seizure-generating tissue, while ensuring each patient leaves the hospital the same person they were when they arrived, preserving personality and skills.

Hale Therapeutics co-founders Josh Hale and Devin Serago. Photo courtesy of Innovation Works.

Hale Therapeutics is on a mission to end one of the leading causes of preventable death: smoking. The startup combines smoking cessation science with a smart medical vaporizer that automatically and gradually reduces nicotine intake over time, helping people achieve their goal to quit smoking.

Naima Health is developing the MyHealthyPregnancy app, which uses machine learning and fetal health expertise to help pregnant women minimize their risk of adverse outcomes.

Spoken helps people with aphasia or other language disorders speak again by predicting likely words and phrases. The company has taken the same machine learning algorithms that power a phone’s autocomplete function and applied them to providing suggestions that fit a particular context and improve with time.