Resources are rich for start-ups in the region. There are close to a dozen co-working spaces, incubator and accelerator programs in the area, including those at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, according to the Pittsburgh Technology Council.
Local nonprofit Innovation Works has an investment vehicle as well as two accelerators under its umbrella. Since launching its seed fund in 1999, Innovation Works has gone on to invest $65 million in more than 300 local companies. What's more, those start-ups, including SolePower, have gone on to raise another $1.7 billion in follow-on funding.
One of these is RE2, a company that makes robotic arms and ships them out to customers, like the U.S. Department of Defense, in order to keep humans out of harm's way. They've raised $2.25 million in funding, and their products are being used primarily by the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy for bomb disposal.
"These arms are put on robots to do the dull, the dirty and the dangerous," said president and CEO Jorgen Pedersen, a Carnegie Mellon graduate. "I know those arms are being used to save someone's life — what drives us is making an impact on the world."
Another company out to change the world is Thread, launched by Pittsburgh native and CEO Ian Rosenberger after the Haiti earthquake in 2010. The company sources plastic from the poorest neighborhoods in Haiti and Honduras and turns it into fabric. They've raised around $2.8 million in funding and have a deal with Timberland, their biggest account so far. They've taken more than 1 million pounds of trash and turned it into raw materials
"Fashion is the second dirtiest industry in the world, so we started at the bottom of the supply chain and worked our way up." Rosenberger said.
"I love the parallels with Pittsburgh, being a rebuilding city, and the places that we really care about, like Port au Prince and Honduras. With us, there is a turnaround story."