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Astrobotic expanding to Pittsburgh's Strip District, prepares to blast off

Astrobotic Technology, the Carnegie Mellon University spinoff and a front runner in the Google Lunar X race to the moon, is breaking ground on a new headquarters in the Strip District.
 
The facility, to be located at the corner of Liberty and 25th streets, will give Astrobotic 3,600 square feet to consolidate its operations in one place, says Jason Calaiaro, CIO. The company is currently housed on CMU’s campus and in Oakland.
 
The new facility is key to the development of the company’s landers and rovers and to further plans for a mission to the moon in 2015. Plans also call for a crane, called a gravity offloader, which simulate Moon gravity for robots and assist in assembling spacecraft.
 
“This is a dream facility,” says Calairo. “The crane is an incredible piece of technology.  Imagine strapping yourself into a harness connected to a crane and having the experience of Moon gravity.  We're doing that for robots.”
 
Last October, Astrobotic unveiled a prototype lunar prospecting rover, Polaris, which will prospect for water, oxygen, methane and other life-supporting volatiles on the moon. 
 
The company has also won several NASA contracts that are helping to underwrite the mission to the moon and Google Lunar X Race. The Astrobotic-CMU mission, scheduled for October of 2015, is on schedule, says Calairo.
 
Of the 28 teams entered in the competition, three or four are considered serious contenders and have secured the funding needed to compete, says Calairo. The Astrobotic-CMU mission, which is under the wing of CMU’s Red Whittaker, CEO of Astrobotic, is considered a favorite to win. 
 
Astrobotic currently employs seven, with another 20 on the CMU side, and plans on hiring several in 2013.
 
Source: Jason Calairo, Astrobotic Technologies
Writer: Deb Smit
 

Pittsburgh's Shoefitr helps online shoe shoppers get it right the first time

If the shoe fits, wear it. Unless it doesn't fit, in which case if it was purchased online it has to get shipped back – a hassle for the customer and a huge cost for the industry.
 
"It seemed incredibly wasteful and a solvable problem," says Matt Wilkinson, a co-founder and CEO of Shoefitr, a young Pittsburgh company, which invented a virtual shoe fitting application.
 
Shoefitr uses 3D scanning technology so that online shoppers can compare a shoe they want to buy with one they currently wear. Shoefitr will recommend the correct size with 95% accuracy.
 
Shoefitr's customers, including footwear e-retailers The Athlete's Foot, Saucony and Toms, along with large online sellers in Brazil and Australia, report as much as a 38% reduction in returns.
 
That has a huge appeal to the industry, which lost over $600 million in sales in 2008, when one of three shoes purchased online was returned. Virtual fitting also has potential to drive online shoe sales, Wilkinson adds, noting that despite the explosive growth in online shopping, 75% of customers are reluctant to shop for footwear on the Internet.
 
Shoefitr launched in 2010 out of Carnegie Mellon University. In 2011, the company moved from the Innovation Works' AlphaLab accelerator into its own space. That year, the company also attracted $1.2 million in venture capital.
 
Now Shoefitr, which has added about 20 customers in the last year, is expanding beyond athletic footwear into casual and women's designer shoes, says Wilkinson, and anticipates adding about five new positions in the next six months, bringing its workforce to 15.
 
Source: Matt Wilkinson, Shoefitr
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 

Rinovum hiring for The Stork, an over-the-counter fertility kit for home use

South Side-based Rinovum Women’s Health has received FDA authorization to market its initial prescription product, The Stork, a tool to support couples in overcoming several fertility problems and conceive in the comfort of their own home.  
 
The product will launch in Pittsburgh the first quarter of 2013. Rinovum also plans to move into a larger facility in the near future; manufacturing will take place in Pittsburgh, reports Stephen Bollinger, founder, president and CEO.
 
Rinovum, formerly Intimate Bridge 2 Conception, believes that moving out of the doctor’s office and into the home (and bedroom) will help couples better achieve their reproductive goals.
 
“One of the biggest challenges with physician office assisted approaches (intraurterine insemination or IUI) is the loss of privacy, where the male has to perform  in the doctor’s office,” explains Bollinger.
 
“A third of all candidates can’t and the couple go home frustrated. Our technology allows the couples to have supported conception while delivering a higher concentration of semen to the cervix in the privacy of their own home.”

The Stork is targeting the 7.3 million couples in U.S. who experience difficulty in conceiving.  It is specifically created to bridge the gap between natural intercourse and more aggressive approaches like IUI and Invitro fertilization.
 
The Stork should be a couples first step in the path of assisted conception, says Bollinger. A way to “nudge the Stork.”  It works through a condom-like vessel for the collection of fresh semen, which is then placed into a tampon-like device and delivered into the vaginal tract to the cervix.
 
Last year the company received a $4.3 M round of venture capital to move the product into commercialization. Seko MedTec Solutions in Pittsburgh is partnering with Rinovum to do order fulfillment out of Western Pennsylvania.
 
The company is currently at 10 people and plans to hire in early 2013; positions range from quality and regulatory manufacturing to operations. By second quarter 2013, Rinovum hopes to have its CE Mark and be selling overseas.
 
While fertility is Rinovum’s primary focus, the company plans to expand into other areas of women’s health care, Bollinger says.
 
“Women are smart consumers,” he says. “We’re taking a look at technology that is  proven and of clinical-based benefit that can be offered over-the-counter or be more consumer friendly. That’s what Rinovum is all about.”
 
Source: Stephen Bollinger, Rinovum
Writer: Deb Smit

Epiphany Solar Water Systems headlines Pittsburgh Tech 50 winners

More than 600 people attended the 16th annual Pittsburgh Tech 50 Awards last Thursday, a celebration that marked the last 30 years and the transformation of Pittsburgh as a hub for thriving technology companies.
 
With music pumping and videos playing, the show celebrated the business leaders that helped lead the way, such as Dick Thornburgh, Tim Parks and Jerry McGinnis, to name a few. "They didn't see it as risk. They saw it as imperative," Audrey Russo intoned in the video. (Watch the 30 year history video.)

Rock star presenters sashayed on stage to the beat, some dancing or playing guitar.

Held at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown, the event also featured a Showcase of Innovation where nominees displayed their products and initiatives prior to the awards ceremony.
 
And the winners were: 
 
Advanced Manufacturer of the Year: Calgon Carbon Corporation
 
Innovator of the Year: Epiphany Solar Water Systems, LLC
 
Life Sciences Company of the Year: ERT, formerly invivodata, inc
 
New Media Company of the Year: TrueFit
 
Solution Provider of the Year: Summa Technologies
 
Start-Up of the Year: Branding Brand
 
Tech Titan of the Year: ANSYS, Inc.
 
CEO of the Year: Scott Pearson, Aquion Energy, Inc.
 
For a complete listing of all the finalists, click here.
 
Source: Pittsburgh Technology Council
Writer: Deb Smit

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Pittsburgh's Astrobotic in a race to the moon

In a new race to the moon , a young Pittsburgh firm has completed a prototype robot to prospect for ice at the lunar poles. Astrobotic Technology unveiled its Polaris moon rover last month for delivery to NASA next summer.
 
Propelling Astrobotic's work, says the company's Jason Calaiaro, is the Google Lunar X PRIZE, an international competition offering $30 million to the first privately-funded team to safely land a robot on the moon that can travel 500 meters and send back video, images and data. (There are 26 teams competing worldwide, and Pennsylvania has two: Astrobotic and the Penn State Lunar Lion Team.)
 
Such a robot could cost as much as $100 million to produce, says Calaiaro, so realizing a business model that supports the research and development is essential, and "not just because it's a cool thing to do. Though it's an incredibly cool thing to do."
 
So Astrobotic has won $3.6 million in nine lunar contracts from NASA since 2008, when it spun off from Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute. The young company currently employs six and is adding four new positions, with another two likely in the first quarter of 2013.
 
Equally significant, as of January 1, Astrobotic is moving off the CMU campus to its own 5,000-square-foot space. "We can build a rover to put on the moon in that space," says Calaiaro. "Its really a tremendous step to be able to set up a sustainable enterprise like this with the lofty goal of landing on the moon." 

Source: Jason Calaiaro, Astrobotic
Writer: Elise Vider












What are they saying about you? Pittsburgh start-up monitors social media

For anyone who has ever Googled themself comes Social-Fingerprint, a free, new service that allows users to monitor public information about themselves on social media sites and elsewhere on the Internet.
 
"It isn’t enough to just police your own Facebook page," says Chris Randall, a co-founder of SMI, the Pittsburgh start-up behind the Social-Fingerprint launch. "Employers today frequently check social media before making hiring decisions. Our tool monitors the web and social media 24/7 so that you can take action."
 
Randall and two partners founded SMI last year with two products based on their proprietary software. Eploy is targeted to pre-employment and consumer-reporting agencies conducting background checks on individuals. Egle is aimed at lawyers, legal researchers, and insurance analysts investigating claims or performing due diligence.
 
SMI just signed its first significant contract with a large investment company who will be using the software for its due diligence, an application "where we are gaining a lot of traction," says Randall. The company is exploring adding premium, fee-based services to Social Fingerprint and incorporating Pennsylvania criminal court records into its suite of services. 
 
Right now, SMI has four fulltime employees and is keeping several members of a contracted programming team busy fulltime. The company expects to add as many as five customer-service and marketing positions to its workforce during the first half of 2013. 
 
Best of all, adds Randall, the young company expects to see positive cash flow by the first half of the year. "It's a really good start," he says.
 
Source: Chris Randall, SMI
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Socially conscious "B Corps" win a passing grade in PA

The drive to the new economy accelerated last week, when Pennsylvania became the 12th state to officially incentivize corporate activism with the creation of legally sanctioned benefit corporations or "B Corps. "
 
"B Corp certification is to sustainable business what LEED certification is to green building or Fair Trade certification is to coffee," says B Lab, the Berwyn-based nonprofit behind the global B Corps movement.
 
Under the new Pennsylvania measure, passed unanimously by both houses in Harrisburg and signed immediately into law by Gov. Corbett, directors of B Corps can take non-financial interests into consideration without fear of legal repercussion. Until now, those directors were legally mandated to make decisions based solely on maximizing profits. So a B Corp can, for example, lose money on a charitable or socially conscious venture without fear of getting sued by its shareholders.
 
Even without official sanction, there are already 51 voluntary B Corps in the Commonwealth, according to B Lab, including Azavea, a software firm in Philadelphia, Dansko, the footwear maker in West Grove and One Village Coffee in Souderton. Worldwide, says B Lab, there are 643 B Corps including big names like Ben & Jerry's , King Arthur Flour , Seventh Generation and Method  household products.
 
Writer: Elise Vider

Who's hiring in Pittsburgh? The Resumator, NoWait, ShowClix, GASP and more

Rock star startup The Resumator is growing and hiring to keep up with an exploding demand, looking for 10 new hires plus an intern, leading a new batch of Pittsburgh companies that are adding jobs.
 
The company grew 600% in 2011, CEO Don Charlton told the audience at the AlphaLab/ i6 University preview last week. They are hiring engineers, product, graphic and interactive designers and expanding their sales team.
 
The Resumator also recently landed a Series B round for $2.1 led by Pittsburgh-based Birchmere Venutres, Series A lead investor, and Rincon Venture Partners and Salesforce.com. The Resumator counted both President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney as clients this year, helping to recruit volunteers.
 
NoWait, the Pittsburgh-based startup that provides wait-list and seating tools to casual restaurants, is adding six to its team of 14. The former Alpha Lab company plans to roll out new features soon. Jobs include a director of national accounts, inside sales reps, engineers and developers.
 
Group Against Smog and Pollution, better known as GASP, is hiring a coordinator for a new campaign, Athletes United for Healthy Air. The non-profit citizens’ group plans to expand its role as a lead advocate on environmental issues through a campaign that will educate athletes—from the professional to the casual—on the region’s air quality and how to limit their risk of exposure to air pollution.  
 
The AU Coordinator is a part-time position with the potential of becoming fulltime in the next six months and will be responsible for managing all aspects of GASP’s campaign.
 
Online ticketing company ShowClix has openings for three: an online advertising specialist, a Technical Writer and a Director of Marketing.
 
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is hiring a Sports Copy Editor. The ideal candidate should have strong language skills. The position requires night and weekend shifts and should be familiar with InDesign and have at least three years’ experience at a 50,000-plus circulation paper. 

Writer: Deb Smit

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PA's digital government services get an A-minus, helping business and boosting efficiency

Last year, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) automated food safety inspections, "taking away clipboard, paper and pen and replacing them with a tablet," says Dan Egan of the state's Office of Administration. 
 
The new system, PA Food Safety, helps food businesses by leading to greater consistency, higher quality and faster inspections. The state also now publishes inspection results on a new public portal and uses geographic information system (GIS) software to enable food analysts to visualize contamination and to track and trace it to its source.  
 
And PennDOT now has an online application process for highway occupancy permits, allowing  real estate developers, construction companies and others who need access to state roadways to get their permit in 10 days, instead of the old 30 to 45. Until only a year ago, permit applications were submitted by hand or mailed to PennDOT offices. 
 
It is innovations like these that helped Pennsylvania make the "A" team – well, almost – in a new survey of progress made by state governments in their use of digital technologies.  The Commonwealth earned an A-minus in the recent 2012 biennial survey, conducted by the Center for Digital Government, a national research and advisory institute.    
 
Smart states – and the smartest, according to the survey are Michigan and Utah – use technology to "realize operational efficiencies and strategic priorities," the Center says. They show evidence of meaningful collaboration, they adopt performance measures and metrics and they make cuts strategically. 
 
Source: Dan Egan, Pennsylvania Office of Administration
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Using ancient grains, Pittsburgh's Aurochs Brewing Company crafts gluten-free beer

The aurochs, a prehistoric cattle, became extinct around the time that wheat and barley supplanted ancient grains such as amaranth, sorghum and millet. So Ryan Bove and Doug Foster have named their gluten-free microbrewery in memory of that long-gone herbivore.
 
Aurochs Brewing Company, established earlier this year in Pittsburgh's funky Strip District, expects to start supplying its beer to the local market by late 2012 or early 2013. For now, says Bove, the company is busy securing an array of licenses and permits, establishing ingredient supply chains and experimenting with alternative grains, original recipes and unconventional brewing techniques.
 
The two high school friends avoid gluten for health reasons, Foster since early childhood and Bove for the last few years. Conventional beer is brewed mostly from barley or wheat, making it strictly off-limits. And though there are gluten-free beers on the market, Bove says the taste and availability pales in comparison to craft beers, which offer hundreds of thousands of options.
 
So Aurochs is setting out to use ancient, non-gluten grains to brew great beer. Bove is a mechanical engineer and a recent MBA from Carnegie Mellon. But these days he's training himself as a brew master with help from business school friends and several part-timers. "We get the help and they get free beer, so it works out well," he says. 
 
The partners have been raising money from family and friends and got a $25,000 investment this spring from the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southwestern PA. The money is a big help,  says Bove, "but the mentorship and the coaching – that's been worth 10 times more."
 
Source: Ryan Bove, Aurochs Brewing Company
Writer: Elise Vider

Who's hiring in Pittsburgh? Aquion Energy, Deeplocal, Dick's Sporting Goods and more

Aquion Energy is hiring 28 people for a variety of jobs at both their Pittsburgh office and Mt. Pleasant manufacturing center. The company, behind a revolutionary and sustainable battery storage technology, is scaling up a manufacturing center in the old Sony plant in West Moreland county. The jobs are based in their Lawrenceville R&D center as well as the plant, which is expected to be in production mid-late next year. 

Openings are in engineering, business management, electricians, logistics and manufacturing. 

Dick’s Sporting Goods in Findlay is poised for major hiring and a company expansion. The company is posting jobs in buying, web design, vendor relations, product management, operations management and many, many more.

Design and development studio, Deeplocal, is on the move to exciting new digs in the Strip District. The company is growing and reports four full-time and two internship openings for an account manager, junior creative director, part-time contract copywriter, software engineer, software engineering interns and mobile development intern.

The Mattress Factory on the North Side is looking for a full-time marketing manager for the Development Department, a person who will be responsible for developing, managing and implementing the art museum’s strategic marketing initiatives. Interested candidates should possess a passion for arts and culture. Experience with nonprofit organizations, particularly in the arts, is preferred. Strong interpersonal, written communication, and presentations skills are a must. 

The Mt. Lebanon Magazine in Mt. Lebanon is looking for a “great salesperson,” an account executive to sell print and online advertising. The magazine, published monthly by the Mt. Lebanon Municipality, prefers a motivated self-starter with excellent verbal and computer skills. Reply to D. Cyphers, Mt. Lebanon Magazine, 710 Washington Road, Pittsburgh 15228 or dcyphers@mtlebanon.org.

Just Harvest, an anti-hunger/anti-poverty advocacy organization in Pittsburgh, seeks a skilled and committed professional to coordinate and implement communications and media activities to build awareness and visibility for our mission and programs. 

Writer: Deb Smit

CMU's high-tech traffic controls speeding the way through Pittsburgh

Driving through Pittsburgh's East Liberty section, Stephen Smith of Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute has noticed that his daily commute is a few minutes shorter. For which he can take considerable credit.
 
Smith and a team of CMU researchers have cut vehicle wait time by an average 40%, travel time by 26% and vehicle emissions by 21% at the nine intersections where they have been testing their high-tech, adaptive signal control system since June.
 
Developed through CMU's Traffic21 Initiative, the new technology uses video cameras pointed in each direction to "actually watch traffic and dynamically adjust green times to improve traffic flow," says Smith.
 
The big breakthrough, he adds, is that the system operates in real time, responding in seconds to actual traffic conditions to move vehicles through the intersection quickly and safety. Moreover, the system is synchronized to communicate what is coming to its downstream neighbor to keep traffic moving. 
 
The East Liberty pilot has been so successful that there are immediate plans to expand it in several directions within the next six months, says Smith. 
 
Eventually, he adds, he hopes the system can be installed citywide in Pittsburgh, where simulations with downtown traffic have shown great promise. And at a recent news conference, Allen Biehler, former state transportation secretary who is now with CMU's University Transportation Center, said there is interest in the technology from Chicago and Philadelphia. 
 
Discussions are underway with the university to commercialize the research, though the timing is still uncertain, adds Smith. 
 
Source: Stephen Smith, CMU Robotics Institute
Writer: Elise Vider

Pittsburgh firm offers reality-TV-style "Marketing Rescue"

Inspired by reality TV, and motivated by bad marketing, Pam Selker Rak , president of CommuniTech
a Pittsburgh firm, is offering Pennsylvania companies  a four-day blitz aimed at rescuing their failed or under-performing marketing programs.
 
"I've always joked that my dream would be to start a reality show called 'Marketing Rescue'," says Rak. "I even have my pitch to network execs figured out: It's bad marketing meets 'Bar Rescue' or 'Restaurant Impossible'."
 
Rak has a team of six designers, web programmers, customer relations management experts and marketing strategists, ready to mobilize.  For $10,000, the team will go onsite to assess current marketing, develop a new strategy based on revenue goals, oversee the redesign of campaigns, set up a process to measure outcomes, educate the leadership team and train the marketing staff. 
 
Many of the small-to-mid-sized companies Rak is aiming to rescue have cut marketing budgets in response to economic woes, a counterproductive move in her view. Instead, she says, "Marketing is a gateway to new business."
 
Rak founded CommuniTech in 1995, specializing in marketing technology firms. Today her national clientele has expanded to include an array of industries, with health care in particular growing, she says. CommuniTech has a staff of six, with two new positions added in just the last year.
 
No matter what the type of company or organization, she says, marketing needs to be process driven and measurable. "We have marketing down to a science and a process and it works." But still, she adds, "It's also somewhat of an art."
 
Source: Pam Selker Rak, CommuniTech
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 
 

$$$ promotes advanced manufacturing, foreign trade in PA

Two critical economic development goals for Pennsylvania – advanced manufacturing and foreign trade – got significant boosts earlier this month with a series of federal grants. 
 
Two public-private partnerships, one in Pittsburgh and one in Philadelphia, were each awarded nearly $1.9 million through the Advanced Manufacturing Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge, a competitive grant aimed at spurring job creation through advanced manufacturing. 
 
In Southwestern PA, the Agile Electro-Mechanical Product Accelerator is "a way to help young companies in the hardware space get up, get their products developed and to market," explains Bob Starzynski of Innovation Works.  "And it's a way to help established companies create a pipeline for new product development and get those products to market." Energy efficiency and workforce training are also in the mix, he adds.
 
The  multi-year project is a partnership among Innovation Works, the Catalyst Connection,  the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining and the Westmoreland/Fayette Workforce Investment Board
 
In Philadelphia, the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center's Greater Philadelphia Advanced Manufacturing Innovation and Skills Accelerator aims to fast track the rate at which manufacturing businesses identify and commercialize innovations, reducing risk and roadblocks. 
 
In a separate grant, the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) was awarded $2.35 million to help Pennsylvania's small businesses boosting their exports. Funds will be provided to qualifying companies to participate in trade missions, shows and business development activities. 
 
International trade by small businesses is growing in the Commonwealth, with $142.5 million in export sales in 2011, up by $23.8 million from the previous year, the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers report. 
 
Sources: Bob Starzynski, Innovation Works; Tony Girifalco, DVIRC; Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers; U.S. Department of Energy
Writer: Elise Vider

Who's hiring in Pittsburgh? Sierra w/o Wires, 4Moms and more

Each week Pop City posts the latest in company hiring news in Pittsburgh. 

Sierra w/o Wires is hiring five people for IT and engineering positions. The company is an IT services provider specializing in remote systems monitoring and remote systems management, cloud/virtual systems hosting, software development and hardware and software reselling.
 
Positions include Server Operations Engineer, Senior Server Operations Engineer, Network Operations Engineer, Application Development Engineer, and Entry Level Project Manager.
 
Robotic toy and baby product company 4moms, makers of innovative solutions for parents, is hiring eight or more in Pittsburgh including a Director of Marketing, Brand Manager, Mechanical Engineers, Sales Assistant, Software Engineers and a Supply Chair buyer.
 
Family House in Pittsburgh provides an affordable home away from home for patients and their families seeking medical treatment for serious or life-threatening illnesses.
 
The nonprofit is seeking a full time Director of Finance.  The ideal candidate requires a talented professional who will be the CFO of the organization and a member of the strategic leadership team.
 
Maya Design is seeking a staff accountant for their downtown office, a full time position that requires experience in budgeting, forecasting, collections, invoicing and working on financial statements. A bachelor’s degree in accounting and two to four years of experience are preferred.

Writer: Deb Smit
 
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