AlphaLab Moving to East Liberty

As you may have heard or read in today’s Pittsburgh Business Times, we moved out of our original Southside location at the end of December and are planning to move into the same building in E. Liberty where AlphaLab Gear is located. We are very excited by this move but did not come to this decision lightly as the original AlphaLab location provided many memories and inspirations.  We held our first five Demo Days there and it was the starting point for many Pittsburgh startup companies and founders that are now a part of the local ecosystem.

A big factor behind this decision is the opportunity we see to provide greater value to the companies in both AlphaLab and AlphaLab Gear by having the two programs located next to each other. This proximity creates a greater density/network effect between the companies, mentors, and our team and provides greater opportunities for learning, collaboration. With the major trend of hardware and software coming together (e.g. connected devices, IoT), having AlphaLab and AlphaLab Gear under the same roof will bring unmatched capabilities in the global accelerator landscape and highlight the unique strengths of Pittsburgh.

Furthermore, the AlphaLab companies will benefit by being part of the growing tech community in E. Liberty (and the East End) with community partners such as Thrill Mill, StartBot, CMU, Pitt, Beauty Shoppe, TechShop, Google next door or nearby and alumni companies such as Treatspace, NetBeez, Hability, Sole Power, Piecemaker, Identified Technologies, LifeShel, MegaBits, Covey and Easely all within walking distance.

We are looking forward to starting the Winter cycle next week in our temporary location at the Beauty Shoppe at the Cube (located across from Whole Foods). The team at the Beauty Shoppe has been a great partner in working with us while we prepare the new space for move-in, sometime this spring. We look forward to having events there so you can come by and meet the companies!

 

Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter to hear about the Winter 2015 Cycle and upcoming events.

An AlphaLab State of Mind

A common question we are asked as we meet with teams interested in applying to AlphaLab is whether the “stage” of company is right for AlphaLab. We have previously tried to address this and believe that AlphaLab can help a company accelerate its learning through its different stages – whether taking idea to customer-validated product, acquiring initial customers or testing repeatable customer acquisition processes.

At recent talks about AlphaLab, I have shared our philosophy, our belief in founding teams, and tried to convey that AlphaLab is about openly challenging/testing your ideas iteratively in a collaborative environment with your fellow companies. In fact, rather than targeting a particular “stage” of company, we’re really targeting a “state of mind” with the founding team. (An acknowledgement to a fantastic video of a Vanderbilt student seizing an opportunity to play “New York State of Mind” with Billy Joel.)

We have accepted companies with just a vision/concept and we’ve accepted companies that entered AlphaLab with a working product, customers and in a few cases, funding. In each case, we felt there was a compelling market opportunity and an exceptional team that had the capabilities and desire to rapidly iterate and grow their company with the support of the AlphaLab program. Here are some examples:

  1. Jim Ruiz, founder of CDL Warrior, came into AlphaLab with over 20+ years experience in the trucking industry and a strong vision for how mobile devices could change the industry. While in AlphaLab, he talked in depth with truck drivers and fleet owners to hone in on unique problems that weren’t being solved and how different customers viewed existing “solutions.” These conversations gave him greater insight into the differences between customer segments and helped him define and develop a differentiated mobile application and fleet trucking software that was quickly adopted by initial customers.

  1. NoWait had done in-depth customer research when it joined AlphaLab and focused its early efforts on building a beta version of their waitlist management/text messaging tool for a set of restaurants here in Pittsburgh. They spent a lot of time working closely with these restaurants, observing its usage in the restaurants (all weekend!) and iterating on the software to make it a trusted tool for restaurant operations. When they finished AlphaLab, NoWait had proven its value across its 10 beta restaurants, seating over 1000 parties using the app. Today, the company has seated over 80 million diners across thousands of restaurants and recently completed a $10M Series B investment round led by Drive Capital.

  1. The Resumator, founded by Don Charlton, is another high profile AlphaLab alumni company. It has taken a product that its initial customers loved and has built out a SaaS HR platform that solves the recruiting/hiring needs of thousands of customers today. When Don entered AlphaLab, he had a working product and launched it on the 2nd day of the program. During the rest of the program, he focused on ensuring that the initial customers were loving the product, getting great value from it while developing and testing the company’s customer acquisition plans and pricing. The Resumator has grown to 70 employees across its offices in Pittsburgh and San Francisco, counts many high profile companies as its customers and recently completed a $15M investment round led by Volition Capital from Boston.

  2. Finally, AthleteTrax, had a working product, early customers/revenues and initial seed funding when it entered AlphaLab last summer. The company still had questions about its initial target market, college athletic departments, including market size and sales cycle, and needed to demonstrate active usage from its customers. During AlphaLab, the company tested customer acquisition strategies through different channels and with adjacent markets and discovered that they were gaining greater traction (and less friction) with recreational sports programs.  AthleteTrax pivoted to focus on this  larger market and has rapidly grown its team and user base in the past year.

We hope these examples give you a sense of the different “stages” of companies that have been successful within AlphaLab and if you could relate to any of the above, we invite you to apply for our Winter 2015 program – the deadline is Friday 10/31/2014 and fast approaching! (Now if you haven’t seen it, you should really check out that Billy Joel video!)

Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter to hear about the Winter 2015 Cycle and Application Process.

Easely Makes Art Easy

It’s confession time, guys.

I don’t get art.
It’s not that I don’t WANT to get art or that I don’t appreciate it, mind you, I just don’t get it. I don’t know what goes together or what looks good, and I’ve never been one for bright colors or, heaven forbid, MULTIPLE colors.
So, you’ll understand my excitement when I met for the first time with the companies in the current AlphaLab cycle and discovered one of the companies, Easely, could help me get over my ignorance to art.
As photographers themselves,the founders of Easely, Ashwin Muthiah and Harris Gani, have a good eye. Luckily for me, they’re not willing to just share their own good eye, but that of curators who take users’ personal tastes and suggest the art that fit them.
I was going to be into this regardless, but I knew I needed it after the looks I received when telling folks I painted my kitchen gray and accented it with white. I’m nothing if not adventurous!
After the fourth or fifth person gave me a courteous, “Sounds…nice,” I knew I needed to take advantage of Easely’s services, STAT.
I went to the site and clicked on “Get Started,” thinking the easy part was over. From talking with the founders, I knew there was a taste quiz, but I was imagining something along the lines of, “On a scale of one to 72, how does this painting make you feel in relation to the debate over the common core?”
You know we’ve all taken surveys like that.
I was more than pleasantly surprised, though, to see that not only was it a visual quiz, but I was asked the same thing about each piece presented: Do you like this piece? Better yet, I only had three answers to choose from: Yes, No, Neutral.
For those of us who get intimidated by art, saying yes, no, or I don’t care is such a simple way to get to the pieces perfect for us.
After I finished the promised two-minute quiz, I had the choice of seeing my automated suggestions or having a curator get in touch with additional choices.
That’s right. A real, live person.
After I made my choice, I headed to the payment page where I rented my piece.
Did I not mention that before? Easely is for renting.
While I love online shopping (my bank account is a testament to that), buying something to be hung in your home based on a photo is tough. Everything from the texture of the physical piece to the color contrast of your computer monitor plays into whether what you think you’re buying is what you’re actually getting. Through the rental subscription model, Easely takes the fear of buyer’s remorse out of the equation.
Love the piece? Fantastic. Once the cost of it is paid via the monthly subscription fee, it’s yours forever. Hate it? Send it back for something else. Have a fear of commitment and want to change it up every now and then? That’s your prerogative.
After no time at all, my piece arrived. While I knew the piece itself, I was pleasantly surprised to see the extra touches, including information about the artist. Now when people compliment me on the piece, I can talk about more than the aesthetics of it that made me like it.
And now, without further ado, I present the first (and only) piece of art in my home sweet home.
 

Tada!
Try it out yourself, and let us know what you think in the comments.

How it began: Open Coffee Club Pgh

We are excited to announce the next Open Coffee Club which will be held on October 22, 9-11am at AlphaLab (2325 E Carson St).

The Open Coffee Club was started to encourage entrepreneurs, developers, and investors to organize real world meetups to chat, network, and grow. I’ve heard from prior attendees that Open Coffee Club is where startups first met the investors in their company, and also how new Pittsburghers became integrated into our entrepreneurial scene. This is the objective of Open Coffee Club and what we set out to accomplish when Alan Veeck @aveeck and I @atainter started OCC over 7 years ago. We aimed to increase the transparency of investors and developers in the region, encourage collaboration amongst Pittsburgh startups, while maintaining a very informal setting – no meeting agenda, no name tags.

But we can’t take credit for coming up with the concept. The first Open Coffee Club was held in London March of 2007. We were fast followers here in Pittsburgh. I believe our first Open Coffee was held sometime mid-2007 at Crazy Mocha in Sewickley (and we developed our Facebook group soon after).  For the first 2 years, we hosted Open Coffee Club in various coffee shops around Pittsburgh with humble attendance numbers. OCC continued its slow growth while more and more folks became aware of it.

In 2009 Alan and I partnered with AlphaLab (hey, they provided free coffee and donuts) and AlphaLab has remained the host of OCC ever since.

So that’s where we are today. Open Coffee now averages over 100 attendees, and I’m excited about its continued value that is provides to entrepreneurs, developers, and investors in Pittsburgh. If you’re available on October 22, 9-11am I encourage you to attend – I’m sure you’ll meet someone interesting.

Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter to hear about upcoming events at AlphaLab.

Drive Forward: A Panel Discussion

Come meet Chris Olsen, formerly of SequoiaCapital and now a founding partner of Drive Capital, a venture capital firm based in Columbus, OH.  With a focus on the Midwest, Drive recently led a $10m investment in NoWait, a Pittsburgh-based startup that has developed a mobile network for consumers and restaurants.

In addition, a panel will use NoWait as an example to discuss what investors are looking for in a company at different stages of development and funding, from accelerator/seed to Series A and Series B. Our panelists will share their unique perspective including Chris Olsen; Ware Sykes, CEO of NoWait; Sean Ammirati of Birchmere Ventures; and Jim Jen of AlphaLab/Innovation Works and will be moderated by Justine Kasznica of Schnader Attorneys at Law.

Date: Tuesday, October 28th, 2014
Time: 4:30 pm
Location: AlphaLab (2325 East Carson St., Pittsburgh, PA 15203)
To register
http://www.showclix.com/event/DriveForward

Event: AlphaLab Info Night 10/15

AlphaLab Information Night is an opportunity for you to come and learn about AlphaLab, ask questions about the program and the application process, and hear from participants in the AlphaLab program about their own entrepreneurial experiences. We’re hosting the event at the AlphaLab offices, where we’ll provide appetizers and refreshments along with an opportunity to network with your fellow entrepreneurs as well as members of the AlphaLab team.

You will hear from Executive Director, Jim Jen, Program Manager, Aaron Tainter, and an Alumni Panel representing alumni from various classes and different stages of growth.

To Register please go to:

www.showclix.com/event/AlphaLabInformationNight2014