9 Pittsburgh startups share the secret to picking a great company name

Do your research, but don’t take it too seriously.

Logos courtesy of respective companies
MJ Slaby

When picking a name for a medical robotics company in the early 2000s, co-founder Craig Markovitz said the name had to reflect a connection to Carnegie Mellon University and Pittsburgh.

So they decided on easy-to-remember Blue Belt Technologies, a reference to the path on the Allegheny County Belt System that runs closest to the CMU campus.

About two years ago, Blue Belt Technologies was acquired by Smith & Nephew, which changed the name, but Markovitz said the power of the Blue Belt name still stands. Blue Belt will “always be a Pittsburgh story.”

Picking a name is both something that requires time and research and something that should be fun and not taken too seriously, local start-up founders said. It’s also the first step to establishing a website, social media and payroll.

Markovitz said his advice is to “keep it simple,” but to remember that the name has to be followed closely by substance and a passionate team doing meaningful work.

So what worked, what didn’t and what would some local startups do differently if they could go back in time? Here are the naming stories of some Pittsburgh startups.

‘One of the hardest parts of the journey’

Courtesy of auratek textiles

Company: AURATEK Textiles
What they do: Create fabric that looks good, feels good and is good for your skin

AURATEK Founder and CEO Allison Howard’s best piece of advice on naming a company came from an expert who didn’t like her company’s name.

“He said that if people hear it, they should be able to spell it, and if they see it, they could say it,” Howard said, adding that although he didn’t think AURATEK passed the sniff test, she still thinks it’s good advice.

Naming her company has “been one of the hardest parts of the journey so far.” While searching for a name, she said she found she was partial to “A” names — maybe because of her first name, or maybe because her two kids always talked about lining up in alphabetical order at school.

Howard also liked the word aura, but on its own, it was too common in the skin care space. So she added “tek,” a trendy abbreviation for textiles.

Once AURATEK was named, she got a website and social media, helping her feel like her company, which she started working on full-time about a year ago, was real. She’s currently working on her first product, bedsheets, available in hotels.

Howard said she’s still trying to figure out if AURATEK is her company name, her product name, or both. It might change.

“I’m married to it for now, but not married to it forever,” she said.

One name, many opinions

Courtesy of Aurochs Brewing Company

Company: Aurochs Brewing Company
What they do: 
Gluten-free craft beer

The founders of Aurochs Brewing Company first started working together on their idea for a gluten-free brewery as Carnegie Mellon University students. They wanted a name that had the “look and feel” of a craft brewery, but that wasn’t already taken, said Ryan Bove, who founded the brewery with Doug Foster. Bove added he was looking for something both “rugged and industrial.”

Bove said name after name was suggested until at some point — he doesn’t remember how it came up — someone suggested Aurochs.

Aurochs are “an extinct species of large (elephant-sized) wild cattle that inhabited Europe, Asia and North Africa until 1627. The Aurochs became extinct partially due to the increased farming of wheat and barley,” Corinne Bechtel, who does marketing for the brewery, said in an email. “Since, as a naturally gluten-free brewery, we don’t use any wheat or barley, we decided to bring back the Aurochs as our name and logo.”

People sometimes struggle pronouncing it — it sounds like or-rocks — but it’s been a conversation starter since the brewery settled on the name in 2014. And while everyone may have an opinion on the name, what matters is that the team behind it is proud of and passionate about it, Bove said.

Visit the brewery and tap room at 8321 Ohio River Blvd. (Emsworth).

Changing course

courtesy of diversame

Company: Diversamé
What they do: Tools for those with natural/afro textured, coiled and curly hair textures

Diversamé didn’t start as Diversamé.

“We started with a different, a catchy, a great name,” said founder Tamiah Bridgett.

But then she found out that the first name was a little-used slogan for a popular hair care company, and her lawyer hadn’t caught it. So her company needed a new name to avoid legal action. Bridgett combined the company’s focus on diversity and her goal to make customers proud of how they look to create Diversamé — emphasis on ME.

While the company only had its first name for a few months and has been Diversamé for two years now, Bridgett said she’s still paying to make all the needed changes to bank accounts and so on. Her biggest advice to a new founder is to double check that the name isn’t already taken. That, and “pick a name that reflects your product and comes from the heart.”

Sign up for updates on pre-ordering the Diversamé hair dryer.

A fit for the female business traveler

go jane go / facebook

Company name: Go Jane Go
What they do: Resources and connections for women business travelers

For a company name, Go Jane Go Co-Founders Kate Nichols and Ellen Saksen turned to the names of groundbreaking women like Jane Goodall and Amelia Earhart. But the inspiration for Go Jane Go came from the pages of children’s books about “Dick and Jane.” It’s recognizable, fun and implies movement, Saksen said.

But when they went to make an app, Go Jane already existed. To avoid confusion, Go Jane Go named its app Amelia after Amelia Earhart. But the Jane brand is so strong that Saksen said the company is re-launching its website with more content and retiring Amelia.

Saksen said she feels lucky to have found the right name, but said founders should hold out for perfection. “You’ll go through dozens of names before you land on one that feels right in your gut, and it will be obvious.”

Pick puns with purpose

involvemint / facebook

Company: involveMINT
What they do: An app to find volunteering opportunities and earn redeemable time credits

After several app ideas, Dan Little settled on one that would later be named involveMINT. He wanted to pick a name that reflected the currency and time credit aspects.

Its first name? Time tender.

But as he pitched it, Little said people were confused and thought he said Tinder instead of tender, so they thought it was a timed dating app. Right before a pitch in September 2015, Little was talking to friend and adviser Anthony Stewart about how he wanted to pick a name that ended in -mint.

Stewart started throwing out words and invovleMINT stuck. Little said the team started writing mint in all capital letters to emphasize the spelling of mint, and the capitalization stuck.

Some apps have cute names, but don’t say anything about what the app does. But involveMINT is both cute and describes the app’s function, he said. Plus it allows for light and playful puns like “volunteering refreshed.”

Sign up for involveMINT, or download the app on Google Play. (iOS coming soon.)

Memory and a mission

courtesy of rc21x

Company: RC21X
What they do: An online brain monitoring tool

Clarence Carlos, founder of RC21X, started the company after a friend’s teenage son died suddenly of a stroke.

While he was thinking of a name, Roberto Clemente Jr. reached out to Carlos on LinkedIn. (Yes, really.) The pair started talking and Carlos later asked if he could name his company after Clemente’s father. The Clementes said yes, and RC21X — with an X on the end to represent a medical prescription, as in Rx — was created in 2014. A further nod to No. 21, its app is named Roberto. 

“We wanted it to have a name like a person,” said Chris Fletcher, chief marketing officer. Like Watson, the personable name makes the app more approachable, he said. Plus, the name recognition that comes with Clemente’s name is key. People know him and our mission of helping people is the same as his mission, Carlos said.

Get it on iOS, Google Play.

Technology + trust

courtesy of trusst lingerie

Company: Trusst Lingerie
What they do: Bras without underwires for women with full busts

Most of the time, lingerie companies have feminine names or use women’s names for their products. But Trusst Lingerie is more technical and scientific, said founder Sophia Berman, adding that the company wanted to stand out.

The company’s technology created an alternative to underwire for full-busted support, using a truss or cantilever system. So the company’s name is a combination of trust and truss, an element used for structural support in bridges, so it also has a Pittsburgh tie.

But that wasn’t always its name. Berman said they were incorporated as Bazooka Jane, a name that was changed in 2014, just a few months into the company.

“It seems so silly now,” she said. “It was not a mature name that derived confidence.”

Plus, she said, Bazooka Joe is a popular brand, so the first name didn’t stand out. She said company founders should do their research and think about similar names.

Shop the brand here.

A change in the works

vit initiative / facebook

Company: VIT Initiative
What they do: A wearable device that aims to prevent back strains and sprains

Who’s Next honoree Andy Chan likened choosing his company name with Connor Young as “a band choosing its name right before going on stage.”

He said the duo wanted to get serious about starting a company, so they picked a generic name and chose V-I-T Initiative, standing for “visionaries and inventors of tomorrow,” the same name as an organization Chan ran in high school.

They started with a knee brace, but then pivoted to their current product, Arc, while at Alpha Lab Gear. They are now working with companies like Giant Eagle that want to provide the device to their employees.

Chan said the company is now deciding if they want to rebrand, with investors suggesting a name that more closely aligns with their product to help with marketing and branding.

But finding a name is difficult, Chan said, adding that although it’s incredibly important, it takes hours that could be spent doing something else. It’s about striking a balance between something clever, but not too cutesy, he said.