These four Pittsburgh startups are finalists for AlphaLab Gear’s regional hardware cup

On Tuesday, one of the seven regional finalists will advance to the national contest — in Pittsburgh.

NHC handout 2017_2.0
AlphaLab Gear / Facebook
MJ Slaby

Now in its third year, the AlphaLab Gear National Hardware Cup is getting more and more — and better — applicants.

So much so that Leah Simoncelli, operations manager for the competition, said when it came time to pick six finalists for the Mid-Atlantic Regional in Pittsburgh, it just wasn’t possible.

“We have seven finalists in the Mid-Atlantic,” she said. “Pittsburgh is particularly competitive, and we couldn’t narrow it down fairly.”

Those seven finalists will compete at 6 p.m. Tuesday at TechShop Pittsburgh for the regional prize of $3,000 and a one-year license for software program SOILDWORKS. The winner will also advance to the national competition, being held in Pittsburgh on April 19 and 20, for the chance at $50,000 in investment funds.

There’s also a regional award for audience favorite, which includes a training session with Innovation Works and a gift card for the winner’s caffeine of choice. 

This year, though, there will be more competitors at the final competition.

A new Southeast Regional was added in Fort Lauderdale for a total of seven regional winners. Plus, for the first time, there will be three to five international winners at the national contest. Simoncelli said those winners will come from Japan, South Korea, and Canada, as well as possibly two other countries that haven’t been announced yet.

What counts as hardware?

The Hardware Cup started because investors would say “Hardware is hard,” Simoncelli told The Incline. But with hardware, she said it’s easier to enforce intellectual property rights and for founders to exit with higher profits. Plus, she said it’s becoming more accessible and less expensive.

The contest aims to help early stage hardware startups aka companies that have a physical product, from fashion to robotics. Apps don’t count, Simoncelli said.

So far, there have been roughly 150 to 200 applications to the 2017 Hardware Cup, but Simoncelli said she expects that that number to hit 400, since five regions and the international contests are still taking applications for the regional contests.

The Mid-Atlantic Regional will pick a winner Tuesday, and West Coast Regional winner, VaGenie, “like a fitbit for your ladybits,” was selected earlier this month.

Pittsburgh’s finalists

Of the seven Mid-Atlantic Regional finalists, four are from Pittsburgh. (Finalists BluBoard and Dimensionally Yours are from Cleveland, Ohio and Water Remediation Services, LLC is from Braintree, MA.)

Here’s more about the four Pittsburgh finalists:

  • CleanRobotics created Trashbot, an automated trashcan that separates trash and recycling, according to the company’s website. To prevent recyclable items from ending up in landfills, the Trashbot combines robotics, sensors and the cloud to separate trash and recycling, alert users when the bin is full and to tell users if there is a change in the local recycling program, per its website.
  • Rubitection is developing the Rubitect Assessment System, to raise awareness of bedsores. The system is a “non-invasive hand held tool” that helps medical staff evaluate and find “the signs of an early stage pressure ulcer on dark and lightly toned skin,” according to the company’s Facebook. The tool is also a finalist for UpPrize, a social innovation challenge for local companies. UpPrize has its final showcase March 30.
  • Teratonix is a device that collects energy to fuel low-power devices. The tool, developed at Carnegie Mellon University, collects ambient radio waves, said Ivan Pistsov, a CMU graduate student who is working on the business side for the device. He said those radio waves can be from radio, TV or cell phone towers, and collection won’t impact people’s ability to use it. The energy is then used to power low-energy devices like meters and sensors. Teratonix doesn’t have to be replaced, eliminating the time and money spent replacing batteries, Pistsov said.
  • Xogo is a product from Bansen Labs that allows console games to be accessible for anyone, said Ray Abel, CEO of Bansen. People who have disabilities sometimes have difficulty holding things, so this adapter allows them to play without a standard game controller. Video games are the “great leveler,” Abel said, adding that it doesn’t matter if you are short or tall or athletic or not-athletic, you can still play.

Hear the pitches:

The National Hardware Cup: Mid-Atlantic Regional

Come watch as seven finalists compete to become the regional winner. The event starts with a panel of local entrepreneurs and investors. Then, finalists get four minutes to pitch their company to judges, followed by a Q&A. Judges decide the winner, and attendees vote for the "audience favorite." Space is limited to 200.

Where: TechShop Pittsburgh at 192 Bakery Square Blvd (Larimer)

When: February 21, 2017 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

How much: Free, but registration is required