Wheels Down: Pittsburgh

Downtown Pittsburgh - Kimon Berlin [<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>], <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Downtown_Pittsburgh_(14314937015).jpg">via Wikimedia Commons</a>

Downtown Pittsburgh – Kimon Berlin [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Pittsburgh, located in southwest Pennsylvania at the junction of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers, is known as “the Steel City” for good reason. It has more than 300 steel-related businesses.

But the same level of energy, innovation, and entrepreneurship that has served Pittsburgh in the steel industry is now growing the area in terms of high technology, robotics, health care, nuclear engineering, tourism, biomedical technology, finance, education, and services.

Service startups

One startup, 412 Food Rescue, recently developed a philanthropic technology that automates the collection of donations of uneaten, unsold produce that would otherwise go to waste. The philanthropy-funded company transports the food to local charities and other nonprofit organizations using volunteer drivers.

Leah Lizarondo, CEO and co-founder of 412 Food Rescue, says the cause behind her company is simple.

“We are responding to the alarming statistic that roughly 40% of our food supply is going to waste. Food waste is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gasses, and we have hungry Americans,” she said.

Lizarondo tells us she plans to grow her business to be operating in 30 cities within the next five years.

Carnegie Mellon influence

Another company, nanoGriptech, is a Lawrenceville-based startup from Carnegie Mellon University with a new product that’s turning heads. With its multi-patented Setex material, nanoGriptech is revolutionizing the adhesive industry with groundbreaking technology that acts as “silent velcro.” The technology mimics the tiny suction cup-like “nano hairs” on the feet of a gecko.

The application of this product ranges from medical use to consumer and industrial and has the potential to expand into other applications, such as military use.

nanoGriptech received a $1.7 million investment from a Taiwanese venture firm earlier this year, according to CEO Nicholas Kuhn.

University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute

Tony Torres from the University of Pittsburgh’s Innovation Institute tells us we will see some incredible new technology from his facility shortly.

Among the 17 startups that have already come out of the facility just this year, many benefit meaningful causes. A company called Atimize developed an air-powered wheelchair designed for disabled individuals to be able to use the pool. Torres says the chair was developed by request at the facility from a young, disabled water park owner.

“It’s powered by air so that you can drive it by ramp right into the pool without any issues,” he said.

Treating illness

DeepRX is another byproduct of the innovation department with a concept that could change the way we treat terminal illnesses in the future.

They’ve developed a clinical decision support platform for cancer treatment using patient-specific data to provide therapy recommendations based on predicting tumor sensitivity to specific drugs.

Torres says that the institute is currently working with something called “hydrogel,” a sponge-like material that can be used in places with severe lack of water to absorb the water from the surroundings more efficiently.

Once absorbed, the contents can then be squeezed to capture fresh drinking water that otherwise would not have been obtainable.

Working in Pittsburgh

The largest employer in the city is the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, with 48,000 employees. Six Fortune 500 companies call the Pittsburgh area home: PNC Financial Services, PPG Industries, U.S. Steel, The Kraft Heinz Company, WESCO International, and the Findlay Township, PA-based Dick’s Sporting Goods.

The nonprofit arts and cultural industry in Allegheny County generates $341 million in economic activity that supports more than 10,000 full-time equivalent jobs with nearly $34 million in local and state taxes raised.


A leader in environmental design, the city is home to 60 total and 10 of the world’s first green buildings, while billions have been invested in the area’s Marcellus natural gas fields.

Pittsburgh by the numbers

City population: 302,407

Allegheny County population: 1.22 million

Median household income$58,521

Average age: 36

Average home cost: $160,000

Home to five professional sports teams: Pittsburgh Pirates (MLB), Pittsburgh Steelers (NFL), Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL), Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USL), and Steel City Yellow Jackets (ABA)

Largest employerUniversity of Pittsburgh Medical Center, with 48,000 employees

Fortune 500 companies that call Pittsburgh home: PNC Financial Services, PPG Industries, U.S. Steel, The Kraft Heinz Company, WESCO International, and Dick’s Sporting Goods

Last, but certainly not least, Pittsburgh has the most bars per capita in the nation.