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Music and technology team for virtual guitar lessons from Pittsburgh's Tunessence

Alex Soto plays trumpet and piano. Matt Bauch plays guitar. With their shared love of music, it’s no surprise that the two recent Carnegie Mellon engineering grads have teamed up to meld music and technology.
 
Tunessence, their Pittsburgh startup, is a virtual guitar teacher, combining advanced audio processing software with instructional video  that, says Soto, "emulates in-person instruction in your web browser."
 
The software uses the student's computer microphone to "listen," provide note-by-note feedback and personalize instruction with a catalog of popular songs.
 
Founded in mid-2012, Tunessence has already attracted significant capital: $50,000 each from Innovation Works  and Carnegie Mellon's Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund and $10,000 from a New York City angel investor.
 
Soto says the funds are being used to immediately hire a web designer, the third full-timer. The company also has four part-time developers and music teachers. The capital is also going to product development and marketing, mostly through online guitar communities and, potentially, in partnership with guitar makers.
 
Tunessence is still testing its product – and is looking for volunteer beta testers – with plans for a commercial launch in mid-March. The company is working out prices, Soto adds, but will function on a monthly or annual subscription basis. A sample, holiday version attracted about 250 users.
 
Looking ahead, Soto anticipates that "within a year, we should be flirting with profitability. That's the goal."
 
And he adds: "Guitar is only our starting point. Our underlying mission is to combine technology with music, to make learning instruments easier and entertaining.  Once we've figured out guitar, we'll be going after other markets aggressively."
 
Source: Alex Soto, Tunessence
Writer: Elise Vider

Who's hiring in Pittsburgh? LunaMetrics, Pittsburgh Magazine, Schell Games and more...

Here's the latest company and hiring news out of Pittsburgh:
 
Lunametrics has three openings for a digital analytics manager, a PPC (paid search) manager and sales manager for digital consulting services. All are full-time positions at the firm's South Side office. Lunametrics claims to be the the only Google Analytics Certified Partner in the region and one of three companies that do the GA Seminars for Success training in the US.

The Pittsburgh Magazine, the region’s flashy monthly publication with offices on Washington’s Landing, is looking for a new Editor In Chief. The ideal candidate will have a journalism degree or related field and a minimum of 10 years of experience in publication editing and management. The pub, founded by WQED, was acquired by Denver-based Wiesnermedia in 2009.
 
The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP) is hiring a vice president of special events and development, a position that requires the dedication necessary to ensure that Pittsburgh remains a vibrant destination for employees, residents and visitors. The successful candidate will have a strong background in event production and sponsorship development and carry on successful traditions such as Light Up Night, Project Pop-Up Night Market and the Holiday Market in Market Square.

Schell Games is seeking an exceptionally skilled online community manager to guide our current team working on projects that range from the creation of online worlds and handheld games to themed interactive attractions. The ideal candidate possesses outstanding communication, organization and passion for video game development.
 
Chatham University is looking for a qualified candidate to serve as director of corporate, foundation and government relations. The ideal candidate will be responsible for developing and following a strategic fundraising plan and all that goes with it. He or she will also lead the effort to expand government funding opportunities. A Bachelor’s and Advanced degree is preferred, as well as a demonstrated ability to raise funds from corporations and foundations.
 
Dick’s Sporting Goods is hiring a graphic designer responsible for collaborating with the creative manager to develop graphic communications. Must have a strong eye for design and experience in integrating photography, typography and copy to enhance the DSG brand.
 
Moon-based global energy company Eaton is hiring a marketing communications manager. The successful candidate will lead all aspects of the Residential Products Division and work closely with business unit personnel.
 
American Eagle is looking for an aggressive and passionate person to work as an assistant online buyer, someone who possesses a keen sense of fashion exhibited through personal taste. The ability to assist the buyer in analyzing, merchandising and making communication decisions to develop online strategies is key.

Having hiring news? Email Pop City and include the links.
 
Writer: Deb Smit

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Pittsburgh's StatEasy has a new game plan

Mike Ressler founded Pittsburth's StatEasy in 2010 with six customers and a business model based on selling subscriptions to coaches for its sports software platform. Today he has 180 customers and is on his way to raising $1 million in capital. But equally significant for a young company, Ressler took a hard look at conditions on the ground and has deftly executed a 180-degree pivot in his strategy. 
 
Last summer, StatEasy decided to become free to high school coaches. The new target customer is a player's parent. Ressler recalls a five-hour meeting at a northwestern Pennsylvania school district at which three hours were devoted to cutting referees to save a grand total of $2,400 for the season. "That's the level of budget issues that they are facing," says Ressler. High school coaches, he concluded, "don't have much money at all" and a subscription service to integrate statistics and video is a luxury they couldn't afford.
 
But for parents and students who need highlight reels and statistics to impress college recruiters, StatEasy is a useful tool and a relative bargain for only $300 for the season – compared to a single, traditional highlight video which can run around $1,000. What’s more, StatEasy has instituted revenue sharing with the participating schools, "a win for the school and for StatEasy," says Ressler.
 
StatEasy is doing a soft launch of its new model this week with the Western PA Quad A basketball league – 60 teams at 34 schools. Ressler has won a total of $300,000 in funding from Innovation Works, $50,000 from Carnegie Mellon's Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund and is in talks with angel investors as far away as Texas and California. 
 
Source: Mike Ressler, StatEasy
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Pittsburgh's growing ActivAided Orthotics offers new thinking for back pain suffers

For the legions of back pain sufferers, ActivAided Orthotics offers a different approach, a therapeutic garment that corrects posture and bad habits to allow the body to heal.
 
Now the young Pittsburgh firm is growing, with a total of $150,000 in new investments from Innovation Works  and Carnegie Mellon's Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund, promising data from more than 100 test subjects with almost 90% reporting relief  and a new manufacturing approach.
 
"Originally [our product] was completely custom-made," says founder and CEO Kelly Collier. "Then we started to get a little more clever. Now we're making it more adjustable so one product can fit most people." A manufacturer in Minnesota is ramping up for production, she adds.
 
A 2011 Carnegie Mellon biomechanical engineering graduate, Collier was a competitive swimmer. Most coaches, she and her friends found, approached injuries with advice to suck it up, ice it or quit their sport. "We definitely recognized there was something wrong with this picture," she says. As part of a team class project, she approached Dr. Gary Chimes, a sports medicine physician who is today chief medical advisor to ActivAided.
 
The new funding will go primarily for sales and marketing, Collier says, with an emphasis on medical trade shows and conferences, as well as direct Internet sales.The company today employs three full-timers; Collier hopes to add sales and marketing positions and to eventually create a "suite of products based on retraining motor patterns and muscle memory" for shoulders, knees and other aching joints.
 
Source: Kelly Collier, ActivAided Orthotics
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Going global? Pittsburgh's Safaba assists the transformation through machine translation

One of the biggest hurdles any company faces when it moves into the global marketplace is language.
 
Corporate communication, both digital and print, must be reinvented in many tongues if a company and its mission is to be understood. Squirrel Hill-based Safaba is a rising star in the field of machine translation, using software to translate vast amounts of text from one natural language into another. It's a feat that has taken years of development.
 
The startup was launched by Carnegie Mellon associate research professor Alon Lavie and co-founder Bob Olszewki in 2009.  While the company quietly operated under the radar for several years, developing custom and affordable solutions for commercial clients, it's now ready for primetime, says Udi Hershkovich, vice president of Business Development.
 
Companies like Google and Microsoft translate text between multiple languages, but there are limitations to their platforms, Hershkovich says. Enterprises today need more powerful solutions to tackle the corporate collateral, tackling vast amounts of textual material including online marketing, websites, technical documentation, manuals and support documentation.
 
Global ecommerce company PayPal signed on with Safaba as a client in 2011, using it for its ecommerce in the Nordic languages. The solution proved superior to the system they had been using. In 2012, Safaba began working with global computer giant Dell and its Dell.com ecommerce division.
 
The escalating need for language translation designed for mobile enterprises is also driving business. The Squirrel Hill office is currently at 11. Hershkovich anticipates aggressive growth in 2013.
 
Machine translation is poised for explosive growth as the technology improves, requiring less post-editing and becoming more commercially viable, he adds.
 
“Companies today all need a more personalized experience and communication in real time, in today’s online world. To allow companies to be successful in the home market, they need to transition into other languages.”
 
Source: Udi Hershkovich, Safaba
Writer: Deb Smit

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Making eye contact with a robot: CMU investigates how to make robots understand social cues

Movie robots – R2D2, Wall-E – are adorably empathetic to humans. Real robots, however, may be whizzes on the assembly line, but not so great around the water cooler.
 
Now a Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute team is investigating how to make robots more socially intuitive. "The way we interact with machines and computers is as tools – the way we interact with a hammer," says Yaser Sheikh, a CMU  professor.
 
Sheikh, Hyun Soo Park, a Ph.D. student  in mechanical engineering and Eakta Jain, a recent robotics doctorate, gathered data from head-mounted video cameras on groups of people and developed algorithms to detect precisely where their gazes converged. What individuals in a group are looking at typically identifies something of interest or helps delineate social groups – insights that could someday allow vision-aided robots designed to interact with humans to evaluate a variety of social cues, such as facial expressions or body language.
 
The team expects that its research could have applications in the study of social behavior, such as group dynamics and gender interactions, and research and diagnosis of behavioral disorders such as autism – "imaging" behaviors in much the way that x-rays and MRIs image the physical body. Other potential applications could include search-and-rescue operations, surgical teams and even sports. (If team members all wore head-mounted cameras, it might be possible to reconstruct a game from their collective point-of-view.)
 
The work, Sheikh says, ties into that of CMU professor Takeo Kanabe and the anticipated release of Google's computerized eyeglasses. Several companies have shown interest in commercializing the research, which has so far been supported by Samsung Global Research Outreach Program, Intel and the National Science Foundation.
 
Sources: Yaser Sheikh and Hyun Soo Park, CMU Robotics Institute

Writer: Elise Vider

Who's Hiring in Pittsburgh? CMU, Ronin, ZOLL and more

Carnegie Mellon University is hiring three maleware engineers to join its CERT Malicious Code Group, a program to improve malware analysis capability while addressing active and emerging threats. The successful candidates will have a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, oftware engineering and at least eight years of field experience. 
 
University of Pittsburgh is looking for a Web Developer to join its Office of Human Resources. The position entails designing and implementing websites for Pitt’s business and financial areas. The ideal candidate will be interested in long term career growth and will join a highly skilled team working with the latest technology The culture is collaborative and everyones input is valued.
 
ZOLL LifeVest is posting 10+ jobs in a variety of positions: technical writing, customer support, technical support specialist, associate regulatory affairs engineer, a director of national accounts and more. The company develops, manufactures and markets a wearable defibrillator for persons with Sudden Cardiac Arrest risk in the U.S. and Europe.
 
Kextil, a software company that uses speech recognition and bluetooth to wirelessly connect a technician with a mobile device, has positions for Head of Product Development, Senior Software Engineer and Vice President of Engineering. All positions offer an opportunity to shape the company’s software as well as become a significant equity owner. 
 
Compliance Assurance Corporation, a provider of compliance management technology solutions for the insurance industry, is currently looking for Corporate (Inside) Sales Executives to work out of its office in downtown Pittsburgh. 
 
SpectraGenetics, a gene-tagging startup that provides breakthrough products for drug discovery and development, is hiring an inside sales rep. The position requires selling technical molecular biology products to labs via phone, email and trade shows and requires a high degree of organization and communication skills.
 
UPMC is looking for a full-time technical writer to support the Operations Department at its downtown Pittsburgh location. Required skills include graphics, web design, layout, language and an understanding of human perceptions to produce a comfortable, user-friendly end product. 
 
kWantera, a Pittsburgh startup providing management solutions to large commercial buildings, is expanding its engineering, sales and marketing teams. It is also looking for a Sales Account Executive
 
The National Aviary is hiring a Director of Animal Programs to manage all aspects of the Animal Programs Dept. including animal care and husbandry and more. This requires a special candidate with significant knowledge in avian exhibitry.
 
Kayak Pittsburgh is hiring a 2013 Kayak Pittsburgh Site Supervisor to run day-to-day operations and manage staff among other managerial duties.

Writer: Deb Smit

Check previous job listings in Pop City.

Innovation Works invests in nine companies, three commercialization projects in Pittsburgh for $1.1M

Nine companies received a combined $975,000 in funding in November and December of 2012, and three promising commercialization projects at nearby universities received a combined $125,000 in funding from Innovation Works, the Ben Franklin Technology Partners office in Southwestern Pennsylvania. 
 
The investments are as follows:
 
RessQ Technologies Inc. (StatEasy), Pittsburgh (East Liberty): $100,000
StatEasy is the next generation sports media company based on a software platform that helps teams integrate their stats and video and generate media products.
 
ActivAided Orthotics LLC, West Mifflin: $75,000
ActivAided Orthotics has developed a line of Postural Training Apparel to eliminate back pain by training self-corrective habits. ActivAided's first product, RecoveryAid, was found to decrease back pain in 90% of users, helping them return to their desired active lifestyles.
 
ShowClix, Inc., Downtown Pittsburgh: $50,000
ShowClix delivers full-service ticketing solutions for arts venues, live performances and special events. Event producers can also take advantage of unique event promotion tools on social media and a scalable ticket scanner app.
 
Tunessence Inc., Pittsburgh (Southside): $50,000
Tunessence offers a virtual guitar teacher in your web browser. The entertaining and easy-to-use platform creates a new way to learn and teach music online. The software listens to the student as they play and provides note-by-note feedback, guiding students through favorite songs. 
 
XACTIX, Inc., Pittsburgh (Southside): $200,000
XACTIX manufactures etching equipment which uses xenon difluoride gas to etch silicon and other materials. Its largest market is manufacturers of MEMS (Microelectromechanical systems) devices, but XACTIX equipment is also used for other applications in the semiconductor and medical device markets
 
AutoRef, Inc., Pittsburgh (Oakland): $100,000 
AutoRef lets consumers compare guaranteed offers from dealerships without visiting a lot. These offers are guaranteed for 72 hours and include financing, accessories and dealer incentives. All of the negotiation is done online in an open forum with dealerships.
 
FutureDerm, Inc., Pittsburgh (Southside): $50,000 
FutureDerm approaches beauty from a scientific perspective, offering a line of beauty products containing innovative formulations with extensive laboratory testing and physician approval. 
 
Kextil, LLC, O'Hara Twp.: $150,000 
Kextil software utilizes industrial strength speech recognition and bluetooth to wirelessly connect a field technician with his mobile device. 
 
SenSevere LLC, Pittsburgh (Southside): $200,000 
SenSevere has developed and is commercializing a hydrogen sensor for chemically and thermally severe environments that provides real-time safety and compliance monitoring solutions in the power generation, environmental, and chemicals manufacturing industries.  


Who's hiring in Pittsburgh? Compunetix hiring 16+, HumanityTV, LunaMetrics and more

Looking for a job for the New Year? Each week Pop City reports on the latest hiring news in the region.
 
Monroeville-based companies CompunetixCompunetics and Sonexis Technology are hiring more than 20 people in a range of positions.
 
The trio of firms are all in manufacturing. Compunetics makes precision printed circuit boards; Compunetix is a purveyor of digital electronics for the communication industry and Sonexis Technology handles their flagship auto conferencing bridge product ConferenceManager. (All but one job is on the Compunetix site.)
 
Positions include account manager, application developer, software engineers, technical writer and software developers. Company internships are also available.
 
Pittsburgh-based Bayer is hiring 16 including senior business analysts, manufacturing system specialists, product safety reps and research development specialists.
 
Humanity TV, a Web series that takes armchair travelers to destinations through the eyes of a native, is looking for experienced Web developers and filmmakers in Pittsburgh. One of the film’s creators is a CMU graduate. Two full-time videographers will be hired in the near future as well.
 
Fast-growing Pittsburgh IT consulting company Newton Consulting is hiring seven people and has job postings for several of its clients. Newton, which offers a unique pay-for-performance pay model, recently expanded from its carriage house office to a larger space in downtown Claysville.
 
Jobs posted include Human Resources and IT Consulting, although more may be posted soon.

Southside-based LunaMetrics is hiring a Director of Internet Consulting, a Search Analyst and an Internet Sales Director.
 
The Children’s Institute in Shadyside is hiring a Marketing and Communications Director.
 
Writer: Deb Smit

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Pittsburgh's RE2 competing to create a robotic disaster responder

Disasters like Japan's cataclysmic earthquake and nuclear crisis last year can be too dangerous and too big for human responders. Yet "with all our robotics, we're really not prepared for that kind of an event," says Jorgen Pedersen, founder of Pittsburgh's RE2
 
Now the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), the military's "primary innovation engine," has selected RE2 to participate in its Robotics Challenge. The goal: to develop software to control robots in the most catastrophic disasters.
 
Working with Soar Technology in Ann Arbor, Michigan and the University of Texas in Arlington, the RE2 team is one of 11 groups chosen to develop software that will allow a humanoid, bi-pedal robot to perform complex tasks such as walking across and clearing rubble, opening a door, climbing a ladder, turning a valve and, most challenging according to Pedersen, get into, turn on and drive a utility vehicle.
 
All of the teams will compete in June to determine the top six entries, who will receive additional funding and a walking robot to further develop and test their software.
 
Pedersen founded RE2 (pronounced RE Squared) in 2001 under Carnegie Mellon's National Robotics Engineering Center. Since then, the company has become a leading developer of robotic arms for tasks such as bomb removal. Two hundred fifty of RE2's "intelligent, modular manipulation systems" are currently at work in Afghanistan, Pedersen says.
 
The company has grown from 20 employees in 2010 to almost 60 today. The military and public safety (police, fire, etc.) are the largest markets, Pedersen says, and the company is now looking to diversify into agriculture, healthcare and materials handling.
 
Source: Jorgen Pedersen, RE2
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Statewide consortium does its part to keep IPart around for technology grant support

Like the young tech companies it serves, the Innovation Partnership (IPart)  did some creative problem solving earlier this year when its state funding evaporated. With a new membership funding model and a recently acquired $80,000 federal grant, IPart now says it "can assure Pennsylvania's small technology companies that its programs will continue to assist them in generating winning, fundable federal SBIR and STTR proposals."
 
To the uninitiated, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs make highly coveted federal grants to small businesses to conduct research and development and to commercialize their innovations. IPart's role is to assist Pennsylvania's emerging, technology-based companies in the Commonwealth in making their submissions. Since its founding in 2003 by the PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), IPart has provided 489 technical reviews to Pennsylvania companies; 90 companies have been awarded over $25 million in federal grants.
 
Among IPart's success stories are ChromaTan in State College, RE2 in Pittsburgh and Y-Carbon in Bristol. 
 
Director Kelly Wylam credits increased support from IPart's members around the state -- Ben Franklin Technology Partners, University City Science Center, Life Sciences Greenhouse of Central PA, Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, Pennsylvania Small Business Development Center, Pennsylvania State University, Drexel University and Temple University – for keeping IPart up and running and able to further leverage federal funds like the $80,000 Federal State and Technology Partnership grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
 
Pennsylvania, she adds, consistently ranks as a top-10 state for SBIR and STTR funds: "We're a contender."
 
Source: Kelly Wylam, IPart
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 
 
 
 
 

Birchmere Labs poised to fund two new Pittsburgh digital media startups

Birchmere Labs, the $10 million studio seed fund created by Birchmere Ventures to support digital media startups, plans to fund two Pittsburgh-based companies in the near future.
 
While the announcement is not yet official, Birchmere Partner Sean Sebastian confirmed that two local startups will be among the first to receive studio funding. 
 
One of the companies is a digital media technology developed by a professor at Carnegie Mellon. Sebastian declined to provide details on the second, but said both companies would be developed in house initially through Birchmere Lab.
 
“A CMU professor came to us with an interesting idea that has never been done, but he didn’t want to run the company,” says Sebastian. “We struck an agreement and plan to build a company from scratch around the idea.”
 
Birchmere Labs operates as a seed studio fund, a novel approach that allows Birchmere to fund established startups through seed monies and support and build new companies through the studio funding. 
 
“We saw all the internet, media and web 2.0 activity coming, which really didn’t fit into Birchmere IV,” says Sebastian. “It was like putting a square peg into a round hole.”
 
Birchmere Lab was formed with the help of Sean Ammirati, who joined as a principal partner last August. Ammirati has a national reputation in digital media and mobile technologies. He was formerly the COO of tech blog ReadWriteWeb (now ReadWrite) and CEO of mSpoke, which sold to LinkedIn in 2010.
 
Last August Birchmere announced a $40 million venture capital fund, Birchmere IV. The fund has invested in eight companies so far, two local companies among them. Uptown-based NoWait received $2 million and Ross Township-based The Resumator received $2.1 million. Both were Innovation Works’ Alpha Lab companies.
 
While Birchmere continues to invest in the best companies it can find, regardless of geographic location, the recent activity does suggest that local startups might have an advantage.
 
“While there’s no official edict, the closer we are to an earlier stage company, the less heavy lifting is required,” says Sebastian.
 
Source: Sean Sebastian, Birchmere Ventures 
Writer: Debra Smit

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
 
 
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