Curious about why Pittsburgh kept popping up in lists as a top destination for businesses, Jeff Barrett of Barrett Digital visited the city for four days in August and wrote this for Inc:
“Every city drinks its own Kool-Aid. Every city believes it has something to offer. It’s why Amazon received 238 proposals. But what makes Pittsburgh unique? Why did I leave thinking this is the absolute best city, at this very moment, to start a business?
My experience left me with three reasons.”
1. A highly skilled workforce.
“Pittsburgh is one of the few cities in America with the means and track record to become the next Silicon Valley. And I know that phrase gets thrown around by dozens of cities but almost all of them don’t have the technical assets that I found in Pittsburgh.”
The self-driving car was born at CMU, the nation’s leading robotics school, he notes. Google is here. “And the people in Pittsburgh lean into robotics, AI and future tech more than any other place I’ve been outside of Silicon Valley.
“I was able to walk from Google across the street to UPMC Enterprises, the venture arm of a $16 billion integrated non-profit healthy system, one of the largest in the country. Someone who works in Pittsburgh can interact with Uber, Google, AutoDesk, the world’s best robotics school and multiple top venture firms within walking distance. Most cities don’t have that. And it has created a city full of marker and doers.”
While much of the country is skeptical about robotics, he quotes Jackie Erickson, a robotics industry advocate: “There is a misunderstanding that robots take jobs away. Come here and see how robotics is creating new opportunities and life-changing solutions that will create an impact beyond our three rivers.”
2. Access to capital.
“Where many cities ultimately fall short is access to capital. Pittsburgh has a rich history of successful founders,” notes the author. He quotes Bill Flanagan of the Allegheny Conference who ticks off a list of historic figures, from Westinghouse to Carnegie.
“When Pittsburgh’s 100-year reign as the steel capital of the world ended, it experienced a downturn like other rust belt cities. But Pittsburgh, once the richest city in America, still had plenty of wealthy descendants. They never left. They invested in universities to make them world-class and keep Pittsburgh competitive.”
True, but note he says nothing about venture capital, which Pittsburgh could use more of.
3. A community that will help you succeed.
“The former steel city has the sixth-biggest startup accelerator in the country staffed by talented people that have achieved success in Silicon Valley.
“Rich Lunak’s AlphaLab and AlphaLab Gear accelerators now serve as a hub for the region’s thriving entrepreneurial community. Pittsburgh would not have reached this point without having something like AlphaLab to ‘combine Pittsburgh’s strengths in software engineering, hardware design and world-class talent pipeline,’ according to Lunak.”
The author notes Lynsie Campbell and her two companies, ShowClix and LaneSpotter, a website and mobile application that helps cyclists find safe routes.
“While these kinds of ideas can die in other cities, I noticed that if you have an idea and you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, Pittsburgh will make sure you succeed. They are allowing people to ask questions and challenge the status quo,” he writes.
He ends on a note of confidence.
“But this seems to be the beginning and not the end of a movement for Pittsburgh. I knew if you dropped me in this market I could network in one week, produce something in six weeks and create a major startup in three years.
“Does any other city give you that feeling?”