Powered by NEXTpittsburgh / Amanda Waltz

All eyes were on Pittsburgh yesterday when 500-plus invited guests gathered at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh for the first-ever White House Frontiers Conference, a daylong event culminating in an address by President Barack Obama and panel where he participated.

At CMU’s Jared L. Cohon University Center, Secret Service agents and SWAT team members weaved through hundreds of tech entrepreneurs and students attending panels featuring top scientists and researchers discussing innovative approaches to solving community and national issues. Those leading the interplanetary track–which covered space exploration and the journey to Mars–were easily identified by their shirts emblazoned with NASA patches.

Just down the street, the University of Pittsburgh hosted tracks on healthcare (Personal) and the issues of climate change and clean energy (Global). The other two tracks featured were Local, focusing on transportation and criminal justice, and National, featuring Artifical Intelligence.

At the event, it was announced that $300 million in funds would be granted to further technology’s role in improving city infrastructure, brain research, small-satellite technology and precision medicine.

The choice of setting made sense in a time when Pittsburgh has garnered wide attention for its role as an emerging tech hub and smart city.

“Pittsburgh’s overnight success story is 30 years of hard work and innovation,” said Mayor Bill Peduto while addressing attendees at the Local Frontiers track. At the center of that success are the research and startups produced by Pitt and CMU.

The Local Track

Peduto offered his views on transportation on a panel that included United States Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, Zipcar co-founder and former CEO Robin Chase, and Tim Kentley-Klay of the autonomous driving startup Zoox.

In a breakout session on transportation that followed, Foxx asked, “What fundamental changes in transportation policy need to happen? It took a hell of a lot to get Congress focused on it. The conversation has always been 90 percent where will the money come from and 10 percent policy.” It needs to be the reverse, he said.

The $65 million in new funding awards announced at the Conference “will help cities and communities do the work to advance on a local level,” he said, citing the work of the Traffic 21 initiative in Pittsburgh where smart traffic signals have helped to reduce traffic congestion by 40 percent. The increased funding will allow that to “be applied to Downtown Pittsburgh much more broadly.”

“To reduce congestion, to increase safety, to really hardness opportunity, we are changing how we think about innovation,” Foxx said. ” There has to be constant vigilance by everyone . . . You tell us what you don’t like, tell us what you do like; we’re going to keep trying to build a better mousetrap.”

Kids are our future

Two themes that resounded throughout the day were about how our children will be the ones to solve many of the problems we face today and how critical it is to prepare all of our kids for the future, and how no one should be left behind as we innovate our way to the future.

“We are stronger than we think we are,” said Megan Smith, Chief Technology Officer at the White House. “How do we unlock and unleash the talent of everyone?”

More than once, a panelist talked about how “a seven-year-old is out there” who will one day to be able to solve the problems we face today. The 20-year-old leader of Greening Forward, Charles Orgbon III, urged the audience to “think differently about your role with young people. You’re not just a teacher of young people. To create that transformative change, we’re gonna need a lot of things and one of those things is your role as a mentor.”

The problems of today, he said, “should not be left to so-called experts. Young people are ready to take action against the environmental issues that impact us and the global challenges we face. We’re the first generation to feel the impacts of climate change.”

Obama addressed climate change in his remarks. “We don’t listen to science just when it fits our ideology. That’s the path to ruin,” he said. “When the Russians beat us into space we didn’t deny that Sputnik was up there…we acknowledged the facts and then we built a space program almost overnight and beat them to the moon.”

Obama gave a shout-out to numerous people and groups advancing the city, including the Girls of Steel, the upcoming Maker Faire, and the remarkable work at Pitt around brain implants. He talked about meeting Nathan Copeland, paralyzed since 2014, who has a prosthetic arm that allows him to feel sensation in his fingers. He shook his hand, said Obama, then they fist-bumped.

Making sure all are included

A panel roundtable discussion later led by Chief Innovation & Performance Officer Debra Lam pointed out that Pittsburgh still has some hurdles to overcome in order to make this new tech landscape inclusive for all.

“You need to ask, am I reaching out to everyone?” Lam said as she led a group containing tech, education and nonprofit representatives from Pittsburgh and throughout the country. “If I’m not, how do I do that?”

One solution lies in sourcing and analyzing data to understand the city’s needs and concerns. It was recently used to show how diverse Pittsburgh’s 90 neighborhoods really were. “Data doesn’t lie,” said Lam.

Chief of Innovation and Performance Debra Lam at the White House Frontiers Conference. Photo by Amanda Waltz.
Chief of Innovation & Performance Debra Lam at the White House Frontiers Conference. Photo by Amanda Waltz.
The words ring true for one agreement made just prior to Obama’s arrival for his afternoon address. Peduto announced plans to join forces with White House-led Police Data Initiative (PDI), which supports efforts of local law enforcement to build trust with the communities they serve by using data to increase transparency and accountability.

“In order to rebuild police-community trust, transparency is a vital first step,” said Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay in an official statement. “In a free democracy, the public has a right to understand the workings of government, and the actions of law enforcement touch the lives of our citizenry in powerful ways.”

Part of the participation includes the expansion of the Guide to Crime, Courts, and Corrections, a website developed by the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center (WPRDC) to increase public access to law enforcement data for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. The WPRDC will enlist help from the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, the Department of Innovation & Performance, and the Allegheny County Human Services to add up-to-date information on everything from non-traffic violations to police training to civil rights lawsuits.

The site will also feature a variety of tools, such as charts, maps, interactive visuals and reports, as well as additional criminal justice-related data provided by Allegheny County and the State of Pennsylvania.

“This important work continues to build upon our broader efforts around open data,” said Lam in an official statement. “We hope that providing such data not only increases government accountability but empowers the community and strengthens partnerships. This is another testament to Pittsburgh’s inclusive innovation.”

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Powered by NEXTpittsburgh / Kathy Serenko

UpPrize, the social innovation challenge created by The Forbes Funds, returns this year to once again challenge our community to find new solutions to critical social issues.

Hosted in partnership with BNY Mellon and Bridgeway Capital, the purpose of UpPrize is to invest in novel ideas big and small that are more effective, efficient, just or sustainable than the current approach.

This year, the competition will take applications for two challenge areas: Healthy Food, which seeks products and services that “will increase access to affordable healthy foods for vulnerable and underserved communities” and Impactful Technology, to identify products and services that will “improve nonprofit service delivery and/or the lives of vulnerable populations in Southwestern Pennsylvania.”

Each challenge offers a total award purse of $350,000, which the winners and finalists will use to further develop and implement their ideas.

The competition debuted last year by challenging Pittsburgh entrepreneurs to create new social tech tools that addressed independence, coordination and access. The 2015 UpPrize round received more than 100 applications from Pittsburgh area entrepreneurs.

This year, UpPrize will expand to include all of Southwestern Pennsylvania. It will also increase its outreach to nonprofits, women, and people of color to encourage them to apply.

“The door of opportunity is wide open. And everyone is welcome,” says Kate Dewey, president of The Forbes Funds. “We’ve got a tremendous network of partners this year that are all of one mind to build a network of doers, makers, thinkers, entrepreneurs, techies, and givers that make this region great and distinguishable for all. We are just at the beginning but given the momentum, it is not whether it will happen, just when.”

Dewey says they chose to focus this year on finding ways to increase access to healthy foods after their work with various agencies made them realize the magnitude of the problem.

“We all know the importance of eating healthy food to our overall health,” says Dewey. “But convenience is a diet killer. You go to areas like Sheraden in the West End, and there is nothing there that would enable someone to eat healthy without taking a bus to a grocery store. When you think outside of Allegheny County, you can clearly see areas that don’t have access to healthy foods, except possibly seasonal farmers markets nearby. Food deserts contribute to unhealthy eating lifestyles and impact lives for the long term.”

What would change look like? More healthy food options in corner stores, opening a small grocery business, or operating a food truck are some examples.

“When you look at that piece of the challenge area, it’s not a technology-oriented solution,” adds Dewey. “It’s about creating access in ways that give people an opportunity to live well through eating good foods.”

The other challenge, Impactful Technology, has two aspects. One involves for-profit tech companies helping nonprofits develop tools to make them more competitive and efficient, and better enable them to advance their missions. The second part of the challenge calls for solutions to improve the lives of the homebound, homeless, a child in need, or victims of crime, as examples.

“How we live, work and care for one another as a community is radically changing,” says Dewey. “This social innovation challenge hits at a time when we’re rethinking those approaches to the benefit of all.”

To determine the best ideas, Dewey says they expanded their advisory group to include more nonprofit representatives, including Kevin Jenkins of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation and David Tinker from ACHIEVA.

Last year’s winners included Conversant Labs, Marinus Analytics and Personal Health Recording for Quality of Life (PHRQL).

Conversant Labs, a company founded by CEO Chris Maury after he was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease, won the first place prize of $400,000 to create voice-enabled apps for the visually impaired.

“We wouldn’t be here today if not for the UpPrize,” says Maury. “The award has helped us to continue serving the blind community and set us up for creating a sustainable business.”

The second place prize of $200,000 went to Marinus Analytics for their work in developing crime-fighting technology used by law enforcement and victim services organizations to stop human trafficking in western Pennsylvania.

The third place winner PHRQL (pronounced “freckle”) received $200,000 for creating a health and nutrition-based education tool that helps people manage their diabetes, lose weight and improve their health.

“The UpPrize challenge inspired us to look at how our technology and expertise could be applied to a low-income and food insecure population—something that wasn’t even on our radar,” says PHRQL CEO Paul Sandberg. “With the prize money, we were able to run a pilot, adapt our existing solution, and design a new business model. Now we think the opportunity could be much larger than our original market.”

The 2016 UpPrize social innovation challenge will kick off with a free networking event hosted by NEXTpittsburgh on Thursday, October 6 at AlphaLab Gear. Free childcare for kids 3 years and up is available on a limited basis. Email for details.

Applications will be accepted between October 1 and November 30. Nonprofits are strongly encouraged to participate. Startups, established firms, students and government agencies are also eligible to apply. Download the UpPrize information here.

Finalists will be selected by January 2017. An awards ceremony will take place in March 2017.

Questions? Email for answers.

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Looking for a job? ImaginePittsburgh.com‘s got ‘em — more than 20,000 open positions on our powerful, 10-county job search aggregator, updated nightly.

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Phil Cynar

This post first appeared on the blog of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, a sister organization to ImaginePittsburgh.com the focuses on business development. Get the PRA’s updates delivered to your inbox here

Pittsburgh will always be known as the “Steel City,” but a visit to the town now reveals a fresh new identity as a hub for innovation, arts and culture. That is what Yahoo News reported when its Global News Anchor (and broadcast journalism icon) Katie Couric took a look at the technology and innovation revitalizing the iconic Rust Belt city for the latest stop in her series, “Cities Rising: Rebuilding America.”

“It wasn’t steel that built Pittsburgh, it was innovation,” said Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto in the 12-minute mini-documentary – noting that even during steel’s heyday in the region, it was innovation behind the steel-making that allowed it to grow to a global scale industry.

The same drive has created a hub of game-changing robotics expertise in Pittsburgh now that is on par with the claim to fame that steel once provided. Yet, in spite of all of its brain power, Pittsburgh has not lost its human touch. It continues to nourish arts and culture as it did – even during its darkest economic times – because it recognized that the arts bring richness and quality of life (for both natives and visitors). And with a similar mind to investment for a greater good, Pittsburgh is committing resources to revitalizing materials, people and communities that could be left behind.

If you’re a Pittsburgher or an ex-pat Pittsburgher, this documentary will make you proud. And if you’re looking at Pittsburgh, maybe for the first time, for a career or a soft landing destination to grow a business, Katie Couric’s “walk on the innovation side” of the fabled Steel City will let you see for yourself more than you might have imagined about this place: “a global center of innovation that will change the world.”

Four years ago, Mark Zuckerberg came to Pittsburgh to recruit for his iconic Silicon Valley company, noting that Carnegie Mellon University grads were among his best engineers. Now, a highly-valued Facebook subsidiary is opening a research office in Pittsburgh, the better to scoop up that talent more quickly.

Oculus VR, Inc., which Facebook acquired for $2 billion in 2014, will lease space in Elmhurst Group’s new Schenley Place in central Oakland, a few blocks from CMU. A small team of researchers is to move in this spring, and several job openings at the virtual reality gearmaker may be found here.

FacebookOculusIPFeature2016The move is seen as another “proof point” for Pittsburgh as a magnet for global tech players. Google, Uber, Apple, Disney, Yahoo and Intel are just a few of the firms with R&D offices in the region. Graduates from CMU, the University of Pittsburgh and other universities are the draw.

“It’s very good news for Pittsburgh,”  Elmhurst Group President and CEO William E. Hunt told KDKA-TV. “It’s an advancement in the technology sector, so that’s good for everybody in Pittsburgh.” Oculus will lease 20,000 square feet of space at the seven-story Schenley Place, located at the corner of Bayard Street and Bigelow Boulevard.

Oculus was founded in 2012, and is soon to roll-out its Oculus Rift virtual reality system with wrap-around headset, which will retail for $600. VR headsets that interact with Samsung Galaxy smartphones are already on the market for $100. 

The immediate use for VR technology is for video games, but Zuckerberg has envisioned more far-reaching uses. 

“Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home,” he said upon Facebook’s purchase of Oculus. “This is really a new communication platform (in which) you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life.”

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Mulling a career change? Check out ImaginePittsburgh.com to explore the region’s trending careers, industries and the more than 20,000 jobs open now on our custom-built aggregator, updated nightly.

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From Maker Faire Pittsburgh organizers, Monday Oct. 12: Makers from around the region shared their projects with curious and engaged attendees of all ages for Maker Faire Pittsburgh 2015.  Drones flew, robots activated, dances were improvised, food was cooked by the sun, books bound, electric cars zoomed about, dinosaurs walked and chocolate robots were molded.  Glass, iron, concrete and aluminum was cast and molded – and that’s just a short list of the unique and fun experiences had at the Faire.  Not to mention, a wedding proposal made (and accepted!) and a kitten adopted. Thank you to all of the makers, attendees, partners, collaborators, volunteers, staff, crew and sponsors for being a part of the Faire!

Powered by NEXTpittsburgh / Written by Deb Smit

When Maker Faire Pittsburgh unfurls its colorful banners and unpacks the bots and balloons on the North Side this Saturday and Sunday,  Oct 10-11, it will be official (as if it wasn’t already): Pittsburgh will be a fully-fledged American Maker City.

Never mind that our love affair with making predates the rest of the country as forgers of glass, steel and industrial products. Advances in technology are creating new opportunities in places like Pittsburgh, President Obama said during his visit to TechShop in Bakery Square last year, and putting manufacturing power “in the hands of anybody who’s got a good idea.”

Maker Faire Pittsburgh will be a celebration of good ideas, a high-energy carnival packed with entrepreneurial, can-do spirit. More than 200 tech tinkerers, craftspeople, designers and inventors of all ages will come together for a two-day, family-friendly festival of making. Exhibitions, hands-on workshops and performances will spread out on the grounds of the Buhl Community Park and Nova Place, an urban redevelopment project in the midst of its own remaking.

“It will be one big celebration,” says Chad Elish of Hack Pittsburgh. Elish was the force behind the first three three mini-maker faires that were held in Pittsburgh over the last five years. Those venues were smaller and quieter by comparison, he says.

CosPlay@CMU
CosPlay@CMU

“We never thought in our wildest dreams that this would grow to this size when we created it five years ago,” he says. “This is a game-changer. Pittsburgh is becoming a tech hub, a Silicon Valley of the east coast.”

Maker Faire began in the Bay Area in 2006 as a showcase of makers exploring new forms and technologies on the cutting-edge; it attracted a crowd of more than 22,000. Since then, the movement has spread across the country and around the world with events in New York City, Detroit, Rome and Paris.

This will be the first large-scale, national maker Faire to be held in Pennsylvania, says Donna Goyak who is organizing the event on behalf of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. (The Children’s Museum is producing the event under a license agreement with Maker Media, Inc., in partnership with Faros Properties, Innovation Works, the City of Pittsburgh and other partners.)

Billed as the “greatest show (and tell) on Earth,” the weekend promises an interactive mix of exhibits, workshops and performances. “We expect the audience will be a highly curious lot,” says Goyak. “The making will be highly participatory, fun and informative.”

On a late summer day in September, Goyak was out surveying the event space with Jeremy Leventhal, managing partner of Faros. “Imagine this area completely filled with makers,” she said gesturing wildly to the area around her the size of two football fields. “It will be the largest showcase of making, building and creating that Pittsburgh has ever seen.”

The faire will take place between Buhl Community Park and Nova Place, an urban redevelopment project by Faros Properties adjacent to the former Allegheny Mall. Faros is infusing new life into the vacant office building, an eyesore for 10 years, and turning it into a 33-acre global campus for high tech companies.

Over the next year, Faros plans to turn the ugly sea of asphalt into a public green space with landscaping and benches. The two office buildings will provide space for companies, a workspace for entrepreneurs, called Alloy 26 and a wellness and fitness center. Radiant Hall has opened a 7,000-square-foot art studio and exhibition space, which will be open on Maker Faire day.

This is the first of many large events at the innovation complex, says Leventhal. “We’re trying to build our own microcosm of a community into an existing community and have it become a resource for the whole area.”

The Pittsburgh Maker Faire will have a distinctly different flavor than other faires in the country, says Goyak. It will reflect the people and initiatives underway in the region. Robotics, naturally, will take center stage. There will be opportunities to try driverless vehicle technologies and STEAM learning activities.

Expect lots of university research, activities that feature educational initiatives and groundbreaking local startups.

Want to operate a Ferrari Italia toy car using hand gestures and voice control? Meet pet creatures at a robot petting zoo? Learn about drones and make and buy 3D jewelry? Join tech shop teachers and build dinosaur puppets or design a giant Spirograph? Opportunities abound through make-and-take activities that use recycled materials, vinyl cutters, electronics and more.

ore than 60 indie crafters and makers will sell their wares in an open air market located near the misting fountain in Buhl Plaza. Assemble director Nina Barbuto is organizing the market and operating an exhibit that will teach youngsters how to make LED pins in the education area, she says.

“Maker Faire Pittsburgh is about making the difference, not just about making things,” says Barbuto. “People here are empowered to change the existing, create the new and showcase and share it.”

Les Gies of TechShop has watched the maker movement gain momentum and take off through the last decade. “Our history goes hand-in-hand with the technology revolution we’re seeing in the maker movement,” he says. “The pulse of the city is powerful.”

The inaugural Maker Faire Pittsburgh happens Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 10-11 from 10 am to 5 pm. on Pittsburgh’s North Side. The event is sponsored by Chevron and Make with major support from The Grable Foundation. The event is produced by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh in partnership with Faros Properties, the City of Pittsburgh, Innovation Works, Hack Pittsburgh, Assemble, Tech Shop Pittsburgh and Urban Innovation 21. To buy tickets or volunteer, click here.

This article is part of the Remake Learning initiative, a multimedia partnership between NEXTpittsburgh and WQED Multimedia, Pittsburgh Magazine and WESA.  Check out their stories on Learning Innovation in Pittsburgh.

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Powered by NEXTpittsburgh

Written by Laurie Bailey

In 1989, when Bill Generett, Jr. left his Point Breeze home for Morehouse College in Atlanta, he vowed he would never return to Pittsburgh. But after earning a bachelor’s degree and subsequently a Juris Doctorate from Emory University, practicing law in Atlanta for 14 years and then in D.C. and even a stint in Shimabara, Japan teaching English, he returned in 2004 and hit the ground running.

Generett, 43, actively serves on several nonprofit boards and advisory committees, including the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Pittsburgh Mercy Health System, Pittsburgh Economic and Industrial Development Corporation, Phipps Conservatory, Innovation Works and more.

As the new president and CEO of Urban Innovation21, Generett manages the organization’s public private partnership, connecting the region’s successful innovation economy to underserved communities. Taking an entrepreneurial approach to developing programs among local, regional and national stakeholders, he and his team have been recognized nationally for their work.

As the inaugural president of Urban Innovation21, what is your biggest challenge in connecting the successful innovation sector with underserved communities?

The region has done very well in terms of transforming its economy. I’m excited because we played a role in that through the Keystone Innovation Zone (an incentive program that provides tax credits to for-profit companies less than eight years old within specific industries and boundaries). Part of our mission is to always make sure that communities that aren’t connected are included. Stakeholders are focusing on that issue, but we all have a lot more work to do.

There is an education component that we really have to figure out–how we can make sure that we are teaching our kids and getting the right education for jobs in the new economy, making sure we’re giving our kids a good STEM education, especially in our public schools. We also have to work to make sure students attending our colleges and universities are getting exposure to internships and job opportunities in the new sectors.

We have a very large internship program. We pay students from Duquesne, Point Park, Carlow and CCAC to work in tech and innovation companies and also advanced manufacturing companies. We do about 100 internships per year. I wish we could do 1,000 or 2,000. That’s what the need is.

We need to figure out how stakeholders across the region can provide more opportunities like that for our students because the reality is if you don’t have an internship these days, if you’re not exposed to industry, your chances of getting a job are pretty slim.

If you take UPMC and PNC (who have their own internship programs) out of the mix, we have the largest innovation economy internship program in the region. Sixty percent of the participants are women, which you generally don’t see, and 40 percent are African American; we are really proud and excited about that. A lot of our students are first-year Community College, Pittsburgh Promise recipients.

What is your vision for Urban Innovation21? 

We have some good programs that are going well. We are actually going across the county talking about inclusive innovation and the best practices that cities and innovation sectors can use to include more (people) so that’s good. At this point we want to figure out how we can help others who are starting to do the work that we do so that they can have an impact and collectively, we can really create an impact.

What does success look like?

Success looks like having a city where we are not talking about any kind of inequality – there will always be differences, but (a city) where the differences aren’t so stark. One of the things that it’s hard for me to accept is that for as great we are doing, African Americans here are the poorest group of African Americans in the top 50 metropolitan areas in the country. We have these statistics that are polar opposites in many ways. Success is seeing that gap closed.

As a newly appointed member of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (advising U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker), what knowledge will you take with you from Pittsburgh when working with those from other regions of the country?

Our innovation started in 2007, and we are really one of the first organizations in the country to work in high growth clusters to disconnected communities. What we’re seeing nationally, whether it’s urban or rural areas, is that the innovation sector is trying to figure out how to do that. I think we’ve done some things exceptionally well. I have a wonderful board that has allowed me and our team to really take an entrepreneurial approach to this issue because there is no road map. We are taking that to the National Advisory Council.

I’m the head of the subcommittee, the Democratization of Innovation. The goal is to figure out how innovation can impact more people, looking at the types of things that can be implemented without legislative approval relatively quick. What you see across the country is that nobody has been able to do inclusive innovation well. But because of our foundation community and corporate community we’ve been able to start working on the issue before many others started to concentrate on it.

You’ve been an entrepreneur, executive, corporate attorney and teacher. What’s next?

I tell students that everybody has to think like an entrepreneur.  I love the work that I’m doing as long as I feel like I’m having impact. I’m going to do this; where I do it, how I do it, in what capacity I do it, I’m not sure, but I love this work. I feel this utilizes all my skills. It’s interesting, when I started I thought, “oh, I’ll probably do this for a year or two.” I’ve gotten other offers to do other things, but I really love the work.

What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?

You know there are several. We were one of the last Keystone Innovation Zones formed. People didn’t really understand there was value in the work connect.  Fast forward, now we are one of the most successful Keystone Innovation Zones in the state and I’m really excited about that.

Through its Pittsburgh Central Keystone Innovation Zone (PCKIZ) program Urban Innovation21 has supported 98 high-growth companies since 2007. These companies include The Resumator, NoWait, AllPoint Systems, Bit-x-Bit, Special Pathogens laboratory, ShowClix, Ebenefits, Pikimal and dbMotion.

Thirty-two high-growth companies have started up, relocated and are growing in the Hill District/Uptown community. The neighborhood’s image has changed and a wide array of economic development projects is taking place.

I’m also excited about the fact that we’ve really brought to the U.S. “inclusive innovation.” That’s a term that‘s a philosophy that was pioneered in Europe, China and India.  It basically says that when we look at innovation policy we have to look at the policy that supports as many people as possible, and that’s a philosophy that we’ve utilized. We’re seeing the inclusion movement really catch fire throughout the country.

I’m also excited about tech companies and community-based business with internships and that we’ve been able to help folks who didn’t think they could get that job and that there wasn’t a place for them in this new economy. When those connections are made and those people are getting a job and are going to school and getting their PhD’s in engineering—those stories keep me going.

Ever feel discouraged?

There are times because you know I can be our biggest cheerleader, but I’m also the most critical of what we do. When I get too discouraged something good happens in terms of how (people) were impacted by the work. What’s cool is that Pittsburgh is doing great, and you now have a lot of people that are saying “let’s work and seriously work so that all communities are connected.”

What brought you back to Pittsburgh?

Well, It was really my wife (Gretchen Generett, from Richmond,VA who is a professor at Duquesne) who said “did you think about Pittsburgh?” when we were thinking about moving (from the Washington, D.C. area). I went back and kind of looked at it through new eyes. We just decided we wanted to raise our kids in a smaller city.

Did you have a strong mentor, someone who truly inspired you to achieve success? If so, do you think of that person when you’re working to improve underserved communities?

I’ve had a lot of mentors. It really started with my parents, my father (William Generett, who passed away in 1996) was a prominent doctor in town. My mother (Mona Generett) is really where I get my passion for working for community. She’s had many positions; the last was the vice president of community development at Dollar Bank. She is really my mentor when it comes to this work.

Have you ever failed? How did it make you stronger? 

It’s interesting I don’t look at it as failure. I look at it as learning. I have an incredible board. I have an incredible board chair (Scott Lammie of UPMC Health Plan, Inc.). He has been a mentor for me. We’ve had some successes and some things that didn’t go like I wanted them to go, but I learned from it. You learn more often from things that don’t go well.  I had a business (Comforcare Senior Services), and that business didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to turn out. I ended up selling it for a loss. The woman I sold it to was able to take it and turn it into a very successful business. Although I liked the business, I wasn’t really happy and I’m happy doing this work.

What’s the one thing you wish you could change in Pittsburgh?

That we appreciate cultural differences. We are one of the least diverse cities. There really isn’t the appreciation of cultural differences.

How do you relax?

(Laughs.) I love to read and play with my kids (William III, 13 and Gabrielle, 7). They are both very active, and I just like to get engaged with what they are doing. I like quality time with my wife and spending time with family and friends.

Best book you’ve read all year?

David and Goliath by Malcom Gladwell. I like motivational and history books.

Favorite restaurant in Pittsburgh?

The Savoy and Pho Van (in the Strip District).