Private Success, Public Failure: PA Tech Boom is Juicy Prey for Harrisburg Predators

By: Clark Stephenson

If you’re going to be a business owner, or be involved in the creation of one, the importance of knowing your market cannot be understated; but that involves a lot more than just your own customer base.  Your market is being shifted and shaped 24 hours a day by your local economy, your competition, your suppliers, their competition, etc. and certainly by your local lawmakers.  And if you’re in tech, that’s all happening aboard a bullet train that’s about to be upgraded to a Hyperloop.  If you’re going to be a vigilant citizen, much less a successful business owner in this uncertain economy, it is paramount that you stay up to date on how your industry is being regulated, and how it affects everything you do.  For the current tech boom in PA, Harrisburg is looking for new ways to lower the boom.

Earlier this year, Governor Wolf proposed a new “tech tax” as part of his 2017-2018 budget that would have imposed severe sales and use taxes across a wide array of computer service providers, and by severe, I mean the worst in the country:

states imposing computer taxes

The measure would constitute a 330 million dollar kick to the stomach of the technology industry in PA, and would hurt smaller independent contractors & startups the worst; all to help cover up for budget craters in Harrisburg, because companies who are good at their jobs are always punished by bureaucrats who aren’t.  However, thanks to stern opposition by the Pittsburgh Technology Council, their counterparts in Philadelphia, PA House Speaker Mike Turzai, and at least 1500 companies across the state just to name a few, the proposal was thankfully scrapped, and indeed not part of the budget the PA Senate approved at the end of July, according to Governor Wolf, who said it’s “not an issue anymore.”

So that’s good news, for now, but that’s not the only prey Harrisburg is on the hunt for.  As if the tech tax wasn’t bad enough, some lawmakers are pushing for a re-work of the “Amazon tax”, just in time for Pittsburgh to submit its proposal for the online retail giant to build its second headquarters here, because there’s nothing like kicking a gift horse in the mouth, especially when you’re regarded as the top contender for said gift.  And despite receiving the same fervent opposition as the tech tax, the measure is “still on the table” according to the Tribune article.  Let’s hope it doesn’t spoil our chances of landing Amazon’s new playground.

Whether you’re a small, independent computer services provider, or a giant in the industry, the forces shaping your market that emanate from your State Capitol are something you can’t afford to ignore, especially if you’re just starting up.  Stay informed, get involved with local organizations & councils, and contact your local representatives to voice your support or opposition whenever possible.  At the very least, you’ll be more prepared to deal with the aftermath of a new law if you’ve done the math ahead of time, and at the very best, you’ll help to keep the State predators at bay.

Keep It Simple, Simon Says

By: Clark Stephenson

It is no secret that everybody, and their grandmother thrice removed, has a “startup” these days, many in tech but other industries as well. They’re more common than casual Fridays. But with only a 10% success rate, 1) How can you avoid becoming another “fail fast” statistic, and 2) Why even bother?

Let’s get the latter out of the way first. We bother because we’re driven to do great things – the odds of failure be damned. We bother because a fire burns inside us that pushes us over the obstacles; because we see opportunities missed by the current market, and we want our products filling that cavity. This is the way of the successful entrepreneur – the renegade, daring, no-guts-no-glory way.

That said, be sure to not let your passion for ultimate glory cloud your vision, or you will indeed fail fast. You might have your head in the clouds imagining swank offices and feature stories in Fortune & Time after you turn the industry on its head, but focus on fundamentals first. You’d be surprised how many startups don’t. That article cited a report released in 2014 (and added to since) by CB Insights, a tech market analytics firm, that revealed a staggering 42% of failed startups profiled cited a lack of market demand for their products. That is an astonishing figure. And it’s likely higher than that when you consider that “running out of cash” was the 2nd-most reason cited, at 29%, because as Steve Hogan from Tech-Rx is quoted in the Fortune article:

“Running out of cash does not cause a startup’s failure, Hogan says—it’s merely a symptom of another issue. Excluding instances of “stupid spending” or the inability to raise capital in the first place, startups tend to run out of cash when a CEO has overlooked all other indicators of failure. “Unfortunately, sometimes it’s the only ‘symptom’ that the leadership sees,” he says.”

Unless you’ve successfully ran a business before, you’ll want to learn the physical operations of one before you create one. Take an intro to business class at your local community college, and then take others in accounting, finance, operations, marketing, and other areas, or seek out one of the many free resources available online. You’ll be able to apply your classwork to your own startup operations, and vice versa.

Focus on the fundamentals first, like making a product people want to buy. You’d think that would be chapter 1, page 1, of Business 101, but sadly it often gets lost in delusions of tech-grandeur. In the Fortune article, Erin Griffith rightly points out:

“That should be self-evident. If no one wants your product, your company isn’t going to succeed. But many startups build things people don’t want with the irrational hope that they’ll convince them otherwise. 

The most prominent modern example of this phenomenon is the mobile phone. People dismissed it as a novelty in its early days. Obviously, cell phones are no longer a novelty. The late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” The problem is that entrepreneurs have taken that to heart. For every $19 billion company like Uber, the private transportation service, there are countless frivolous products that never catch on.”

So, keep it simple, and learn from those who didn’t. Find the hole in the market that consumers want filled, and learn how to manage basic debits & credits; and instead of joining the strange cult that has become the failure post-mortem pity party, they’ll be taking their cues from you.

Dream it, Pitch it, Start it

When you sign up for Startup Weekend, you start to dream. When you’re in the thick of building a business in a weekend, you start to believe the dream could become a reality. If you keep at it years later, the dream will become a reality.

It all starts during Friday night pitches. The days and months leading up to Startup Weekend are exciting and a bit nerve-racking. What if… is a question that comes to mind often. What if no one likes my idea? What if I don’t get along with my team? What if we lose?

Here are a few more possibilities: What if we win? What if I love my team? What if this event changes everything for me?

These are extreme examples, and the team of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh: Women’s Edition organizers have experienced the highs and lows of Startup Weekend. It’s an all-encompassing event built on teamwork, competition, and dreams. If you’ve ever wanted to take the leap to start a company, we’re here to dream with you. It starts with a pitch.

Very special thank you to sponsor Viewpoint Production Services for helping us create the pitch video!

Why You Should Participate in Startup Weekend as a Developer

I’ve participated in many hackathons — both as a marketer and as a developer. I’ve found that every person who participates in Startup Weekend (SUW) is wanted but the most difficult segment to recruit are developers.

A little about myself: I learned to code in 2013 and made the career switch from marketer to developer. It is incredibly empowering to think up an idea and to be able to build it yourself. Developers at Startup Weekend often make a big impact because when they pitch an idea, it is implied that it is technically feasible and it is open for collaboration with non-technical/designer participants.

Developers considering signing up for Startup Weekend should consider all of the great benefits and opportunities that it presents:

  • Found a new API you’ve been meaning to tinker with? Pitch it!
  • Been dabbling in a new language that you’d love to try out? This is a great opportunity to build a real app with it (For me: this is Elm and Haskell).
  • Know a ton of developers but not the rest of the startup community? Now’s your chance.
  • Looking for a new job and want to meet people who can connect you with one? This is especially important for junior developers.
  • Need to round out your portfolio and prove that you have management skills? Leading a team at SUW is great experience.
  • Love delicious food and prizes? The price of the ticket pales to all of the great swag and local food and coffee you get to enjoy all weekend.
  • Been curious about learning about the business and design side of things? The knowledge transfer at Startup Weekend is one the best parts of the weekend. I often encourage developers to not get boxed into coding only.
  • For my event specifically (Startup Weekend Pittsburgh: Women’s Edition), want to meet other kickass women in our community? Find a mentor or a co-founder? SUW is the place.

Participating as a developer is not a ploy to get free work from talented programmers. Rather, it is a way for you to assist another entrepreneur in bringing her idea to fruition or find the amazing team that will turn your venture into reality.

We’re recruiting developers, designers and business folk to join us on March 18th – 20th, 2016 at Alphalab for Startup Weekend Pittsburgh: Women’s Edition. Sign up here and I will see you there!

To The Startup Weekend Pittsburgh Community

I always wanted to start a company. And once I saw the power of the internet, I wanted to start an internet company. But I didn’t know if it was possible.

When I was in school, there weren’t any entrepreneurship classes or programs. Even in college, I don’t remember anyone talking about starting companies. I graduated from college in 2006, so Facebook was a platform that we used on campus. But the idea that we could start an internet company that could impact the world wasn’t talked about. Everyone was downloading music for free, and I think we all somehow thought that one day the endless supply of free music would go away. The authorities would take over. Just like we weren’t allowed to cite Wikipedia as a legitimate source in a school paper, nothing on the internet was legitimized yet.

After I graduated, I was completely lost. I spent all of my time and energy trying to graduate on time to avoid more school loans that I never thought about a career. Originally I went to college thinking I would go to law school immediately after graduating, but I already felt the overwhelming debt burden before graduating, and I read about the increasing number of law school grads without job opportunities. I also didn’t want to decide my professional fate at the age of twenty-two. I wanted to try my hand at starting a company. But I didn’t know if it was possible.

So I searched in bookstores for answers. Almost every day. One day I came across a book called “Founders at Work” by Jessica Livingston. I didn’t have much money, so I think I just read the book in the bookstore. I remember that she interviewed a lot of men about starting internet companies. I thought to myself, “that sounds like the exact thing I want to do with my life.” And I remember something in the book about starting a class or program in Boston for people that want to start internet companies. And I thought, “probably for MIT or Stanford grads.” Not for a girl from Pittsburgh. I put the book back on the shelf.

I went to networking events – every networking event I could find. Men in suits hit on me occasionally. I thought to myself, “I want to start a company, not find a date.” Again, I felt lost.

I spent so much time in bookstores that I ended up working for a bookstore chain for four years. During that time, I heard about a local accelerator program for internet companies called AlphaLab run by Innovation Works. That sounded really interesting. But I reminded myself that I had a Political Science degree and worked at a bookstore. I put the idea out of my head.

Around the time Borders books closed, I realized working for a bookstore chain was not a longterm solution to my aimless professional existence. I quit and started blogging about the power of the internet and social media. I applied to a few local startups, not knowing how to frame my “expertise” in the job interview. Some companies did not respond. Some companies interviewed me for customer service type roles. I cringe when I think about those interviews. I was so nervous, and I didn’t get the job, anywhere.

Next thing I knew, I was offered a job at an education company. I needed the money. The people seemed nice. I took the job. Many days I sat in my car at lunchtime reading tweets. I followed people in the startup world. I didn’t really talk to them, but I followed them. And one day I came across something called “Startup Weekend Pittsburgh.” I signed up immediately. I didn’t even have to think about it. Someone was putting on an event where you start companies, and I could sign up. HOLY S#&%, I thought to myself.

Since then, I’ve participated in four Startup Weekend Pittsburgh events. I was on the first place team at two events. I was on the second place team at one event. And I’m a proud AlphaLab alum.

I don’t know how to explain what Startup Weekend means to me. This is the first time I’m really sharing my experience on the internet, and obviously I’m simplifying it for the sake of brevity. But this post is to say that I don’t feel lost anymore. Startup Weekend showed me a way. It showed me that a girl from Pittsburgh with a Political Science degree and a confusing work history can start an internet company – several, actually.

It’s not to say that it’s easy, because it’s not. There are new challenges every day. But it’s possible. I want you to know that it’s possible.

If you buy a ticket to participate at Startup Weekend Pittsburgh Women, I will do everything in my power to instill in you the idea that anything is possible, and the Startup Weekend Pittsburgh community is here to help you make it happen. Please join us if you have a dream of starting a company.

With Love,

Civic Innovation and Social Enterprise: how they’re linked and why they matter

Just under one month to go until StartupWeekend Civic! Over at Idea Foundry we’re always excited to meet new ideas and the people behind them. So when we heard that Startup Weekend Pittsburgh was holding a special edition focused solely on Civic Innovation, we got psyched!

Why are we so thrilled to be part of Startup Weekend Civic? Here at Idea Foundry through our Social Enterprise sector, we have an explicit focus on supporting businesses innovating to benefit the common good, for people, planet, and profit. We’re energized seeing so many Pittsburghers who are passionate about solving the big, systemic problems that real people in our region face. Because for us, that is what social enterprise is all about.

So what is civic innovation to us? How is it linked to social enterprise, and why is that link significant?

To us, civic innovation means enabling citizens to examine the core public sector issues we all experience everyday. It could be a lack of convenient public transportation that moves us quickly from home to job or school and back; rising rates of obesity and other life-style related illnesses; or the non-level playing field that exists for free access to information and knowledge resources: Civic Innovation is coming up with disruptive, game-changing solutions to those problems. This could mean developing more expansive and effective public transportation systems that include mass transit as well as bike and ride share infrastructure; creating new land use policies that lead to more green space where people can relax, work, and play; or introducing technology that promotes universal public wifi, which could lead to more engaged, empowered citizens.  

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Meanwhile, social enterprise as we define it at Idea Foundry is a completely new business model that drives social change and supports a healthy planet and healthy communities while generating profit and financial sustainability. These for-profit enterprises are developing and applying innovative, disruptive solutions that address huge social or environmental problems while creating profit and scalable economic opportunity. Whether addressing poor air or water quality, low access to fresh, healthy foods, or our ability to develop sustainable and renewable fuels, our social entrepreneurs are reinventing the principles of for-profit business to solve and prevent environmental and social problems in market-driven ways, while adding economic value to all involved stakeholders.

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As a society, our ability to address these huge, systemic social and environmental challenges matters, because these issues affect the way we live with one another, interact with the environment around us, as well as our overall quality of life. A healthy, functioning city cares for people and empowers them to make changes. This can make everyone happier, healthier, and more prosperous as a whole. An unhealthy civic environment benefits only a small percentage disproportionately at the expense of many, creates unequal opportunity and wellbeing only for the few, and brings us all down as a result. This leads to a split society, and leaves people powerless to make meaningful changes.

The relative strength or weakness of our civic structure also affects much more than our individual livelihoods, it impacts the big picture. It affects the way we perform as a holistic society, and measures our relative strength and resilience as a city, region, individual community, or neighborhood. It determines our collective wellbeing, our global competiveness as an equitable, livable city, as well as our ability to attract new people to the region who can help propel our ever-evolving city forward.

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For us at Idea Foundry, this links to the work we do to support for-profit social entrepreneurs, because social enterprise is all about making life better for the people who really need it. It’s about dreaming up scalable, impactful, and market-based solutions to the world’s biggest problems. It’s about opening up new markets by delivering products and services to people who have been left behind and introducing solutions where they’ve never been available. It’s tackling problems that don’t seem to have answers, at least ones that are adequate, and asking, how can I approach this differently, in a new and meaningful way? How can I create a business that is responsible and responsive to all stakeholders, from employees and shareholders, to suppliers, customers, and the natural environment, in a way that is financially viable and economically sustainable?

In our 13-year history, Idea Foundry has been dedicated to helping entrepreneurs solve problems that matter. From life-saving medical devices, to ground-breaking classroom technologies; from devices that protect and improve our environment, to commercializable advances in energy efficiency and renewables: we’re focused on helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative solutions to market.

InterSector, Idea Foundry’s social enterprise accelerator, funds and guides the creation of early stage social enterprise companies that develop scalable, efficient, and innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social and environmental problems. Our companies are using big data to help law enforcement officers combat human trafficking; developing technologies to enable the blind and sight-impaired live better, more independent lives; turning trash into dignified jobs and products people love; engineering systems that run on biofuels and other renewable energy sources; promoting health and wellness for Pittsburghers; and designing software solutions to increase government efficiency and increase budgets while saving taxpayers money.

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We are helping to generate the next wave of triple bottom line companies creating sustainable economic opportunity in Western Pennsylvania and measurable social change locally and globally, by helping social entrepreneurs evaluate market opportunities and assess their ability to innovate in the marketplace. We do this because we believe business for good is the future.

By providing support to entrepreneurs who have big ideas to change the world through business, we’re helping solve those critical social and environmental challenges that will define our success for the generations that come after us. And we know that as civic innovators, that is your goal too.

If you think you have a great solution to increase the common good, we can’t wait to see what you come up with in this year’s Startup Weekend Civic Pittsburgh, and to support you through the process after the weekend is over.  Sign up today. We wish you the best of luck, and happy innovating!

By Nicole Muise-Kielkucki

Director, Social Enterprise

Idea Foundry


Why Startup Weekend Pittsburgh is Supporting 412 Food Rescue: By The Numbers

As one of the proud community leaders of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh, I believe that our events bring out the best in our community. We’re the ones who teach others to stand at the edge and leap head-on into the unknown. We encourage people to listen to our city’s problems, create solutions, and iterate them if they don’t work out.

We’re the ones who create a community that’s “No Talk. All Action.” 

However, I think we sometimes get a little caught up in the glory of the startup world and forget about the pressing needs that are surround us at all times. Pittsburgh’s certainly a city on the rise, but it’s a city with a lot of work to do as well.


Perhaps most pressing of all is the problem of hunger. That’s why, with the support of The Brazen Kitchen and The Free Store, we’re hosting a benefit called Summer Harvest.

Summer Harvest fb 2

All proceeds go entirely to 412 Food Rescue, a non-profit initiative to reuse unsellable food and convert them into healthy, delicious meals for our community’s hungry. The event will take place at The Livermore in East Liberty on July 25th from 7pm to midnight.

Here are 7 figures that motivate our entrepreneurial efforts to curb this very serious problem (facts and figures mostly extracted from Feeding America):


That’s the percent of people who live in Allegheny County who are “food insecure,” or are unable to feed themselves adequately. That seems small, but here’s another number.


The number of people who are food insecure in Allegheny County. You could almost fill Heinz Stadium three times over with that many people.


Among them…


How many children are food insecure in Allegheny County. That’s greater than the capacity of PNC Park.



How much an average healthy meal costs in our region.


How much it would cost to eradicate hunger in Allegheny County every year.


The price of a ticket to the Summer Harvest. Using 412 Food Rescue’s efficient, ecological approach, each person who attends this will be able to feed a family of suffering from hunger for an entire week.



The number of people it takes to make a difference.

As an entrepreneur and a community organizer, I am convinced of the power of a single individual to make a huge difference in their community. This is not idealism – such impacts happen all the time. After all…
Source. Credit to Pablo Stanley.

To get your tickets to Summer Harvest, follow this link: Get them before 7/20 and save 20%!

If you’d also like to sponsor or donate, please contact me at Thank you for reading!

Lee Ngo is a community leader based in Pittsburgh, PA.

The 7 Most Surreal Moments of Startup Weekend Education Pittsburgh

Startup Weekend Education Pittsburgh (#SWeduPGH / @SWeduPGH) came and went from February 20th to February 22nd. It was a sold-out emotional roller coaster for its 120+ participants, hailing from as far as Mississippi and ranging as young as nine years old.

I wrote previously that this event was a dream come true, and indeed it was. However, there were moments in this event that made me wonder…

Consider the following moments:

1. Duolingo’s Luis von Ahn basically walked down the street to come talk to us.

Luis von Ahn shares his idea to generate infinite energy from the kinetic activities at gyms. It did not take off. Photo courtesy of Ben Matzke Photos.

I’ve heard Professor von Ahn speak in person and at his now famous TEDxCMU talk numerous times, and I never get tired of the bombs he drops:


Prof. von Ahn also opened up about his struggles as an entrepreneurship – the nightmares of product, the perpetual campaign of “gamification,” and the immense complexity in providing a service for each language.

There’s nothing greater than when a local startup rock star maintains a sense of humility. Thank you, Prof. von Ahn!

2. That moment when Expii’s Po-Shen Loh made the entire crowd gasp in awe.

Po-Shen Loh dazzles the crowd with his brilliance and energy. Photo courtesy of Ben Matzke Photos.

I know it seems silly that I compared myself to Steve Jobs when he first saw Steve Wozniak’s PC and operating system for the first time, but I hope you all understand that feeling now.


When Professor Loh showed us all “The Map” – that seemingly endless web of knowledge that continually expands as people actively contribute to Expii via “colossal collaboration” – the entire room was floored.


Prof. Loh is just one of many in a community of game changers, and the best part: they’re more excited to meet YOU. Expii is currently live and ready for you to contribute.

3. A mother and son competed AGAINST each other (and, somehow, both won)

I did not discover this until well into the competition, but participants Wesley and her son Porter joined different teams: Project Playground and The Wrinkled Brain Project. Throughout, there was nothing but love and respect – sometimes a rare sight at an intense competition like Startup Weekend.

Mother-son bonding via intense weekend-long startup competition.
Mother-son bonding via intense weekend-long startup competition.

Although Mom ended up placing first in the competition, Porter was the real star of the event. This Startup Weekend featured the first “Reaping” ever – a sacrifice of one participant to entertain the other participants and maintain social order.

Something like this. Actually, almost exactly like this.
Something like this. Actually, almost exactly like this.

In this case, one would be selected to showcase Startup Weekend Pittsburgh’s own MegaBits – an MMOPRG monster-fighting mobile app played in the real world released a month ago at the iTunes store.

However, when the moment of selection came, Porter volunteered as tribute. 

Porter’s heroism was fortunately mentored by MegaBits CEO Patrick Perini. Photo courtesy of Ben Matzke Photos.

He managed to vanquish a Koldiak with a Grimlug’s flurry of tornadoes and saved the day. (I don’t know what these words mean.)

Well done, Porter, and Wesley – way to be an awesome parent. Speaking of which:

4. We’re convinced Pittsburgh would crush a Startup Weekend Youth.

As a judging and coaching dynamic duo, Entrepreneuring Youth‘s proud alums Jesse and Joziah Council were the most poised (and well-dressed) gentlemen at the event.

By far the best dressed at Startup Weekend Education Pittsburgh, or pretty much at any event.
Far too much style for a Startup Weekend Education Pittsburgh, or pretty much at any event. Photo courtesy of Ben Matzke Photos.

Our Youth Choice Panel not only counted their votes faster than the main judges did (that was my bad), they also entertained the audience with their enthusiasm.

Today's students, tomorrow's leaders. Photo courtesy of Ben Matzke Photos.
Today’s students, tomorrow’s leaders. Photo courtesy of Ben Matzke Photos.

Lastly, who could forget that little girl who validated Penny Discovery’s MVP:

Children always make the best customers for validation. Always. Photo courtesy of Ben Matzke Photos.
Children always make the best customers for validation. Always. Photo courtesy of Ben Matzke Photos.

The youth have spoken – they want more entrepreneurship!

5. Startup Weekends are not traditionally done in sub-freezing temperatures. (We Pittsburgh folk don’t care.)

A Startup Weekend Pittsburgh hazing ritual for new volunteers. Photo courtesy of Ben Matzke Photos.

One of our platinum sponsors, Problem Solutions, dared our organizing team to borrow the Environmental Charter School‘s sleds and tear up some powder out in Frick Park.

Walt Grata of Problem Solutions feels cold in his manly beard. Photo courtesy of Ben Matzke Photos.
Fortunately, nobody was hurt in this insane endeavour. Photo courtesy of Ben Matzke Photos.

Some of the team made a snowman out in front. We decided to name it “Gusky” after Norton Gusky, a huge advocate in the Pittsburgh education community and the first person to buy a ticket at our event. Unfortunately, he fell ill and couldn’t attend, so we hope that this snowman was a fitting tribute.

Our team posting with Gusky the Snowman. Photo courtesy of Ben Matzke Photos.

6. Nobody else than Mandela Schumacher-Hodge could have facilitated SWeduPGH. Nobody.

Not only did we get the Global Director of Education Entrepreneurs, but we also got a woman who grew up in Pittsburgh’s East End and whose local legendary father Leroy Hodge fought relentlessly for the kind of future we hoped to represent at our event.

Mandela laying down the rules of SWeduPGH. Photo courtesy of Ben Matzke Photos.

One of our judges, The Fred Rogers Center‘s President Bill Isler approached her after the winners were announced. Apparently, Mandela’s mom and Bill were previously commissioners of the Pittsburgh Dynamo Soccer League, where Mandela cultivated her enduring passion for the sport.

A reunion that transcends generation. Photo courtesy of Mandela Schumacher-Hodge.
A reunion that transcends generation. Photo courtesy of Mandela Schumacher-Hodge.

If you can name someone else who should have been with us that weekend… you don’t really exist, for you are a logical paradox. Welcome back home, Mandela!

7. The epic dance party you all missed (probably because you built a company in 54 hours)

No words necessary. Just a video of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh veteran Steve McCarthy showing off his salsa skills with facilitator Mandela:

(In case you can’t see it –

Convinced yet that there might be a higher power involved? Perhaps, but I’m more inclined to think it begins with this validated fact:

Education is a big deal in Pittsburgh, and entrepreneurship is a great way to stimulate its progress. 

It was too easy to recruit the right organizers and volunteers – I already knew the most passionate, committed, trustworthy, and hardworking people in town.

We’re having no fun. No fun at all. Photo courtesy of Ben Matzke Photos.

We really didn’t have any trouble finding the right judges – we knew we wanted a teenage entrepreneur, three prominent women in educational technology, and a veteran in Pittsburgh school policy and philanthropy. Mission accomplished.

Judges Joziah Council, Aileen Owens, Lisa Abel-Palmieri, Stephanie Butler, and Bill Isler having a great time. Photo courtesy of Ben Matzke Photos.

The greatest challenge with any Startup Weekend is outreach – despite our hard work, we never know until the last minute if people will come out to participate.

Not bad for a first time.
Not bad for a first time. So, when’s the next Startup Weekend in Pittsburgh, anyway?

So, on behalf of everyone, I thank you for experiencing what I had experienced just a few years ago – this event is and always will be for you.

I also ask that you do the following:

(Apply here:

Networking: gamified. Photo courtesy of Ben Matzke Photos.

After all, you’re now part of a big family, and we’re excited to have you.

Pretty surreal, isn’t it? 

Lee Ngo is the Regional Manager of the US East Coast for UP Global and the lead organizer of Startup Weekend Education Pittsburgh. Many of the photos in this post were provided generously by Ben Matzke Photos, all rights reserved.

What You Need to Know: Saturday at SWeduPGH


The teams have formed and the heart of Startup Weekend Education Pittsburgh is officially underway! If you’re looking for a little more information on the game plan for Saturday and some tips and insights, this post is for you.

As always, if you need anything, find an organizer or volunteer, or tweet at us: Don’t forget to use the hashtag #SWeduPGH! And don’t be shy! We’ve all done this before and know what you’re going through.

If you’re getting your team established on social media, be sure to let us know and we’ll spread the word. Also request any team needs on Twitter and we will blast it out through social.

We also sent out codes for Amazon Web Services and your free .co domain, so be sure to check your emails.

Here are the teams so far. We know your name and idea will fluctuate throughout the weekend so let us know of updates!

  1. emrj: online platform to connect students with companies for job shadows
  2. The Wrinkled Brain Project: connect students with scientists to encourage deep thinking in science labs
  3. Imaginate: interactive storytelling to encourage kids to read
  4. Every Penny Counts: kids get rewarded with pennies for answering questions during class
  5. Field Trip: making botany more real-world interactive through teacher-directed initiatives
  6. Root Ed: connecting college mentors with high school students
  7. ClassR: collaboration platform for students in the same class working on projects together
  8. Lunchtime: summer lunches for kids through a non-profit food truck
  9. Pittsburgh Thriving Index: a dynamic real-time dashboard with multidimensional data that reframes education with access points for all
  10. E-lectern: build a better interface for online teaching
  11. The Project Playground: app to give teachers insights on student projects, straight from the kids
  12. Code Trail: helping young kids learn to code through gamification

For Saturday:

ECS will open at 9am! Come grab breakfast in the cafeteria thanks to Square Cafe then get to work.

Hopefully you had a successful brain dump Friday evening so you can hit the ground running on Saturday. Be sure to do lots of research, keep the MVP model in mind and take advantage of the amazing mentors coming in who have volunteered their time. This is when you want to really consider your market and get validation.

Assign roles and tasks to help get everything done. Be agile– know it will be a rollercoaster but that’s ok. And most importantly, have fun!

Mentors will be in from 10am-5pm. For special requests, email:

Tips: prioritize what your team needs guidance on and spend as much time with those mentors.

  1. List out questions: Time is limited with mentors so make sure you use it wisely.
  2. Be humble and open-minded: Remember, you don’t know what you don’t know.
  3. Be upfront and direct: If you need to pass on a mentor to digest and implement information, let them know.

Education Mentors:
Nina Marie Barbuto– Assemble
Colleen Hannagan– Assistant Principal, North Allegheny School District

Tech Mentors:
Joe Esposito– Development Consultant and Startup Digest PGH
Nikolaus Hruska– VP of Problem Solutions
Sabrina Haskell– Senior Game Designer of Schell Games

Business Mentors:
Adam Kelson– Partner, Saul Ewing LLP
Jesse Council (Youth Mentor)– CEO & Co-Founder, Shy-Way Essentials; National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge Finalist
Nikki Navta– CEO, Zulama
Nicole Muise-Kielkucki– Manager of Social Enterprise Initiatives, Idea Foundry
Dan Seitam– Partner & CxO, C-leveled

After lunch from Mad Mex, we’ll be doing a status report where you’ll update us on your progress and any needs you have. Remember, Startup Weekend is about community and collaboration. Teams helping each other out is highly encouraged!

Mentors will be here until 5 pm, and Saturday evening is when you’ll have to start considering how your pitch will go. Volunteers are here to help if this is new to you! We’ll also be sending around the judging criteria in an email to help guide you.

Win 10 is catering dinner and we’ll have an ice cream social from Dream Cream later in the evening. Things can get intense on Saturday but don’t forget to take an occasional break to clear your head and enjoy all the event has to offer.

Makers Make Money: Just Ask Entrepreneuring Youth

The following is a guest post from Norton Gusky – Educational Technology Broker and education photo documentarian.

Entrepreneuring Youth

The Maker Space is about tinkering, building, creating, designing, but what’s the next step? According to Jerry Cozewith, the Executive Director of Entrepreneuring Youth (EY), a non-profit located in Pittsburgh, Pennsyvania, the next step is taking the creativity and innovation of the Maker Space into the world of student run-businesses.

One of the great success stories for EY is Shawn, a former Manchester Academic Charter School (MACS) student who started out as a shy young man who would not even look at you in the face. Shawn was a middle school student in the iOWN program, an entrepreneurial program coordinated by EY at MACS. Jerry tells the story about first meeting Shawn and his handshake was limp and his voice was almost inaudible. Today Shawn is a high school entrepreneur with his own bakery business. He had an interest in baking. EY gave him the supports and experiences to turn that interest into a passion that was not just about making food, but creating a system to have a business that turned a profit within two years. When you meet Shawn today he shakes your hand with a firm grip and tells you why you should purchase his pastries.

Jerry sees MACS as one of the best examples of how EY grows young people, taking them from where they are and giving them the confidence and chutzpuh to say, “Can you help me?” It’s that ability to realize that you need a mentor, a guide, that really separates the kids in EY from their peers. The talent to ask good questions leads to innovative solutions.

According to the Entrepreneuring Youth website: “We help young people start and operate businesses as a way to guide them toward their own path to success after high school. When young people run businesses of their own creation, they bloom with newfound confidence. They discover talents which were once hidden. They think of themselves as “owners” and “presidents.” Young people who become young entrepreneurs realize the value of creating (rather than waiting) for opportunities.”

According to one of the young entrepreneurs featured in a promotional video, EY gave her a voice. “… I could stand up before all of these people and say things that were on mind.”

Jerry focuses on the concept of “self-efficacy” as the key for success. It’s about empowering youth. It’s not just that kids learn the value of owning a business; it’s more about the growth of young men and women who have the tools and awareness that will make them successful wherever they travel or seek to make their imprint.

Today EY is creating success stories throughout the Pittsburgh region with a focus on the under-privileged, the under-served youth. Jerry shared a story about a recent event EY sponsored at the Oxford Center, a major commercial center in Downtown Pittsburgh. Initially there were only four parents signed up from the Hilltop project where EY partners with the YMCA. Jerry investigated and discovered that the parents did not have transportation and didn’t know how to travel to the Downtown destination. EY then rented a bus and over 75 adults came down from the “mountain” to see the world of Downtown youth commerce. EY empowered the parents to become supporters for their young entrepreneurs.

According to Jerry when you first looked at the display at Oxford Center display of student businesess it appeared to be a typical array of goods, but when you met the young people behind each business, you realized that there was something special happening. You knew that these young people had taken the first steps to success in the adult world. They knew how to communicate, how to sell themselves. They had confidence in themselves.

It’s the reason why we need more events like Startup Weekend EDU. We need to breed that entrepreneurial spirit where young people learn to network and pitch their ideas, to take risks, and learn by their initial mistakes and failures so they discern the value of the iterative process inherent in all “making” activities.