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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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Hiring in Pittsburgh: Cardinal Resources, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and more

This week’s hiring report highlights a slew of jobs, from 12 positions at Cardinal Resources to 18+ at Ansaldo, three at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and another at Point Park University.
South Side-based Cardinal Resources is bringing cleaner water to the world through its patented Red Bird System, a solar powered, community-sized water purifying system. The company recently won a $9 million contract to install 12 of its water purification systems in Nigeria, which will create 12 jobs, primarily for engineers and technicians.
The company is also opening a manufacturing center next door, the former Hall Industries property, where it will begin building the filters for the Red Bird units later this month, reports Kevin Jones, president.  
Pittsburgh Cultural Trust reports three openings in its marketing and communications department. The arts nonprofit is looking for a Director of Public Relations, Show Marketing Manager and Digital Designer. 
The Director of Public Relations is responsible for developing public relations campaigns for Trust presentations and oversees the overall marketing strategy to publicize all events, including the placement of advance features, reviews, and artist interviews. A degree in marketing or communications or related and three years experience is preferred.
The Show Marketing Manager will coordinate all aspects of marketing for the Trust. A degree in marketing or communications or related and three years experience is preferred.
The Digital Designer will be responsible for designing, writing, trafficking and gaining approval
for all organizational e-marketing messages. The Digital Designer works on a number of print,
video and multimedia projects.
Ansaldo, a supplier of high-speed railway and urban transportation technology, has 18 openings in its Pittsburgh office, most of them in the engineering field. Jobs include software and project engineers, sales and telecommunications engineers. Ansaldo emerged from Union Switch & Signal in 2009, a company originally founded by George Westinghouse in 1881.
Point Park University is hiring a Director of Recruitment for its School of Business who will be responsible for developing and implementing a comprehensive recruitment plan in collaboration with the Admissions offices and the Dean of the School of Communication.

Have hiring news? Email Pop City!

Writer: Deb Smit

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PA higher education puts out a welcome mat in Mumbai

With 30,000-plus international students and growing in Pennsylvania, accounting for more than $965 million in annual economic impact, the new Pennsylvania-American Center for Education in Mumbai, India is working to encourage Indian students to pursue their higher education in the Commonwealth. 
Pennsylvania ranks sixth in the nation for foreign student enrollment in higher education institutions. Indian students are expected to be the top international student population in the U.S. by 2020. Currently, they account for 17.2% of Pennsylvania’s international students, second only to Chinese students (who make up 24.7%).
Opened last month, the Center, believed to be the first of its kind, is fully funded by a Mumbai private school, but is fully open to  the public. Its purpose is to help Indian families who are exploring educational opportunities for their children outside of the country. One of the main challenges they face is the lack of information available on the universities and colleges, and an understanding of the application and admissions process in other countries
The Center will send counselors for training in Pennsylvania and to meet with universities and colleges in the state.  
"Pennsylvania was one of the first states in the U.S. to open an official office in India to promote trade and investment opportunities," says Kanika Choudhary, Philadelphia's honorary ambassador to India. "Now we are proud to have a dedicated facility that will provide Indian families with information about studying at Pennsylvania's world-class educational institutions."
Source: Theresa Elliott, PA Department of Community & Economic Development
Writer: Elise Vider

Social roboticist Heather Knight to enter CMU's Robot Hall of Fame

As a social roboticist, Heather Knight is helping us see robots in new and entertaining ways.   
Robots can tell stories and make us laugh, says Knight who made her debut, accompanied by her endearing sidekick Data, at a 2010 TED Talk. The two have been performing together ever since.
Knight, who grew up in Lexington, Mass., is conducting her doctoral research at CMU’s Robotics Institute, attracted by the unique combination of fine arts, robotic and entertainment tech programs.

In keeping with her mission, one of the first things she did when she arrived was to take a census of all the robots on CMU's campus. There are 547 robots in all, not including those at NREC in Lawrenceville, nearly one robot for every student in the department, she says.

In addition to her academic studies, Knight has several ongoing robot projects. She runs a stand up comedy troupe robots, Marilyn Monrobot Labs, in New York City, which produces sensor-based electronic art performances.
She also was the founder of the NYC’s first Robot Film Festival, held this summer, and one of several behind Cyborg Cabaret at the New Hazlett Theatre last April, a variety show billed as “avant art-meets-science” theater.
She also made the Forbes List for 30 Under 30 in Science. 
It's all about breaking the boundaries in our understanding of robots and what they can do and attracting more people to science and technology.  Robots can speak our language and make us laugh in addition to helping humankind, she says.
“I want to make machines that will help humanity to flourish,” Knight adds.
Knight and Data will make an appearance during the Robot Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at CMU next month, which will be held during the RoboBusiness Leadership Summit. The summit will bring hundreds of robotics industry leaders to Pittsburgh for an Oct. 22-24 conference. 
Vote early and often for your favorite robot from the slate of nominees for the Robot Hall of Fame. Created by CMU in 2003, the hall honors both fictional and real robots. Among the nominees are one of Data’s relatives, WALL-E of movie fame and Rosie from the Jetsons. 
Source: Heather Knight, CMU
Writer: Deb Smit

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Is natural always better? FutureDerm offers smart advice and products on skin care

FutureDerm is banking on intelligent women to take a more scientific approach to their cosmetic purchases. 
Founded by Pitt graduate Nicki Zevola, the startup is two-fold: an online beauty product database that offers recommendations on a wide range of products, everything from boar-bristle hairbrushes to the latest in wrinkle creams. Zevola is also creating her own line of cosmetics that will be sold both online and to spas and salons across the country.
“No one is targeting smart women in the beauty field,” says Zevola, whose company is among the current class of Alpha Lab startups on the South Side. “I want to be the smart voice in the beauty sphere. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it's safer or more effective.” 
Zevola isn’t shy about her aspirations to become the next Estee Lauder. A scientist and researcher in her own right, she believes that the best products stand up to scientific scrutiny. She also hopes to price her products reasonably below what similar products may cost. 
Born in South Korea, Zevola grew up in Baldwin and graduated in 2008 from the University of Pittsburgh with degrees in Biological Sciences, Physics/Astronomy, and a minor in Chemistry from the B.S./M.D. program. She has received numerous research fellowships and awards, including one with the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Institute.
FutureDerm is not about “reinventing the wheel,” she says, but giving consumers the information and science they need to make informed choices about the products they buy. The company launched its first product this summer, a microencapsulated, time-released 0.5% retinol moisturizer. 
A second product will roll out later this fall, a vitamin C and E serum. The product is highly stable because it is dispensed through a single dose pump which prevents it from oxidizing, she says. 
Social media and blogging have proved key in the marketing of the products and education of her clients, she says. The blog, which gets about 200,000 hits a month, was highlighted in Shape magazine.
Source: Nicki Zevola, FutureDerm
Writer: Deb Smit

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