Pittsburgh Technical Council

Tech 50 2014: Celebrating the 50 Fastest-Moving and Most Innovative Technology Companies in Pittsburgh

Tech 50 2014: Celebrating the 50 Fastest-Moving and Most Innovative Technology Companies in Pittsburgh

Article Published: October 21, 2014

The Pittsburgh Technology Council’s Tech 50 awards program honors southwestern Pennsylvania’s fastest moving and most innovative technology companies. The awards represent transformative technology centers of excellence featuring tech companies at all stages of growth.

Category: CEO of the Year

Winner: Kraig McEwen, CEO, Aesynt

Mc Kwen -Web (1)Since being appointed to lead Aesynt (formerly McKesson Automation) in November 2011, Kraig McEwen has completely transformed the company. McEwen is a motivator who leads by example, encouraging everyone to make suggestions and provide feedback, regardless of their roles within the company. He has earned the trust of employees throughout the organization by spending dedicated time within each of the teams to learn what they do, asking questions about why they do it, and requesting input on how to continually improve as a company.  

By being open and honest and encouraging feedback, McEwen empowers Aesynt employees to think creatively and innovatively. In fact, he challenges employees to grow the business through continuous process improvement, market differentiation and with a deep understanding of customer needs. Under McEwen’s leadership, Aesynt launched four new products in one year, aligned the organization around the top fiscal year priorities and developed a strategy that will return the business to growth by leveraging its core products and strong customer relationships. 

While defining the company strategy, McEwen realized that Aesynt couldn’t grow the business as quickly as desired while still part of the McKesson Corporation. Therefore, he boldly requested to take Aesynt private, in order to best serve its customers and employees while maintaining the company’s leadership position in the healthcare market. Although navigating the business through this type of transition could have proven to be troubling to some employees, McEwen’s open communication style and conviction in doing what is in the best interest of our business reassured employees and proved to engage the vast majority to want to take the journey with him.

Category: Advanced Manufacturer of the Year

Winner: Universal Electric Corp.

There is a growing need for energy efficient, energy monitoring systems within the data center industry. Universal Electric Corporation’s STARLINE Critical Power Monitor (CPM) has met and surpassed this need. STARLINE’s CPM is part of the STARLINE Track Busway System, and is uniquely designed to provide the functionality required for busway applications for both end feed and branch circuit applications, and is calibrated to meet ANSI Revenue Grade Standards for power usage. 

The STARLINE CPM creates value for data center power distribution systems by providing the critical information needed to optimize management and efficiency. This device has an enhanced monitoring package that will enable the monitoring, integration and display of data center power information more easily and reliably. Today’s data center managers want to understand what their power consumption is within the racks of servers and other networking gear. The Critical Power Monitor provides this granular information, since it is a true power monitor. For example, crucial, dynamic data points such as amperage draw per phase and system voltage, and calculated values for apparent power, reactive power, and kilowatt-per hour usage (kWh) are visible through the STARLINE CPM.

With the success of its various product lines, including the new CPM, STARLINE added 68 jobs in the last two years. The company’s investment in Research & Development has increased by more than 60 percent in the last three years. And in the last five years, sales have more than doubled. In 2006, Universal Electric moved into a brand-new facility and is currently in the final planning stages of an approximately $10-million expansion project in order to meet the growing market demand for its novel energy monitoring systems. 

Aerotech, Inc.
eV Products, Inc.
Industrial Scientific Corporation


Category: Ed Tech Company of the Year

Winner: Panther Learning Systems Inc.

Panther Learning Systems Inc. improves writing and critical thinking skills in secondary and post-secondary students using SWoRD™ Peer Assessment, a cloud-based, double-blind platform for peer-to-peer qualitative assessment. SWoRD teaches by engaging students on the giving side of the feedback loop, demonstrating the timeless axiom, “You don’t know a subject until you try to teach it.” Using SWoRD, assessment itself becomes part of the learning process, while allowing instructors to assign the tasks that build these skills without placing more burdens on their time. 

SWoRD Peer Assessment has evolved over a decade of research at the University of Pittsburgh, and its effectiveness has been validated by almost 30,000 instructors and students at some of the leading institutions of learning around the world. Panther Learning is ideally poised to establish leadership in an evolving educational landscape driven by on-line learning, and capture a significant share of the $1.9 billion learning tools market segment.

Just recently, Panther Learning was awarded two campus-wide licenses. Georgia State, a public research university in downtown Atlanta with 32,000 students, and River Dell High School, a suburban secondary school outside New York City with 1,100 students, have both purchased licenses that allow use of SWoRD Peer Assessment across their curriculum for the 2014-15 school year. These awards illustrate the breadth of
interest in assessment solutions: in many schools there simply isn’t any effective way to assign formative feedback tasks. Qualitative assessment assignments critical for analytical reasoning are being abandoned across the country in most disciplines due to lack of resources, and replaced with multiple-choice and other machine-graded tests. SWoRD Peer Assessment provides an alternative, offering cost-effective, scalable, research-validated learning outcomes in writing and critical thinking skill development. Panther Learning has grown from nothing in 2011 to 6 employees at year-end 2013. Revenues during 2013 grew by 300 percent.


BirdBrain Technologies
Wombat Security Technologies, Inc.


Category: Interactive and Application Developer of the Year

Winner: Schell Games

Schell Games is a full-service game design and development company with a focus on creating transformational games and innovative, interactive experiences. Founded in 2002 by world-class game designer and renowned author Jesse Schell, the studio employs a highly talented array of artists, programmers, producers, and game designers. Schell Games specializes in creating memorable experiences through mobile, PC, console, hand-held, on-line and social games, interactive theme park attractions, Internet-enabled toys and virtual worlds. The company counts some of the world’s most respected brands as clients, such as Yale University, SeaWorld Parks, The Fred Rogers Company, The Walt Disney Company and Microsoft Corporation. 

Guided by a strategy focused on developing games that are not only fun, but that also positively transform players, Schell Games was able to leverage its talent for creating engaging experiences with its commitment to making people better through games. The company was fortunate to find a niche in the educational game market that has boosted growth in recent years. Clients like Yale University, The Fred Rogers Company, Amplify Education and BEST Foundation have solidified Schell Games’ position as a leader in transformational and educational games. 

Thanks to the growth within the educational game market, Schell Games has been able to expand its number of full-time employees from 65 in 2011 to 87 in 2013, for a 33.8 percent increase. Employee growth has continued in 2014, as Schell now employs more than 90. With regards to annual gross revenue, Schell’s overall percentage increase from 2011 to 2013 was 152.6 percent. As Schell Games continued to grow, the company required more office space. In May 2014, Schell moved into a new space in Station Square, replete with high ceilings, open communal spaces and soaring views of the Pittsburgh skyline. According to the company, this move reflects Schell Games’ journey from fledgling studio to well-established company, deeply entrenched in the Pittsburgh community. 

Branding Brand
DVSport, Inc.


Category: Start-up of the Year

Winner: NoWait

NoWait is the first and only mobile network for casual-dining restaurants. For consumers, the guest app provides real-time information on wait times in their area, enabling them to add their name remotely to a wait list from their phone, and simply show up when their table is ready. For restaurants, NoWait is an iPad wait-list and table-management system that helps them run their busy restaurant more efficiently. NoWait revolutionizes the overall dining experience and gives back the most important thing in peoples’ lives: their time.

NoWait is revolutionizing the casual-dining market. While many companies are focused on building operational solutions, NoWait is the first and only mobile network for casual-dining restaurants, benefiting both restaurants and consumers alike. 

NoWait has successfully created an unprecedented connection between restaurants and patrons, established over mobile phones and focusing on the under served, casual-dining, non-reservation restaurant market, in which there are five times more restaurants than OpenTable’s market.

2014 has been a huge year for NoWait. In February, the startup launched its guest app for consumers on a national scale, which is now available in thousands of restaurants, in all 50 states, and in every major metropolitan area across the country. Then in May, NoWait announced that it had raised $10 million led by Drive Capital, a $250 million Ohio-based fund focused on Midwestern companies, with participation from existing investors.

Diamond Kinetics
Encentiv Energy
Forever, Inc.
FutureDerm, Inc.
Treatspace, Inc.


Category: Solution Provider of the Year

Winner: First Insight, Inc.

First Insight is a cloud-based technology company, provider of the world’s leading platform empowering retailers and brands to introduce the right products at the right price before major investments are made. First Insight partners with retailers and manufacturers to eliminate the high cost of new product failures by enabling them to design, select and optimally price winning products. The First Insight solution, InsightSuite, gives merchants, designers, marketers and planners insight into consumer demand and optimal entry price points for new products. This insight is delivered by applying predictive analytic models to on-line data collected from thousands of consumers within 48-72 hours. According to First Insight, results have proven to be 50-100 percent more accurate than in-store testing and are delivered with speed and scale.

Working with some of the largest retailers in the world
(ex. Abercrombie & Fitch and The Limited), First Insight is enabling these companies with actionable information that results in 3-9 percent gains in sales and gross margin dollars. Its solution is generating stronger revenues and profits for companies that are on positive ground and for those that have been hard hit by the economy and are turning their business around. In addition, First Insight helps reduce material waste by greatly reducing the amount of product that is wasted due to poor buying decisions.

First Insight is in its fourth year of compounded triple-digit growth. To keep pace with this rapid growth, the Sewickley-based company continues to expand its team within the region. Since the fall of 2013, First Insight has increased its headcount by more than 100 percent, nearly all in Pittsburgh. First Insight also raised an additional $1.5M in capital, from Adams Capital Management.

Advantech US, Inc.
AEC Group, Inc.
Newton Consulting
SDLC Partners
Sherpa Software
Summa Technologies


Category: Innovator of the Year

Winner: Rhiza

Rhiza is an emerging leader in the field of marketing analytics, offering on-line tools that make Big Data actionable for marketers and salespeople. Rhiza’s tools increase revenue for both media companies and advertisers by delivering detailed recommendations based on integrated consumer insights. Media publishers use Rhiza to arm their salespeople with better tools for selling premium advertising. Marketers use Rhiza to optimize hyper-targeted media buys, track campaign effectiveness and quickly create new marketing plans. Rhiza is used by a rapidly growing list of major customers, including Comcast, Univision, Cox Media, Cox Reps and Experian.

This year, Rhiza successfully closed on $3 million in Series-A funding, lead by Pittsburgh-based Draper Triangle Ventures with participation from Arthur Ventures and Camp One Ventures. The increase in capital will accelerate Rhiza’s growth as the leading provider of marketing analytics. Recent new product development is expanding Rhiza’s suite of analytics to include tools that rapidly develop marketing plans, support cross-channel media buys and support the development of visually compelling, data-driven marketing and sales collateral. Rhiza’s latest release revolutionizes the way users interact with their data, making it simpler to find answers to their toughest questions about how to reach and influence consumers.

In the past year, Rhiza successfully signed long-term enterprise SaaS contracts with major customers, displacing established business intelligence companies in a highly competitive market, and implemented the technical and client services infrastructure required to scale as a SaaS business. In addition, Rhiza added features that serve media buyers and marketers as well as sellers, expanding Rhiza’s market beyond the media space. To keep up with this expansion, Rhiza has grown from six employees in 2008 to more than 20 in 2014.

Aquion Energy, Inc.
Astrobotic Technology, Inc.
Blue Belt Technologies
Malcovery Security
Resilient Cognitive Solutions
WindStax Wind Power Systems


Category: Life Sciences Company of the Year

Winner: Aesynt

Founded as Automated Healthcare in 1987, Aesynt has been a leader in pharmacy automation for more than 25 years. Automated Healthcare was the first company to offer a robotic, bar-code-based solution for medication dispensing. Today, Aesynt is the only company that offers integrated pharmacy automation solutions to address every stage of medication delivery, including the automated preparation of liquid IV medications used for chemotherapy. More than 1,500 hospitals globally, including local St. Clair and UPMC hospitals, rely on Aesynt solutions to safely dispense patient medications, while helping them to build better businesses, manage change and improve patient outcomes. Aesynt maintains its headquarters in Cranberry Township, its manufacturing facility in nearby Warrendale, and its IV automation center of excellence in Italy. More than 850 employees are dedicated to designing, manufacturing, selling and supporting Aesynt’s automation solutions that improve medication management. 

In alignment with the company’s growth strategy, in March 2014 (just four months into new ownership) Aesynt successfully completed its first acquisition of Health Robotics, the leading global supplier of automated technology for intravenous (IV) medication preparation, compounding and dispensing. More than 60 percent of harmful medication errors in hospitals are the result of the manual IV medication process. Aesynt’s world-leading technology eliminates these errors, while also reducing health care costs. In addition, Aesynt has launched more new products in the last 12 months than in the last four years, inclusive of its new enterprise inventory management system software, Insyte™. All of these new products are designed to help health systems and hospitals to dramatically reduce their medication costs, while increasing quality.

Carmell Therapeutics
Cognition Therapeutics, Inc.
Net Health
Neuro Kinetics, Inc.
Rinovum Women’s Health


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