Bonnie Pfister

Four months of spirited competition concluded Wednesday as San Jose, Calif-based Lucid VR won the $50,000 grand prize in the AlphaLab Gear National Hardware Cup.

Second-place winner BotFactory took home $5,000, according to AlphaLab Gear’s Twitter feed, while DogParker (my personal favorite) fetched the $3,000 third prize. (More info about the contestants are below.)

Pittsburgh-based robotics venture capital firm Startbot funded the prize money in the second-annual contest to find and support the best ideas in innovative new products. The final showdown played out to a sold-out crowd at AlphaLab Gear’s offices in East Liberty. Each inventor had four minutes to pitch and five minutes to answer questions from the panel of judges, who will weighed commercial viability, team capability and demonstrated commitment.

“Our goal is to build a network of hardware startups everywhere and increase awareness and interest in investing in them,” AlphaLab Gear Managing Director Ilana Diamond told the Pittsburgh Business Times. “These companies need a community and investors.”

Erik Norwood, of Austin, was last year’s winner with his device CURB, a product that monitors household electricity use, offers money-saving tips and lets users control usage remotely.

“Taking home the Hardware Cup provided real validation from the investment community that we were on to something extremely valuable,” he said. “We were able to leverage that win into closing CURB’s full seed round investment of $1.5 million later in 2015.”

Pittsburgh was represented among the finalists. PalpAid is a medical device that uses a novel combination of soft tissue mechanics and computer vision techniques to make currently qualitative and subjective breast exams quantitative. It was developed by Molly Blank and James Antaki, mechanical engineers at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University.

Here’s the low-down on the competition:

  • Washington, D.C.: PrintLess Plans creates sleek yet rugged large-format e-paper devices made for the demands of architecture, engineering and construction professionals.
  • Boston: Water Hero creates a smart leak detection + prevention + conservation system to avoid costly water damage from burst pipes.
  • New York: Sort of like Zipcar for canines, Dog Parker creates on-demand neighborhood doghouses in dense urban areas, allowing humans to safely board their pets for short stints while they step inside a grocery store, cafe or other no-pet zone.
  • Los Angeles: Rufus Labs creates The Rufus Cuff, an advanced wearable device that also allows for voice and video calls, web browsing and more on its 3.2-inch screen.
  • San Jose: Lucid VR creates LucidCam, a stereoscopic 3D camera that captures the world as we see and hear it. Its 180° wide-angle lens enables an active view, with enhanced audio.
  • Austin: EllieGrid creates a smart pillbox that allows users to organize their medications in seconds.
  • Chicago: Mohop allows users to create customizable footwear via smartphone by combining on-demand 3D fabrication with emerging body scanning technology.
  • Wildcard (audience award winner): BotFactory (of New York) brings the future of electronic circuit fabrication to desktops with the introduction of Squink. Just like a 3D Printer, the small circuit printer allows users to prototype in minutes instead of weeks at the click of a button.

The finale was judged by seven nationally renowned venture capitalists, including Pittsburghers Josh McElhattan of Startbot, Tom Jones of Draper Triangle and David Motley of BlueTree Allied Angels.

Each of the regional winners won $1,000 cash, a yearlong TechShop membership, $500 in 3D printing from ExOne and a one-year license with Altium, which designs printed circuit boards used in electronic devices.

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Pittsburgh has jobs: more than 20,000 across 10 counties. Tap into ImaginePittsburgh.com to explore southwestern PA’s trending careers and industries. 

On April 15, the final of eight pitch competitions across the nation came to Pittsburgh’s Tech Shop in Bakery Square, the last step before the final face off  for a national prize of $50,000 in startup capital and other prizes.

The contest is the brainchild of AlphaLab Gear, a leading product accelerator based in Pittsburgh, and TechShop, the nation’s premier ‘maker’ facility providing tools and knowhow for do-it-yourselfers. The AlphaLab Gear National Hardware Cup aims to find the top ideas in hardware (that is, tangible products, as opposed to software or services) in each of the eight cities where TechShop has a location. Winners from competitions earlier this year in Detroit, Washington D.C., Austin, Phoenix, San Francisco, Redwood City and San Jose will compete Wednesday, May 6 in the grand finale at AlphaLab Gear’s offices in East Liberty.

“There are so many great ideas for products that entrepreneurs dream up from their work experience as a designer or engineer, a university project that a team of students is trying to solve, or just an imaginative leap from an individual,” said Ilana Diamond, managing director of AlphaLab Gear. “We want to tap into all these brilliant ideas and give entrepreneurs a way to fund and commercialize their vision.”

The final regional contest here in Pittsburgh kicks off with a panel of local venture capitalists, investors and entrepreneurs sharing thoughts on hardware startups. Panelists include Alex Frommeyer of Beam, Dawn Rucker of L3, Don Morrison of Blue Tree Allied Angels, Josh McElhattan of Startbot, Ryan Zafris of Adam’s Capital and Zach Malone of Draper Triangle. Then six teams will give a four-minute pitch to panel of judges. The winning team will receive $1,000 cash, a single year-long TechShop membership, Fusion 360 software and support from AutoDesk.

That team will compete against winners from the seven other cities at the grande finale on Wednesday, May 6 at AlphaLab Gear. Both competitions are open to the public, but seating is limited. Register for the April 15 event at TechShop here, and for the May 6 event at AlphaLab Gear here.

More information is available at AlphaLabGear.org/HardwareCup/

Bonnie Pfister

The Pittsburgh region’s unique combination of geographic density, a deep pool of talent emerging from its universities and friendly people have made it an alternative to Silicon Valley for technology startups, The Atlantic recently reported.

Reporter John Tierney talks to Alpha Lab Gear’s Ilana Diamond, Innovation Works’ Rich Lunak and Andrew Moore, the new dean of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science, to get details on how thePittsburgh region has become such fertile ground for new tech companies.

Read the full story here.

 

Brandon Mendoza

When was the last time you’ve been to an outdoor laser light show? This Saturday, May 17, I hope you’ll attend Bright Night: A Larimer Light Festival, featuring live music, great food and a laser light show – among other offerings.

For the past six months, I have participated in Leadership Development Initiative XXI (LDI), a program of Leadership Pittsburgh Inc. This opportunity has afforded me the pleasure of working with 40 emerging leaders in the Pittsburgh region to plan Bright Night. We have had great partners in the community of Larimer, namely the Larimer Consensus Group and the Kingsley Association. Larimer is distinguished by its residents’ strong sense of community and its paradigm-shifting revitalization plan. This plan, which envisions a mixed-income, environmentally friendly community where both newcomers and natives are welcome, has earned a place as a finalist for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s competitive $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant. Bright Night will further highlight Larimer’s assets and using the theme of light and renewal to foster a perceptual transformation of the neighborhood for Larimer residents, Pittsburgh neighbors and the civic community.

While the event has been exciting to plan and the community has been a tremendous partner, the best part of the process for me has been learning alongside my fellow LDI classmates. Our class has spent countless hours meeting with community members, elected officials and vendors for the event and the lessons learned along the way are invaluable. Over the past few months, we have learned leadership tools from each other, community leaders and established business/nonprofit leaders, but nothing has taught leadership more than planning Bright Night.

The event features a car cruise, live musical performances, a laser light show, educational exhibit, food trucks and free food samples from the Food Revolution Pittsburgh Cooking Club. I hope to see you there this Saturday, May 17th from 6-10 p.m. on Larimer Avenue between East Liberty Boulevard and Meadow Street. All are welcome to this free community event and if you have not been to an outdoor laser light show, now is your chance. More details, including maps and parking information are available at PopUpPittsburgh.com and Facebook.com/PopUpPittsburgh. You can also follow us at  Twitter.com/PopUpPittsburgh.

About Leadership Development Initiative and Leadership Pittsburgh Inc.
The Leadership Development Initiative (LDI) program is a 10-month leadership training program for high-potential young professionals. This creative and innovative program has served as a model for several others around the country. Leadership Pittsburgh Inc. is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to developing a diverse group of leaders to serve southwestern Pennsylvania.
www.lpinc.org

About Larimer
Located in Pittsburgh’s East End, Larimer is bordered by Highland Park, East Liberty, Homewood, Shadyside, Point Breeze and Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar. Larimer has recently been selected as a finalist for a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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