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Pittsburgh's Booming Culture: How Tech Companies Can Take Advantage of the Opportunity for Global Expansion

Thought Leader
By CASTUS What once was a prosperous steel town is now home to a vibrant community of tech industry disruptors. In July of 2017, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette identified Pittsburgh as a top “momentum market” as a result of increased job creation and growth of venture capital funding. The growth didn’t stop there. Present-day Pittsburgh is a hub for innovators, with companies like Duolingo, KAARTA, and Advanced Robotics calling it home. Beyond that, Uber, Facebook Oculus and Google have all set up camp in the city, further adding to the tech scene’s increasing credibility. It helps that Carnegie Mellon is in the heart of it all, as the university hosts one of the largest computer science programs in the country. That being said, Pittsburgh’s development into a unique tech center for robotics (i.e. Robotics Row), artificial intelligence, and rising advancements has set the tone for astronomical growth in global markets, all whilst being head up in home base, AKA - what we know and love as “The ‘Burgh.”

The Evolution of Pittsburgh Tech Culture

So, when exactly did Pittsburgh transition (in the words of Pittsburgh native himself, Mark Cuban) from “Rust Belt to AI and Med Belt?” The local tech culture all points back to one ahead-of-its-time university as the catalyst. Crunchbase describes Pittsburgh as a “...hotbed of innovation for robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, thanks in large part to the influence of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).” CMU initiated the beginning of the technical revolution in Pittsburgh by cultivating research and niche-labs over the course of many years. Although the local tech boom has grown immensely in recent years, CMU has been developing the culture tediously with substantial attention to detail and rising trends. In 2012 alone, CMU invested $800,000 in 16 startups founded by active students and alumni less than 5 years out. This mode of venture capitalism has only grown since, with one of the most notable investments being the $20 million venture fund started by CMU and GE Ventures. An article from January 2018 in Robotics Tomorrow describes that this partnership began “to create The Robotics Hub, an independent, early-stage startup accelerator program designed to draw the nation’s best advanced robotics firms to Pittsburgh and to keep those started here firmly in place.”
CASTUS just launched tickets for a June 6th "Scaling Globally" panel discussion featuring Google, Uber, Duolingo, and KAARTA. Register here.
The hard work put in by CMU has paid off, and will continue to do so, as more industry leaders graduate from the university and move on to make fundamental strides in the technical field. With one quick Google search, you can find a plethora of news and insight for CMU’s continuous efforts towards technical advancements. Here are just a few highlights from 2019 alone:
  • Researchers, Entrepreneurs Named 2019 Carnegie Science Award Winners
  • Robotics leaders win “Oscars of Automation”
  • Carnegie Mellon and Lockheed Martin Sign Research Agreement
  • To prepare for the future battlefield, the Army has opened its AI Task Force at CMU
A further result of this culture, with CMU central to the success, is a rise in research and development careers. The year 2014 was the first year in Pittsburgh’s history that R&D jobs (excluding academic positions) exceeded those in iron and steel mills. A Reuters article from this past October reports that “As of March, 2018, there were 41 percent more jobs in R&D than in the mills, according to the Pennsylvania Center for Workforce Information and Analysis.”

How Pittsburgh Lends its Hand to Tech Success

The rise in technical education, careers, and companies in Pittsburgh has nurtured a culture of helpful resources through increased venture funding, and valuable assets offered by tech organizations. Venture Capital Opportunities As previously mentioned, CMU has put aside significant funds for venture capital investments in technology startups. However, CMU isn’t the only option for tech funding. According to Crunchbase, Pittsburgh boasts a growing ecosystem, with $146.7 million in venture funding reported at the end of November 2018. Although, this number decreased dramatically from the funds raised in 2017, which boasted $1.4 billion in capital funding, with the majority benefitting Petuum, DuoLingo, and Ford. Pittsburgh’s lower cost of living and increased business development is a clear indicator that more venture funding will be available in 2019. With the rise in technical talent we predict that, with the right business model, new financial opportunities for tech companies will continue to rise. Resources Aside from financial opportunities, Pittsburgh has a wide variety of resources available for those in the tech field, both in the form of career development and company development. Two noteworthy resources that we would like to highlight are: Black Tech Nation and the Pittsburgh Technical Council. Black Tech Nation Black Tech Nation, according to their website, is “the first and only social good organization dedicated to growing a black tech ecosystem within Pittsburgh’s rapidly growing tech economy.” They pride themselves in gathering black professionals in the tech industry and partnering with tech companies and diversity groups to create socially conscious work cultures. Black Tech Nation also takes a proactive approach to their mission by working to positively influence youth and local policy. They are currently on a mission to teach over 1,000 black students in Pittsburgh how to code. This organization is a direct resource for diverse technical candidates to network and advocate to Pittsburgh’s tech companies. Pittsburgh Tech Council We have been a member of the Pittsburgh Tech Council since our company’s conception. Their detailed approach to uplifting technical companies and relevant connections in the Pittsburgh area shows what they offer to members. Here are just a couple benefits:
  • PTC PGH Career Connector: This connector is updated frequently with open jobs in the Pittsburgh region. This allows members to apply and start or continue a career in the growing tech economy.
  • PTC Events: Some of the most well-known and well-attended events in the city are held by the Pittsburgh Tech Council. Some of those being the CIO of the Year Awards and the Tech50 awards. However, the PTC holds a variety of events from large banquets, award ceremonies, retreats, networking events, career events and educational seminars.
Outside of the member benefits, the PTC works diligently to cultivate a rewarding tech environment. One of their most renowned accomplishments is their impact on the Tech Tax threat of 2017-2018. When Governor Wolf proposed a $330 million Tech Tax to stabilize the state’s budget, the Council responded diligently and ultimately, made an impact on the final decision.

From the Outside Looking In, Worldwide Investors Want to See Pittsburgh Tech Globally

Brookings hit the nail on the head when they said “’s clear that if the city is to outrace its global competitors, it needs to do more. These strengths have yet to translate into widespread economic prosperity.” Upon our deep dive into Pittsburgh’s tech culture, one key opportunity presented itself: global expansion. Right now Pittsburgh is in the limelight. Local and national headlines shine proud, ringing “The Future Looks Like Pittsburgh” and “Keep an Eye Open for the Next Innovation City.” However, to attract outside-of-Pittsburgh investors, you have to think outside the confines of Allegheny county. The majority of Pittsburgh’s tech leadership offers cutting-edge solutions to worldwide problems. The products/programs that impact the lives of diverse regions are what truly stand out to investors. An example is nanoGriptech, who was recently awarded $1.7 million from a Taiwan- based venture capital firm. The firm wanted to broaden the Asian market for their award-winning Semtex product. This example shows that some local-based companies host solutions for many overseas markets. It is pivotal to take the time to determine those solutions that your company can offer, both in your core market and potential external markets. Not only does the strategic process demand time and attention, but tech companies notoriously have a lack of business development resources. Crunchbase explained it best when they said: “No one has greater technical talent than Pittsburgh...But as a company transitions from technology only to a customer-facing company, we sometimes struggle with that. It’s a challenge to scale a company because we don’t have the senior sales and marketing talent in Pittsburgh and it’s not always easy to recruit it to the area.” Pittsburgh is in a place that tech geniuses no longer leave to pursue their careers, instead they stay put to enjoy Pittsburgh’s affordable rent, valuable resources and the occasional Primanti’s sandwich. This technological economy is in the perfect spot to grow into new markets, specifically the global market. We know that you need assistance. To give you the TLDR version, we [Castus] are an accomplished team of determined workers who strive to meet the short term and long term goals of our partners. We understand the global market, and how to engage your company to its full potential through business development resources, global consulting and comprehensive strategic planning. What are you waiting for? Reach out through our contact form or email [] to take advantage of the global opportunities for your company. CASTUS just launched tickets for a June 6th panel discussion featuring Google, Uber, Duolingo, and KAARTA. Register here.