Pittsburgh’s transformation from steel town to a hub of new technologies has been credited to big players like Google and Uber. But there are many young entrepreneurs, inventors, researchers and tech evangelists in Pittsburgh who are helping to cement the city’s legacy as a tech town.
For our Who’s Next: Technology class, we’re honoring some of these up-and-comers. Whether learning, teaching or working at Pittsburgh institutions like Carnegie Mellon University or at startup hubs including AlphaLab Gear and Techshop, these 18 people are creating technology today that will ensure a better tomorrow. These Who’s Next honorees were selected by The Incline’s editorial staff from dozens of nominees.
Later this month, we’ll celebrate this Who’s Next class at a party, sponsored by S&T Bank and Uber, held in their honor at Wigle Whiskey — and you’re invited!
Join us at Wigle Whiskey to honor Pittsburgh's up-and-coming dynamos working in technology! Your ticket includes complimentary mini-tours of Wigle accompanied by a tasting, two drink tickets, food from AMPD Group restaurants, and a chance to meet The Incline's Who's Next: Technology class. Special thanks to event sponsors S&T Bank and Uber.
Where: Wigle Whiskey at 2401 Smallman St. (Strip District)
When: March 30, 2017 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
How much: $20 for public | Free for Who's Next: Technology honorees
Ray Abel has done something that other entrepreneurs only dream of: He made a deal with Mark Cuban on “Shark Tank.” Abel helped found Bro Council, a website for men. And while their "Shark Tank" segment didn't air, they used the investment to start a 5K race focused on the best of cities. Now he’s the CEO of Bansen Labs, whose adapter Xogo allows people with disabilities to use gaming systems. The product was a finalist for AlphaLab Gear's regional hardware cup. “Ray works tirelessly to help people with disabilities connect to technology,” wrote a person who nominated him. “He leads a passionate team that really strives to do the best they can to help make life better for people with disabilities.” A graduate of Robert Morris University, Abel lives on the South Side.
Priya Amin and Jessica Strong are co-founders of Flexable, a platform that connects parents and daycares to find the best childcare solutions, especially at the last minute. The duo started their company in June 2016. Amin, now Flexable's CMO, previously worked in the corporate sector with stops at IBM and Nestlé. She left to start a consulting firm called ROKI and was looking for more ways to encourage creativity and entrepreneurship among women when she and Strong met in 2015. Strong, CEO of Flexable, worked in several non-profits before becoming a freelancer. She knew the difficulty of running a business and raising kids, so she founded Whetstone Workgroup, a co-working space with on-site childcare. Flexable was in the summer cohort of AlphaLab Accelerator Program. A graduate of the University of Arizona, Amin lives in Mount Lebanon. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon and The Ohio State universities, Strong lives in Stanton Heights.
Josh Caputo’s company HuMoTech spun off from the Experimental Biomechatronics Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University, where Caputo was a postdoctoral researcher. His company builds robotic exoskeletons and prostheses, including a robotic foot that allows amputees to experience what it’s like to wear different prostheses. “Their technology provides a major step forward in giving doctors an evidence-based approach for fitting prosthetic and orthotic devices for amputees, and it stands to significantly improve quality of life for those in need,” wrote a person who nominated him. “Josh keeps an eye to the future of robotics and is positioned to have an incredible impact for social good.” A graduate of CMU, he lives in Stanton Heights.
Andy Chan started his first business in third-grade selling paper airplanes, which made him realize he wanted to be an entrepreneur. It was a later experience as a college football player that led him to leave Carnegie Mellon University and start his own company, VIT. Chan broke his back after years of playing football and “realized how archaic and painful the recovery process was and set out find a better solution to help athletes heal,” he told The Incline. His company has created ARC, described as the “Fitbit for the back,” which seeks to reduce the risk for injury by collecting and analyzing data. When Chan isn’t working, he’s making films and doing music production. Currently AlphaLab Gear’s entrepreneur in residence, he lives in Shadyside.
Kenny Chen was born in Madison, Wis., raised in Las Vegas, and worked around the world, including in D.C. and Taiwan, before coming to Pittsburgh for the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs. As program director of Ascender, “a hub for Pittsburgh's starters and builders,” Chen is tasked with building partnerships with other organizations in the city and organizing programming for members. He coordinated the Thrival Music & Innovation Festival, which put dozens of startups under one roof so they could promote their work and network. He’s also a co-founder of involveMINT, which rewards volunteers with freebies like concert tickets. “Kenny is a true ‘service leader’ who works tirelessly to help early stage companies and entrepreneurs solve problems and connect with resources that can move them forward,” wrote a person who nominated him. “He's one of the most effective, efficient team members I've ever had the pleasure to work with. Whatever the task, Kenny dives right in.” A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, Chen lives on the North Side.
Corinne Clinch co-founded Rorus in 2014 with her Carnegie Mellon classmate Uriel Eisen. The Pittsburgh-based startup designs low-cost and simple-to-use water filters that remove viruses. Rorus began fulfilling orders from nongovernmental organizations and nonprofits in December, with 1,000 sent that month to India. “Right now, we can’t keep up with the demand,” Clinch told The Incline. “It’s really exciting, and it’s also a little terrifying.” A person who nominated her wrote, "Corinne has traveled the world to learn the problems with global water filtration and started Rorus as a way to use the power of entrepreneurship to make a dent in this incredibly complex problem." She and Eisen were honored on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list for social entrepreneurs. Clinch is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and lives in Point Breeze.
For several years, Brian Finamore was a leader at YinzCam, a Pittsburgh-based sports app company that works with the NFL and NBA. There, Finamore released more than 100 apps for the company’s clients. Before that, he was a mechanical design engineer at Boeing, working on the International Space Station program. Today, he’s the co-founder and CTO of Gridwise, a transportation tech startup that aims to improve the performance of ride-hailing drivers. Gridwise is an AlphaLab and an Innovation Works portfolio company. “Brian has been an influencer of the tech scene in Pittsburgh for many years now,” a person who nominated him wrote. A Pittsburgh native and graduate of Cornell and Carnegie Mellon, he lives on the North Side.
Sanna Gaspard, PhD, has combined her passions for healthcare and innovation to build two medical device companies. She created Rubitection Inc, a medical device startup, in August 2011. Gaspard’s device helps detect, assess and manage early stage bed sores, something she saw as an area that needed improved care to save lives. Her goal is to make the device the standard for bedsore detection and management. Rubitection recently advanced in two local tech contests — the device is a finalist for the UpPrize Competition and the regional winner of the Alpha Lab Gear Hardware Cup. Gaspard also founded TLneoCare LLC, a biotech startup that worked toward a therapeutic medical device to improve the survival rate and health of preterm and full-term babies. A graduate of University of Miami and Carnegie Mellon University, she lives in the Regent Square/Swissvale area.
B. Reeja Jayan’s personal struggle with celiac disease inspired her to research and develop a sensor that will allow people to test food to find out if it’s really gluten free. Devising that tool, with the goal of putting a low-cost sensor on the commercial market, is just one of the things Jayan researches as an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. “Assays and spectroscopy are two (expensive) ways of detecting the presence of complex molecules like proteins. Reeja is developing a new way to detect proteins using new materials and signal-processing techniques,” wrote a person who nominated her. “This work has broad potential applications, from allergen detection in food to the monitoring of circulating cancer cells in blood.” In addition to her research work, Jayan told The Incline she teaches using “games like Minecraft to engage student interest in complex topics in engineering.” Jayan is the winner of several awards and honors including the Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Award. A graduate of the University of Kerala, India and University of Texas at Austin, she lives in Squirrel Hill.
In 2016, Marcus Jeter helped found Resus Technologies, which seeks to make the process of connecting local businesses to customers easier. The company’s current project, MyStylist, utilizes an app to bring stylists directly to a customer; they’re testing the app for a year in Pittsburgh before expanding to larger markets. “He is a great teacher and is very creative as well as very persistent in making sure the public has options,” wrote a person who nominated him. Jeter told the Post-Gazette he wants “to encourage other” people who are minorities to start a business: “Let’s see if we can do something positive for society.” Jeter is also an active member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, which performs good works for the community. A graduate of Lincoln University, he lives in Verona.
Joel Johnson was behind Pittsburgh’s highest-grossing Kickstarter to date. With his brother Justin, he raised $1.2 million for BoXZY, a desktop 3D printer, laser engraver and computer numerical control mill that retails for just under $3,000. The Johnsons developed the device at TechShop through their company KinetiGear. It was named one of the best all-in-one 3D printers by All3DP.com and was a finalist for the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s startup of the year. “Now, other than running the day to day things at BoXZY, he helps and trains students how to use this amazing machine to build their dreams,” a person who nominated Johnson wrote. A graduate of the University of North Florida, he lives in Churchill.
Brittany Martin started her career in Pittsburgh as a product manager and then moved to San Francisco for two years before returning to Pittsburgh in 2015. Martin now works for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust as the lead web developer, where she is part of the team that develops, supports and maintains the Trust’s websites and web applications. She is also a mentor and squad lead at Bloc, where she teaches new developers how to code and is an advisor to five other Bloc mentors. Martin has a passion for helping women join the tech community and has organized three events around that goal – Railsbridge Pittsburgh, Clojurebridge Pittsburgh and Startup Weekend Pittsburgh: Women’s Edition. A graduate of Robert Morris University and University of Pittsburgh, she lives in Sewickley.
Justin Reese started Code & Supply, a community of software professionals, in March 2014. Reese pointed to three accomplishments at Code & Supply as points of pride — a cross-discipline software conference called Abstractions in August 2016 that brought 1,700 software professionals to Pittsburgh for a three-day event; a scholarship fund to help ease the financial burden of attending technical events, and a new Code & Supply co-working space. Reese is also the CEO of Builder Code Works, a software development company that sells software development to local companies and teaches courses. He’s a board member of the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center; president of the Code & Supply Scholarship Fund; mentor at AlphaLab and technical and business advisor at GiftID. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, he lives in Wilkinsburg.
Arden Rosenblatt is the CEO and co-founder of PieceMaker Technologies, a 3D printing company that provides automated, easy-to-use systems for creating personalized products on-demand. Rosenblatt and Alejandro Sklar created the PieceMaker 3D printer so that users can get exactly what they want, when they want, at an affordable price. The duo graduated from the AlphaLab Gear accelerator program, and PieceMaker was named “Best of Toy Fair 2016” by Popular Science Magazine and is working with companies like Nickelodeon, Toys”R”Us and Ford Motors. “Arden has always taken a Pittsburgh-first approach,” a nominator wrote, adding that Rosenblatt works to bring major organizations into the region and to build a strong network to connect Pittsburgh to cities across the country. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and University of California, Santa Barbara, he lives in the North Oakland/Bloomfield area.
Cameron Scott is the co-founder and technical director of Inquiri, which helps companies by providing designers, programmers and others with data-driven marketing and product design. Scott manages the product strategy, design and technical implementation of software products. He previously was a program manager for Thinktiv, Inc, helping more than two dozen early-stage tech projects with design, technical implementation and go-to-market strategy. Scott is one of “the best front-end developer of responsive websites and web products in the city,” a nominator wrote, and “Everyone he works with leaves the experience improved as a result of his approach and drive.” He was an organizer of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh in 2013. A graduate of Pennsylvania State University, he lives in Wilkinsburg.
As digital and community engagement manager for Innovation Works, Jennifer Van Dam manages social media and the online community, as well as relationships with stakeholders for Innovation Works, AlphaLab, AlphaLab Gear and Riverfront Ventures. In addition to that role, she’s the director of marketing for Invest in Her and vice president for marketing and communications for Association of Latino Professionals For America. Van Dam said her goals are "to empower women, people of color, and underserved communities to prosper in technology and entrepreneurship,” according to her LinkedIN. And her passion has made her an activist for those “historically left out of the startup technology boom,” a nominator wrote. She’s spoken about “bro-culture” and how to shape an inclusive company culture at the Lesbians Who Tech San Francisco Summit and the Tech Up DC Summit. A graduate of Chatham University, she lives in the North Side.
Wise is the founder and CEO of BreatheWise, a company he started in September 2015 to build internet-connected gas sensors that allow distributors to monitor supply and use in real-time to adjust delivery planning and save money, according to the company’s website. He previously worked as a mechanical engineer for Aethon and was a student researcher in the biorobotics lab while at Carnegie Mellon University. Wise did independent research that later became BreatheWise, which he plans to make “Pittsburgh's next big startup success,” a person who nominated him wrote. Wise is a team mentor for McGinnis Venture Competition and an alumni admissions interviewer for Carnegie Mellon University. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, he lives in Shadyside.