What tech companies are based in Pittsburgh

Phoenix from the ashes: steel city Pittsburgh new Silicon Valley?

We're talking about Pittsburgh in the state of Pennsylvania. Just under an hour's flight from New York City, the city has always had an excellent university landscape. After the great steel crises in the 20th century, Pittsburgh was known in the past few decades for its top sporting performances, for example the well-known NFL team “Pittsburgh Steelers”. Now, after the “fall”, the “rise” may follow. There is currently much to be said for it.

During our last visit to the US, we were able to talk to the trade delegate in New York City of Advantage Austria Michael Friedl about the transformation and rise of a city that was hardly like any other in the United States for the old economy (steel and lignite) Internet of Things (IoT) and robotics pioneers entertain.

Pittsburgh is known beyond the USA as a steel metropolis, why the change to a startup and innovation spot?

Pittsburgh, a city of just over 300,000 people, has had a glorious but rusty past. Pittsburgh is known for the steel industry and lignite mining, but also as the birthplace of Heinz Ketchup. Families like the Carnegies and Fricks shaped the development of this city in the initial phase. That changed a lot due to the crisis, the fall in the price of steel and the migration of industry in the 80s and 90s. But Pittsburgh has managed the turn-around (which the Autostadt Detroit is also trying) and certainly also because of the enormous talent that can be found in this city. City Mayor Bill Peduto, whom I met recently, uses to say, "In Pittsburgh, you get the full talent for half the price." Pittsburgh is home to a number of top universities, such as Carnegie Mellon (CMU), which I believe is one of the top 5 technical universities in the United States and doesn't need to hide behind MIT and Cal-Tech.

What has changed in the last few years?

The CMU is a trendsetter in the fields of IT, robotics and the Internet of Things. But the University of Pittsburgh also brings well-trained experts in healthcare and finance to the market. In the past, these young people often went to other cities, such as Philadelphia and New York, to look for jobs, but now they are increasingly staying in the city because interesting employers have settled in the vicinity of these universities. These include Facebook with their virtual reality project of the Oculus glasses, but also UBER, which is starting the self-driving car project there, or Google. All of this naturally also attracts start-ups, especially since the universities have also set up their own incubators and provide mentor programs and finances. But the financial sector also has its IT specialists based in Pittsburgh (such as the major bank BNY Mellon) and the city is a center for law firms. This boom has seen the city rejuvenate with just over 300,000 residents (the median age is around 33, below the US average), new construction projects worth $ 3 billion, and even Pittsburgh was named the best city for new restaurants by the influential restaurant guide ZAGAT.

"In Pittsburgh you get the full talent for half the price"

From which industries are startups settling and would a presence for Austrian startups and companies be conceivable? If yes, for which and from which areas?

In Pittsburgh you will mainly find start-ups that offer solutions for the above-mentioned industries, i.e. FinTech, IoT, robotics, professional services, healthcare, Industry 4.0 but also energy. Pittsburgh is trying to attract attention as a former steel and lignite city with new concepts for energy efficiency and new energy sources. The city is also home to one of the greenest skyscrapers in the world, the PNC Plaza. The city is therefore certainly also of interest to Austrian startups from the aforementioned industries, but one should not forget that although there are many incubators and accelerators in Pittsburgh, there is less risk capital available (apart from the universities). There is still room for improvement compared to Silicon Valley or New York. However, experts are already seeing the first signs that donors are increasingly looking for interesting companies in the so-called “second-tier cities”, where competition is even less. Logistically, the city is only an hour's flight from NYC - but not exactly blessed with many international flight connections, although the airport is large and modern, as it was the hub of United Airways until 2004.

"Logistically, the city is only an hour's flight from NYC - but not exactly blessed with many international flight connections."

Who drove the change, the companies, the state or private initiatives? Have / are there any further subsidies from the federal state or the city government?

It was above all the companies and private initiatives that drove the change. However, this is now being driven further by the city or the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance and supported with co-working spaces, clusters and incubators. In addition, there are NPOs who support the establishment and development of technology companies in this city with finances, including the Idea Foundry, Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse and Technology Collaborative. Companies based in Pittsburgh, such as UBER and Google, will also start their own initiatives and programs in the future, or Carnegie Mellon University, where a number of Austrian scientists are also successful, is expanding its startup program. The already successful programs include the Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund and the Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation. If Austrian companies are interested in working in Pittsburgh, we at the Foreign Trade Center New York are happy to support them with information, contacts, coaching and market development.

Old economy versus new economy or industrialization versus digitalization - can this transformation and further development be a model for other “fallen” cities?

Pittsburgh has certainly managed not to get into quite such a "desperate situation" as other American industrial cities. Digitization has contributed to this, but the city would probably not have made this change quite as quickly and successfully if it hadn't already been for long-established talent forges such as Carnegie Mellon or the University of Pittsburgh. Building something new from scratch would have been difficult. So it's a bit ironic that the university, founded by the successful steel tycoon and industrial captain Andrew Carnegie, is now an initiator and main reason for the city's development away from industry and steel towards digital technologies and research and development.

Can you tell us three advantages of Pittsburgh over other startup hotspots in the US?

1. Good range of above-average talent in a very willing network of innovative minds.

2. Market potential - there is currently still a lot of scope for creative startups to offer their products to the many newly established companies and service providers in the city.

3. High quality of life at a relatively low price compared to other startup hotspots.

Thank you for the talk!