By Jonathan Kersting
The Pittsburgh Technology Council was founded in 1983 to become a voice and focal point for a new technology industry emerging from the devastation of the region’s industrial base. Our economy’s transformation with technology companies now creating more than a quarter of the jobs seems like a 40-year, overnight success story. Much has changed over the last four decades, but the Tech Council’s mission has remained unchanged: to help our region’s tech companies succeed.
The pace of technology quickens every year, swiftly changing the needs of Tech Council members to achieve success. Evolving to meet market forces has been one of the secrets to the Tech Council’s longevity. As the Tech Council looks to another 40 years, 10 years, 5 years, or the end of next quarter, we know change will be constant.
I sat down with the Tech Council’s new Board Chair, Chris Simchick of SDLC Partners – a Citius Tech Company, to get his perspective on what has led to the Tech Council’s success to date and how it will remain vital for years to come. Here’s what he had to say:
JonathanKersting: Give us your thoughts on the importance of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, over the last four decades.
You know, it’s so many as I think back to even just my time with the Council over the last 18-plus years now. I was always an admirer of the Council as there are so many important regional initiatives over the last many years where the Tech Council has really been taking the lead providing the tech ecosystem here – from startups to large consumers – an environment to engage, collaborate and to interact and to give a voice to parts of our ecosystem that were emerging.
I’d like to think that not many years ago, the startup community was fledgling. And now every other day, we have new tech transfer happening. We have new investments coming into the region, we have new companies growing up and hitting the public market. The Tech Council has been in the middle of all of that, whether it’s been the promotion of growth companies, attention to talent, and visibility of the industry. Who would have thought out of Pittsburgh that we’d have international missions back and forth with other parts of the globe, about what’s happening in Pittsburgh technology?
It’s been great to participate in and hopefully helped shape it in some ways. The tech community is alive here. And it’s impressive, what we’ve been able to do, from a Tech Council perspective, with such a small team really leading that charge.
JK: I think you have such a unique perspective on the Tech Council because you’ve grown and sold a company. You’ve been through every phase that I think a tech company can go through and have been part of the Tech Council ever since. When you started SDLC Partners, 18-plus years ago, you were a three-person startup, and then all the way to selling it, you had hundreds of people working for you. Give me an idea as to how the Tech Council was helpful to your growing SDLC Partners.
CS: I think we’ve leveraged over the years every single attribute and asset of the Tech Council from the most recent Apprenti talent initiative to public policy to helping to shape our thinking around various avenues of revenue expansion and growth. Not to mention the visibility that we’ve gotten through TEQ magazine and the podcasts.
We were big consumers of all the products and services that the Tech Council offers. I mean, we always felt as a leadership team at SDLC Partners that the Tech Council was an asset for us. And we always felt passionate about giving back and participating. Those were things that helped us as an organization to achieve some of the successes and milestones that we did throughout that 18-year period.
JK: Tell me about joining the Tech Council’s Board of Directors, because that’s when you really stepped up and gave your time.
CS: I remember when Audrey [Russo] approached me. I wanted to make certain that it made sense for the Council, for me and for our business. And we had participated for so long, as I said, as a consumer by that point I felt like it was very familiar. And I felt like I maybe could bring a different voice or another voice, a contributory voice from my experiences. Having been with my partners and started the business bootstrapping it with our own money, I felt that the whole entrepreneurial journey would help shape things.
JK: What interested you in taking over as Board Chair this year?
CS: I think that there were really two or three things that came to mind. Number one, it is certainly an opportunity to continue to give back and contribute to an industry sector that’s treated me well.
Second, it was really an opportunity to continue the legacy and the long history of many leaders, many of whom you’ve interviewed through the years, whether it’s Dr. [Giorgio] Coraluppi or others who have really contributed to the foundation of the tech. And so, I take it personally that it now rests on us to continue to improve upon and continue to challenge ourselves to move to the next level.
I was always an admirer of the Council as there are so many important regional initiatives over the last many years where the Tech Council has really been taking the lead providing the tech ecosystem here – from startups to large consumers – an environment to engage, collaborate and to interact and to give a voice to parts of our ecosystem that were emerging.
And then the third point is working with the team. You know, the board members are really engaged. We have great board members. I mean, you have people that are running global organizations that are on our board. I’m extremely humbled to be in the room with them, let alone have the opportunity to contribute and collaborate with them. And then the council team, we have a great team and no matter what the world seems to throw at us, we continue to thrive. I mean, look at what we just came through with the pandemic. Probably the most tumultuous time in history. And the Tech Council lived and thrived!
JK: How do you see the Tech Council moving forward for its next 40 years?
CS: We need to make certain that we’re out in front, asking the right questions, challenging the right ideas, and looking at where business is transforming. We’re all going through a massive digital transformation. How do we support that? It’s the building of new opportunities, and new companies, making certain that they have access and a voice in our organization. How do we continue to shed light on the region’s successes?
I think that visibility is one of the hardest things to get as an organization that is in growth mode. And I appreciated when some of the successes you might have, as an organization, are recognized, and then that propels you. And so how do we serve our biggest members through talent initiatives and having a keen eye and ear toward the things that are challenges and opportunities for them? If you think about our constituency and our membership, it’s very broad and vast in terms of the strata and the size of companies and organizations. So, we must be mindful of that as we’re thinking about what we focus on and where we prioritize our initiatives and make sure we’re giving the right voice. And we must be selective about the things that we can have an impact over. You’re going to hear a lot from me from a chairman’s perspective because I think we need to make certain we’re always having a measurable impact.
JK: Where would you like to see our tech ecosystem in 40 years?
CS: It would be great if Pittsburgh was recognized as one of those thought leaders showing how to incubate technology organizations and how to be a blueprint for getting it right between policy and tax and investment in education and having that all come together. And importantly, have the Tech Council specifically have a seat at that table collaborating with businesses and entrepreneurs and government officials, and other associations that are meaningful to the region.