Bill Flanagan

I’ve been in Pittsburgh long enough – 30 years this month, in fact – to remember when a term like “Pittsburgh Entrepreneur” was thought to be something of an oxymoron. It was a reflection of how strongly our region had become attached to the industrial, corporate economy that Pittsburgh exemplified for a century. There was a sense we’d become great managers but we’d lost some of our capacity to create. And there was concern that we’d never be able to recapture the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that had built Pittsburgh in the first place, when a bunch of young entrepreneurs with names like Heinz, Hunt and Westinghouse were reinventing the way the world worked, and Andrew Carnegie was combing the world for innovative technologies like the Bessemer Convertor to revolutionize the steel industry.

Over the past generation we have come a long way, and there was no better example than the recent Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards at the Wyndham Grand Hotel in Downtown Pittsburgh. Twenty-three finalists from western Pennsylvania and West Virginia were competing. (A couple of the judges told me after a preliminary round that they were cutting entrepreneurs that should be winners, not just finalists.)

You can see who won by clicking here and watch videos of the winners on our YouTube page or below.

E&Y brought the award to our region 26 years ago and I’ve had the honor of serving as master of ceremonies for many of those events. This year, E&Y honored Rich Lunak, president of Innovation Works (IW), as Supporter of Entrepreneurship. Rich made a really good point along the lines of Sir Isaac Newton’s famous quote, “If I have seen farther than most it is because I stand on the shoulder of giants.”  Rich talked about the visionaries of the 1980s (some were thought of as crazies) who said we should put the infrastructure in place to create a knowledge-driven, entrepreneurial economy. They included people like former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy, who as a state lawmaker helped to create the Ben Franklin Partnerships that became IW here in our region and the late Ron Morris, founder of The American Entrepreneur. Rich mentioned Tom Canfield and Frank Demmler of the old Enterprise Corporation, now folded into IW as well. Civic leaders such as Bill Newlin, Bob Kampmeinert, Marlee Meyers and Tim Parks created the Pittsburgh Technology Council, celebrating its 30th anniversary next year. A few years later, Dennis Yablonsky brought to life the Life Sciences and Digital Greenhouses. And, of course, you can’t say enough about the contributions of the leadership of Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh, UPMC and the West Penn Allegheny Health System all along the way.

Today there are hundreds of companies in health care, life sciences, and information & communications technology employing hundreds of thousands of people in the region, many of them companies that didn’t exist three decades ago. You can add to that the impact innovation and technology commercialization have had on our foundational industries in advanced manufacturing, financial and business services and energy. The seeds that were planted then have borne fruit – and it’s a big reason our region’s economy has been outperforming the national average for several years running.

Now, if we could only find the financial resources we need to capitalize on all the good ideas and would-be entrepreneurs teaching and studying at our colleges and universities and working inside companies throughout the region. Oh, well, we’ve got to have something for the next generation to work on…

Meantime, congratulations to this year’s crop of Entrepreneurs of the Year. They’ll be representing our region at E&Y’s national Strategic Growth Conference in California in November.

Check out Rich Lunak’s interview here.

And see all the interviews here.

Ben Kamber

For the second year in a row, the Pennsylvania state budget passed on time and saw no tax increases. At $27.66 billion, the 2012-13 fiscal year budget also keeps higher education spending at previous levels and preserves CURE (Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement) spending, which is an important funding program for university biomedical research. State Senator Jay Costa and President of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce Barbara McNees discuss the provisions passed that will improve government efficiency and encourage business investment.

Natural Gas Creating Opportunity for Environmental Services Laboratories
The region’s natural gas boom is driving business to companies large and small. One of these small businesses, Indiana, Pa. based Environmental Services Laboratories (ESL), got its start in 1988 and has been growing quickly since landing their first Marcellus Shale deal in 2007. Now the company has 70 employees and is on pace to continue growing. CEO and President Elizabeth Gregg and COO Michael Moyer discuss how ESL was able to take advantage of the shale opportunity and provide advice for other small business owners looking to follow suit.

Gordon & Rees Establishes Pittsburgh Office
Based in San Francisco, Gordon & Rees is a national law firm with 26 offices across the county and employs 500 attorneys. Their newest office opened in Pittsburgh earlier this year in the city’s iconic Gulf Tower. Manoj Jegasothy, managing partner of the Pittsburgh office was the driving force in bringing Gordon & Rees to the region. He and Dion Cominos, firmwide managing partner, discuss why Pittsburgh makes sense for this entrepreneurially-oriented law practice.

Our Region’s Business airs Sundays at 11 a.m. on WPXI-TV. Hosted by the Allegheny Conference’s Bill Flanagan, the 30-minute business affairs program is co-produced with Cox Broadcasting. The program is rebroadcast on PCNC-TV at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays, and at 3:30 p.m. Mondays. It also airs Sundays on WJAC-TV (Johnstown-Altoona) at 6 a.m. and WTOV-TV (Wheeling-Steubenville) at 6:30 a.m.

Bonnie Pfister

For the first time ever, a women’s professional football championship will be hosted at an NFL stadium.

Pittsburgh Passion teammates

Heinz Field will host the 2012 SilverSport WFA National Championship on Saturday, August 4. The WFA, or Women’s Football Alliance, is a 62-team U.S. league that plays full-contact football. While local team Pittsburgh Passion has had several winning seasons, it did not, alas, make it to the final playoff game this year. Instead, the contest between the Chicago Force and the San Diego Surge starts at 4 p.m. and will be broadcast via ESPN3  to 73 million homes, and online at WatchESPN.com, Xbox Live and mobile devices.

Saturday will be a day-long “Breaking Barriers” festival at the stadium, including VIP Reception for sponsors and athletes, a Fan Fair and a ceremony afterwards in which two Pittsburgh Steelers will be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

The event comes at the 40th anniversary of two historic events: the passage of Title IX, the law that outlawed gender discrimination in U.S. educational programs and by extension, in school athletics; and the Immaculate Reception — one of the most famous plays in football history, carried out by beloved Pittsburgh idol (and Passion co-owner) Franco Harris.

Among the cheering fans will be former Pittsburgh Passion defensive back Jennifer Cairns. The recipient of the first-ever ATHENA Young Professional Award for women leaders age 35 and younger, Cairns is a partner at law firm McGuire Woods specializing in litigation and risk management. ImaginePittsburghNow.com asked this eloquent spokeswoman and advocate for equality and the mentorship of women and girls to weigh in on Saturday’s gathering. Here’s what she had to say.

“I think the event celebrates the pioneers of the past who had the courage to stand up and shed light on the inequalities facing women in sport. It also highlights the important role forward-thinking men played in opening doors and empowering female athletes and coaches to continue to demand opportunities and combat traditional stereotypes. Finally, I firmly believe that forward steps such as these not only have a positive impact on the women and girls following behind us, but also on the men and boys.

“In my 10 years of involvement with women’s football, one of the most inspiring stories I’ve heard came during a casual conversation I overheard among the children and friends of a former teammate.

“Apparently, there had been debate on the ball field in one boy’s neighborhood as to whether the boys would let girls play with them. Although they decided to let the girls play, some of the boys began to bicker over whose team was going to get ‘stuck’ with the girls. Out of the blue, the little boy chimed up: ‘My aunt plays football and those ladies really know how to hit! I want them on my team.’  It was then that our true impact struck me. We are not only serving as role models for our daughters; we’re changing perceptions and breaking down stereotypes before they can transform into fixed beliefs for our sons and nephews. It’s this next generation of inspired women and enlightened men who are going to change the world as we know it!”

Play ball!

Ben Kamber

Did you know that Pittsburgh is the only place in the world with an R&D center for Apple, Google, Microsoft, Intel and Disney? While the region has attracted these IT heavy-hitters  — in part because of the wealth of talent emerging from such universities as Carnegie Mellon and Pitt — it is also home-growing fresh IT pioneers whose work is turning heads at international consumer electronics shows and beyond.

The Pittsburgh region is home to  1,500 IT companies. A sampling of this digital diversity was served up last month to visiting national and international reporters wanting to find out what’s driving the region’s growing global reputation in this sector. From as far away as Portugal and representing such news media outlets such as Thomson Reuters, USA Today and The Globe and Mail of Canada, the journalists participated in a multi-day study of Pittsburgh’s tech scene. They concluded with a mixer where they mingled informally with some of the region’s most innovative tech entrepreneurs.

The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance partners annually with CMU to hold an Information Technology and Digital Innovation Mixer as part of the university’s InfoTech Media Fellowship. This year’s event was held at the new downtown offices of ShowClix – a fast growing, full-serve online ticketing company. Showcased was a cross-section of companies including Body Media, creator of the wildly popular FIT armband;  the Resumator, which allows small and midsize businesses to streamline their hiring and recruitment processes; mobile broadband solutions firms Smith Micro and voice translation app creator Jibbigo. Attendees were also treated to a demonstration of High Point Pittsburgh – a virtual visit to a proposed multi-use entertainment structure atop downtown Pittsburgh’s iconic U.S. Steel building.

ImaginePittsburghNow.com caught up with rising tech titans Christine Robbins, CEO of Body Media and Uniontown native Don Charlton, founder and CEO of the Resumator. Rounding out the video was Portuguese journalist Ana Rita Guerra, who shared her first-time-visitor impressions of Pittsburgh’s tech scene. Check out the video below to hear why Pittsburgh is the ideal spot to launch those next big ideas.

You can click below to watch an excerpt of our fall 2011 interview with Jibbigo CEO Mattt Harbaugh.

ImaginePittsburghNow

What is the power of Pittsburgh? It’s the knack of local innovators and organizations to collaborate and develop new solutions to vexing problems. The region has demonstrated this in many ways, not least of which is its transformation from an economy based on muscle and steel to one with globally recognized thought leadership in green building and sustainability.

That leadership has been recognized nearly weekly this summer by a variety of publications, most recently Architectural Record/GreenSource magazine. An editor from that outlet participated in the green Pittsburgh media study tour in May, hosted by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance and VisitPittsburgh. The publications highlighted Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens new Center for Sustainable Landscapes for its participation in the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) to create voluntary national guidelines for the design, construction, and maintenance of landscapes. You can read more about it here, and other related coverage here.

More specific to collaboration and Phipps, a number of regional companies contributed key technologies to the Center for Sustainable Landscapes. They include PPG, Berner International, the Center for Building Performance & Diagnostics at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh’s Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, Green Building Alliance and The Design Alliance, among others.

Click on the PowerofPittsburgh YouTube video below to hear what Phipps’ Executive Director Richard Piacentini had to say about the Pittsburgh region’s collaborative leadership around sustainability.

Bill Flanagan

Our region’s done well by a new AARP ranking of the 10 best places to retire in the United States, snagging two of the spots. Both Morgantown, W. V. and Pittsburgh made the list of “Best Places to Live on $100 a Day.” As the article puts it, it’s not about living cheaply; it’s about living well. AARP recognized Morgantown as a small college city that “combines Appalachian roots with a strong local economy.” Pittsburgh got the nod in part because “88 distinct neighborhoods create a European atmosphere.” It’s worth noting that most of the metros cited, from Spokane, Wash. to Gainesville, Fla., are small. Pittsburgh was the largest metro to make the list.

Meantime, The Wall Street Journal is recognizing revitalization in East Liberty. The article reviews the decades of efforts to engineer a comeback in Pittsburgh’s East End, from major redevelopment projects in the 1960s that may have contributed to the community’s decline to the more organic, grassroots approach of the past 15 years or so, with partnering among ELDI (the community development corporation), the Urban Redevelopment Authority and local developers and lenders.  East Liberty has become a must-see community when we host civic leaders from around the country.  The neighborhood illustrates the challenge in reinventing a place, along with the collaboration and persistence that are required to deliver meaningful and lasting change. Since the G-20 summit, about 20 civic leadership groups from across the country have been here to benchmark Pittsburgh. They’ve marveled at the willingness of people here to collaborate to take on challenges and capitalize on opportunities.

We’re still getting exposure from the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in May (ISEF). Check out the video below from the Philippines about one of the competing teams. It offers a fascinating juxtaposition of scenes from Pittsburgh and the Philippines. ISEF returns to our region in 2015.

Finally, congrats to Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald for hosting a successful National Association of Counties conference. Thousands of county officials from across the country visited Pittsburgh over the weekend and early this week. They took part in a “tailgate” at Heinz Field that showcased innovative companies and gave them a real taste of our region. VisitPittsburgh estimates the 4,200 delegates spent about $5.9 million while they were here.

Thanks as always for helping to share the good word about our region.