Too Many Chefs?

Here is an age-old question: Does Pittsburgh have too many organizations sponsoring and supporting technology-oriented entrepreneurship?

Before trying to answer that question, I want to inventory the resources. Here's a first cut. I'm sure that I'm missing important elements, so in a later post I'll try to flesh this out with the organizations that I haven't included here. Feel free to amend my list in the Comments.

Some of these are new, some are old. Some provide services, some provide money, some provide information, and some are technology-focused. Some are academic and teaching-oriented. Some are product-oriented. Some are company-oriented; some are jobs-oriented. Not all of them are focused on the tech sector specifically; not all of them are oriented specifically toward entrepreneurship. Many involve some "economic development" combination.

I'm *not* suggesting that all of these organizations provide the same or even similar services. Nor am I making any statements about what connections exist between or among them, or what connections should exist. That may come later. I know that there's a lot of history at work here. But for a small city, there sure are a lot of these things.

Innovation Works
Pittsburgh Technology Council
Idea Foundry
Pitt's Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence
PantherLabWorks at IEE
Life Sciences Greenhouse
Technology Collaborative
SCORE
Small Business Development Center at IEE
HELP
E-Lifelines
Pittsburgh's Future
Pitt/CMU University Partnership
Don Jones Center for Entrepreneurship at CMU
Center for Biotechnology at Duquesne
Tissue Engineering Initiative
Pittsburgh Gateways
Swanson Institute for Technical Excellence at Pitt
Pennsylvania NanoMaterials Commercialization Center
Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA)
Technology Commercialization Alliance
Allegheny County Department of Economic Development
Office of Enterprise Development at Pitt
Center for Women's Entrepreneurship at Chatham
Small Business Development Center at Pitt
Small Business Development Center at Duquesne
Small Business Administration in Pittsburgh

I haven't started to catalog the service sector -- the lawyers (there are a few in Pittsburgh who work in this area, and the number is growing), the investors (VCs such as Birchmere; angel investors such as Blue Tree; blended outfits like Renaissance Partners), and the independent not-for-profits (foundations with an interest in entrepreneurship, such as Heinz, and investors with a different model, such as the Sprout Fund).

Comments

19 Responses to "Too Many Chefs?"

Anthony Cerminaro said... 4/19/2006 12:42 PM

Mike, There are several you left out, links to which may be found at this Carnegie Library site.

For instance, there is the
Riverside Business Resource Center
Catalyst Connection
Governor's SW Action Team

and on and on, etc.

Mark Rauterkus said... 4/19/2006 11:08 PM

That list does not begin to scratch the surface, as to what I'm seeing as the real problems and the real reasons for the problems.

As to the list, where is the South Side Local Development Company?

Where is the PDP - Pgh Downtown Partnership?

Where are all the BID (neighborhood business improvement districts)?

Follow the money.

Each of those groups, even the Cool Space Locator -- are there to help businesses for moving into the area, for expansion, for finding new spaces, etc.

You've just hit the tip of the iceberg.

Gloria Forouzan said... 4/20/2006 7:49 AM

Not sure if this fits your criteria:

Seton Hill University has the
"E-Magnify® center for women entrepreneurs". It's goal is to "provide innovative programming and essential resources to help women start and grow their businesses. "

Mike Madison said... 4/20/2006 12:54 PM

Reactions to the comments so far:

I have no criteria. I'm just assembling a list.

The list doesn't catalog "the right organizations" or "the best organizations" or "the organizations that count," let alone "all the organizations." It's just a list.

Of course, reactions along the lines of "oh, but you missed *my* organization" tend to confirm my own sense that Pittsburgh has an awful lot of these things, and perhaps more (even many more) than it needs.

Anonymous said... 4/20/2006 2:25 PM

The fact that you have all these "Don't forget about..." really just points to the problem you're talking about. There are too many different agencies and no one knows who they are or what they do. It would be a full-time job for an entrepreneur to locate the correct place for help.

Anonymous said... 4/20/2006 4:44 PM

Perhaps this is just a reflection of having a large foundation community that seeds a lot of initiatives and has no focus...but no one ever says anything publicly critical about them (or analyzes their performance) since they might not get invited to the next shady side/sewickley/squirrel hill/fox chapel/mt lebanon party...

The most disappointing part is the cozy media relationship...our main newspaper never has taken a deep look at the philanthropic community.

Anonymous said... 4/20/2006 5:10 PM

Mike,
You asked about organizations for technology-oriented entrepreneurs. If the Pittsburgh Technology Council would have paid better attention to the needs of its market, and delivered meaningful solutions in a top-notch manner, you wouldn't have had so many organizations pop up. People have looked to them only to go nowhere - or backwards - and decided to go it alone...and many now will not work with them.

Anonymous said... 4/20/2006 9:42 PM

Here are 3 more serving tech entrepreneurs:
- TiE Pittsburgh, whose charter members are Indus (India-US) entrepreneurs including Sunil Wadwhani, founder/CEO of iGate. (www.tiepgh.org)
- MIT Enterprise Forum of Pgh
- PowerLink is another service providing mentoring to women entrepreneurs by women entrepreneurs.

Anonymous said... 4/21/2006 4:15 PM

The real question is: How many of these resources are geared toward funneling more money to the universities as opposed to helping companies in the private sector. Yes, the unversities are an important piece for developing our economy, but the money is often poorly spent there with very little in true economic development. Yet the universities continue to control many of these organizations' boards.

Anonymous said... 4/25/2006 9:13 PM

Re: Mark's comment, many community development organizations address issues other than business development, and none (that I'm aware of) focus on technology development. Follow the money to the community development groups, and you'll most likely find pretty miniscule budgets and not a lot of support or connection with the region's big budget entities.

Regarding media coverage - I get the sense that they go as far as the community will allow. Most of these tech-focused organizations are all in the same game: self-protection. There seems to be an unspoken agreement to keep the bar low, disburse sizable grants to the same organizations again and again despite lackluster results, and not press for accountability of the millions of dollars spent annually on technology/R&D economic development initiatives in this region.

You'll hear people complain in private or off the record, but I think there's definitely a code of silence. Once you're in--on either the funder side or the recipient side, you keep your mouth shut, or your career options in this city are toast.

Anonymous said... 4/26/2006 8:46 PM

I agree the Pittsburgh Technology Council has become like the Allegheny Conference involved in tons of activities that no one really needs. Mike you should do an op-ed on them like you did on the Allegheny Conference.

Regarding the media - I agree no one speaks openly about these organizations and most of the boards are rubber stamps.

Anonymous said... 4/26/2006 8:55 PM

I guess I am the only person that believes in markets and entpreneurs. Who cares about all these non-profits - an entrepreneur makes it happen on their own or if they need something they go get it.

While I believe it is important for the city's economy to invest in research universities - they don't create companies. Entrepreneurs create companies. Universities do research and educate people.

Anonymous said... 4/26/2006 9:00 PM

The person above hit it on the nose. If the Pittsburgh Tech Counsel supported the market this mess would not have developed. They are now part of the problem getting more money from the government than the economic development groups. There is nobody advocating for the private sector that is not living off hand outs.

Anonymous said... 4/27/2006 10:18 AM

The Technology Council is irrelevant...they have a bunch of events for service providers to sell to you...very little value add.

Anonymous said... 4/27/2006 4:00 PM

We need a tech oriented Chamber of Commerce lobbying Harrisburg that does not take money from public sources only companies. The Pgh Technology Council is more effective at getting more money for itself and all its related organizations than improving the business climate.

Anonymous said... 4/27/2006 5:04 PM

Why is the Tech Council irrelevant? Start with their own data. According to the 2005 the Technology Council annual report, 45% of their expenses were on "Programs, Networks & Events" (over 2 times the next expenditure) and they had over 130 event offerings last year. Now, if you think about our region's tech sector-related economic growth problems, what percentage of the total solution to these problems do their events solve? Probably less than 1%; 1-3 hours at an event and a contest for one startup company to get several thousands of dollars of cash barely scratches the surface of providing a complete solution to a real problem. But since they measure "attendee satisfaction" and "number of attendees," they actually think their programs are valued. And, to top it off, you'd think their events would be executed like a well-oiled machine! Those of us who worked with them know how poorly they perform. They can't even do the wrong things right! This machine ran out of oil many years ago and no longer can produce anything.

Mark Rauterkus said... 4/27/2006 8:27 PM

The PDP, Pgh Downtown Partnership, is leading the way on the wi-fi deal for downtown (only). That's a nonprofit doing a tech deal -- and doing it poorly.


- - -
Porker of the Month: Rep. Alan Mollohan

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has named Representative Alan
Mollohan (D-W.Va.) Porker of the Month for abusing his position on the House Appropriations Committee by securing hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks that may have benefited him personally. In an April 8, 2006 article, the New York Times detailed how Rep.

Mollohan has directed $250 million to five nonprofit organizations that he set up. To run the organizations, Rep. Mollohan has recruited friends and former aides who then contribute to his political campaigns and family foundation. The National Legal and Policy Center has filed a complaint questioning whether a spike in Rep. Mollohan's personal fortune had any connection to earmarks that he secured, and on April 21, Rep. Mollohan stepped down from his position as the senior Democrat on the House Ethics Committee.

http://www.cagw.org/

Anonymous said... 4/28/2006 11:14 AM

Tech Council needs to represent tech companies......and shed all the other organizations under its umbrella

Kevin Lane said... 5/05/2006 5:06 PM

Mike:

The conversation you sparked with your “Too Many Chefs?” query has turned into a lively and even impassioned one. But I fear that in the midst of all the passion, certain statements have been made about the Pittsburgh Technology Council that just have no basis in fact. Allow me to clear up some of the misperceptions.

First and foremost, the Pittsburgh Technology Council is not chartered as an economic development organization. It is a trade association, and as such, its mission is to provide the services that its member companies require to help them be successful. In addition, the services that the Council offers are not arbitrary or frivolous. They reflect the feedback and suggestions that are solicited from member companies on an almost constant basis. In fact the top two Council services that its members find most valuable include: 1.) advocacy and government relations and 2.) educational and informational events, programs and forums.

With respect to the first item above, over the last two years the Council successfully derailed $170 million in proposed new state and local taxes. The Council achieved this through aggressive public policy and lobbying efforts. It did this by engendering a more complete understanding among our key elected representatives of the difficulties imposed upon our region’s entrepreneurs by the stifling business climate. The Council’s efforts resulted in legislation that expanded the state’s R&D tax credit, reformed the state’s net operating loss provisions, retained the Delaware holding company provision and rolled back proposed new city taxes.

The second item above seems to run counter to an anonymous blogger’s assertion that the Council’s rigorous schedule of programs is a somehow a misplaced service. Why, then, would the Council continue to get high satisfaction ratings and high attendance (more than 13,000 for all of 2005) if this service was not deemed valuable. And someone please explain how using “attendee satisfaction” and “number of attendees” would not be the appropriate measure for a service that most member companies say they want or need.

There are several other services that a significant percentage of the Council’s members have indicated they find useful. And three out of four Council members are likely to recommend membership in the Council to other non-member companies.

In addition, it is imperative that I make clear that although the Pittsburgh Technology Council receives occasional grant awards for specific projects from both the state and federal government, this in no way should be construed as the Council’s only means of support, as was implied by another anonymous blogger. On a pie chart illustrating 2005 revenues for the Council, government grants do not even show up as a sliver.

Finally, the Pittsburgh Technology Council was erroneously characterized as being an umbrella for other organizations. In fact, the Council is a separate 501(c) 6 private non-profit trade association organized with a single mission to help technology companies succeed.

I would be glad to share how the Council does this at more length with anyone that contacts me directly at (412) 918-4247.

Kevin Lane
Pittsburgh Technology Council

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