P-G on Technology Entrepreneurship

Broken record department: The Post-Gazette has a seemingly endless appetite for opinion pieces and features about the failures of tech entrepreneurship in the region.

The opinion piece, by a local lawyer, demonstrates a nice awareness of some basic regional economic development literature but no knowledge of the work most relevant to his own place in the hierarchy -- Mark Suchman's research on the sociology of high technology law firms in the Silicon Valley. Corporate lawyers in successful high tech markets operate as aggressive information brokers, placing investors with entrepreneurs, and vice versa. Looking for reasons behind Pittsburgh's failure to generate more small and mid-size technology startups? Start looking at the relatively placid waters of Pittsburgh's legal market.

The feature, on the next local high tech stars, focuses on a handful of firms:
Young companies cited by local tech insiders as being well on their way to becoming stars include Renal Solutions Inc., of Marshall, Akustica Inc., LogicLibrary Inc. and Precision Therapeutics Inc., all of the South Side, Plextronics Inc., of Harmarville, Downtown's TimeSys Corp. and Apangea Learning Inc., of Indiana, Pa.

I blogged about Renal Solutions nine months ago, so that company is still looking to break out of the pack. But is looking for the next "star" company the right approach -- even in the business media? Compare Silicon Valley -- which is entrepreneur-oriented as much as firm-oriented.
"This is not a one-industry town like Detroit or Pittsburgh were," says Andy Rappaport, who, as a partner at August Capital, is one of the thousands of venture capitalists who trawl the valley in search of companies that might provide a big-bang payoff. "This is a startup town. Our core competency here isn't chips, or networking products, or software. The culture is built around the creation of startups."

The Valley is an ugly place in a lot of ways, but since the demise of its original twin stalwarts -- agriculture and defense -- it's never tried to strategize finding the next big regional thing. The Valley has placed a lot of bets, and big things have happened.


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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