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A New Generation of Pittsburgh Tech Entrepreneurs is Upon Us

By Jonathan Kersting

Pittsburgh technology entrepreneursWhen I started this series off last year at this time, I recounted my experience getting to know Dr. Giorgio Coraluppi, the Founder of Compunetics, Compunetix and Chorus Call. I was so saddened that the day before I began to write this final installment of my PGHTech 25 series, Dr. C. passed away at the age of 88.

A year later, we have him on the cover of this magazine as a final salute for the amazing impact he had and will continue to have on our local tech industry. Just read the cover story for a little taste of this amazing man who was equal parts innovative, humble and kind!

The passing of Dr. C. had me change course a little to use my final installment of this series to look into the future. Over the last few years, I’ve gotten to know some wicked smart people building companies that I think represent the future of tech in Pittsburgh. These folks are emerging as true leaders developing technologies that are solving some of the world’s toughest problems. Even better yet, their companies are improving the quality of people’s lives and trying to create a more equitable world, too!

I met each of these people through my on-going Pittsburgh Founders Podcast Series that is dedicated to giving the spotlight to company founders. It takes a lot of chutzpah to start something, scale it and navigate the countless obstacles along the way.

Here are four people that I feel are setting the tone and pace of Pittsburgh’s technology entrepreneurship future:

Ellie Gordon BehaiviorEllie Gordon, Behaivior

I’m fresh off an interview with Ellie this fall, and it really stoked me to know that she has been obsessed with technology for as long as she can remember. Her passion and interest for tech was harnessed at a hackathon to address one of the country’s most pressing problems – opioid addiction.

From that hackathon, she founded Behaivior as an artificial intelligence startup company which uses machine learning and automated just-in-time intervention to solve the problem of addiction. With an ever-increasing number of wearable health monitors at our disposal, Behaivior is using them to alert a patient if a relapse is imminent! In fact, Ellie and her team’s work was recently named a Top 10 team in the third and final round of the $5 Million IBM Watson AI XPRIZE.

Talk about the potential to save lives! It blows my mind. Listen to more from Ellie.

MArtin Shepherd of Arch Access ControlsMartin Shepherd, Arch Access Controls and EARN

By day, Martin is CEO of Arch Access Control, a cybersecurity governance and compliance provider. It specializes in identifying cyber risk, creating a plan that prioritizes those risks, and provides solutions necessary to remediate risk.

By night (and day, too) Martin is one of the founders of the Executive Action & Response Network (EARN), an initiative aimed at stemming racism and improving quality of life for African Americans.

The initiative stems from three key inflection points: The murder of George Floyd that set off a wave of social justice actions across the country; the Covid-19 pandemic that significantly hurt many Black-owned businesses; and Pittsburgh’s 2019 Gender Equity Commission report, which revealed inequities across education and the workforce in the city. He’s building an amazing cybersecurity company while also trying to change the tech ecosystem to ensure everyone has access. Whew! Listen to more of Martin.

Alison Alvarez, BlastPointAlison Alvarez, BlastPoint

Alison is perhaps one of the strongest people I have met in many years. During our podcast interview, she wowed me when she said, “You can prove your doubters wrong by getting customers.” As Co-Founder of BlastPoint, she possesses equal doses of straight-up business savvy and down-to-earth doing good for people. Just the combination I adore in an entrepreneur.

BlastPoint is a value-driven organization that takes a wider view of AI analytics. She said it’s not adequate to simply achieve a one-time positive outcome for clients; it’s equally important to take a critical look at the results and make sure that there are no blind spots for the people who are affected by data-driven business decisions. Alison said BlastPoint’s mission as a company is not just to make money, but to serve the wider world.

I love imagining a world where we are harnessing the power of AI and analytics to not only help companies better serve customers and make more money, but to pinpoint people who may have a need and slip through the cracks. BlastPoint’s technology does that at every level. Listen to more of Alison.

Courtney Williamson, AbililifeCourtney Williamson, Abililife

There are so many cool things to say about Courtney, who founded Abililife to create a supportive vest to help people afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease to improve their posture and decrease the risk of falls.

She couldn’t find a solution for her mother, so she took charge and built a company to create it. She’s basically a one-woman wrecking machine and is now finding new industrial and warehouse markets for the vest, too.

On a personal note, I traveled with Courtney to London this fall as part of the Allegheny County Airport Authority’s promotion of the reinstated British Airways direct flight to London. Long story short, her fortitude and never-give-up attitude kept us from missing our flight back home! The best part is Courtney will be teaching entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University next year.

I can’t think of a better teacher and example of a person who knows how to get things done. Oh yeah, she’s also on the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s Board of Directors. Listen to more of Courtney.

Over the last 25 years, I’ve been so blessed to have met so many women and men that want to change the world with incredible technologies. It sounds cliché, but I really do believe that the best is yet to come. After all, Pittsburgh has become a fertile place to start something big. So much of that groundwork was created with the efforts of local tech leaders like Dr. C.

We are all going to miss him greatly. But we also know his sparks will be in every tech entrepreneur’s heart moving forward. Our future is bright!

Listen to Jonathan talk about each of these tech leaders!