What a week!

SolePower, Identified, and Accel Diagnostics made it to the finals for #SXSW2015

More than five hundred companies submitted their web-based products to the seventh annual SXSW Accelerator. Three AlphaLab/AlpaLab Gear alumni made it to the finals in the categories of Wearable Technologies, Enterprise and Smart Data Technologies, and Digital Health and Life Sciences Technologies. All of the Interactive finalists were able to showcase their products on Saturday, March 14 and Sunday, March 15 at the Hilton Downtown Austin.

       

 

 

AlphaLab was named One of the top 20 accelerators in the Us!

It’s an honor to be recognized on this list and it’s a reflection on our strong network of startups, investors, and entrepreneurs who provide our companies with the resources and tools they need to rapidly iterate, engage with customers, expand, and succeed. The report also shows the rapidly growing and changing dynamics of the accelerator landscape and funding market in general and we are continuously working to evolve our program to best position our companies in this environment. We were also proud to see that the Pittsburgh ecosystem ranked #6 in regions whose funding was impacted by accelerators: 

 

 

 

The AlphaLab Gear National HardwareCup at @TechshopAustin was a great success!

On Thursday night a panel of entrepreneurs and startup folks got together at TechShop, Austin to talk tech. Afterwards, 6 companies pitched to a standing room only audience. Out of all of the great pitches, Curb Energy took home the cup (…literally). Check out some of the great quotes from the panel below!

 

Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter to hear more about what’s going on at AlphaLab!

AlphaLab Gear National Hardware Cup

WHAT IS THE NATIONAL HARDWARE CUP?

AlphaLab Gear and TechShop, a membership-based, do-it-yourself workshop and fabrication studio with locations nationwide, are launching the AlphaLab Gear National Hardware Cup to find the top hardware ideas in each of the eight cities where TechShop has a location.  Starting February 11 in Detroit, the AlphaLab Gear National Hardware Cup team will travel to each of the other TechShop locations to host a pitch competition for startups creating a physical product.  The culmination of the competition is inPittsburgh where the national winner will receive a $50,000 grand prize investment from StartBot, a venture capital firm focused on robotics, plus product design software and other prizes from Autodesk Fusion 360, the official software partner of the National Hardware Cup. Full details can be found at www.hardwarecup.com

The pitch competitions will feature six teams in each city selected by the AlphaLab Gear team from online applications.  The order of cities hosting the Hardware Cup will be: Detroit, Washington D.C., Austin, Phoenix, San Francisco, Redwood City, San Jose and Pittsburgh. Each company or team will give a four-minute pitch to a panel of judges from the investment, hardware and software community who will then have five minutes to ask questions. Winning teams from each city will get $1,000 cash, a single year-long TechShop membership, and Fusion 360 software and support from Autodesk.  Teams will be judged on: 1) commercial viability, 2) team capability, and 3) demonstrated commitment.  Select finalists will be chosen to compete in a grand-prize competition held later this spring in Pittsburgh at AlphaLab Gear. AlphaLab Gear is a project of Innovation Works, one of the country’s most active seed-stage investors and the organization which operates top-ranked accelerators AlphaLab (all technologies) and AlphaLab Gear (hardware companies).

“There are so many great ideas for physical 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,” says Ilana Diamond, managing director of AlphaLab Gear.  “We want to tap into all these brilliant ideas and give people a way to fund and commercialize their vision,” continues Diamond.  “The AlphaLab Gear National Hardware Cup takes what we know from our experience running one of the nation’s first accelerators for hardware companies and marries that with the technical expertise and reach of TechShop.  With StartBot providing funding for the winner and Autodesk providing software and other resources, the National Hardware Cup can help launch a great idea. ”

“We’re excited to host the AlphaLab Gear National Hardware Cup in each of our TechShop locations,” says Jim Newton, TechShop founder.  “This national competition is a great opportunity for us to inspire members of the maker community to go ahead and build their dreams, just like we did with TechShop. We hope to see the next big invention and commercial success rise from this challenge.”

The AlphaLab Gear National Hardware Cup is free for participants and easy to enter. The six teams or individuals pitching in each city will be selected based on their one-page application.  To apply, go to: www.hardwarecup.com

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.