The Revolution Will Be Networked

It's not a revolution, but progress in Pittsburgh does proceed, one node at a time. It's not political progress, but -- here and there -- economic development progress.

Innovation Works has launched AlphaLab,

AlphaLab provides funding, free office space, expert business advisors and services through an intensive six-month program in Pittsburgh. AlphaLab helps companies rapidly develop their technology, gain user feedback from early alpha or beta releases and move toward successful commercial launch. . . . The application deadline is March 31, 2008.


I'm not wild about the name of the project, for reasons that become clear when you run a Google search, but the core of the idea is terrific. This baby belongs to Jim Jen at IW, who has the right background and outlook for this enterprise.

Relatedly, in recent weeks I've learned about Pittsburgh Equity Partners, a venture fund that is looking to fill an important gap in the Pittsburgh capital landscape: Entrepreneurial companies that have outgrown the resources of F&F, seed, and angel funding but aren't ready for larger venture investments. PEP is run by Ed Engler, founder and chairman of Summa Technologies and GP in Summa Venture Works, and Steve Robinson, of Robinson Venture Works. PEP is the current evolutionary stage of the Pittsburgh Angel Fund, with sponsorship by the Commonwealth and the involvement of IW, PLSG, and other players around town. Here's some history.

Competition in capital markets is a good thing. Investors in entrepreneurial markets measure deals by primarily by level of risk rather than primarily by level of return. Pittsburgh needs more of these folks, and it needs more of them to be visible players in the economy of new firms. The banking mentality, which expects every deal to pay out a return discounted by some level of risk, doesn't suit the entrepreneurial environment.

Last but not least, I'm late to the party celebrating Bill Toland's update on IntoPittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Diaspora from last Friday's Post-Gazette. Bill has some excellent info and links about projects to connect grassroots economic developments initiatives in the so-called Rust Belt, including the Pittsburgh Diaspora and IntoPittsburgh (search this blog's archives and Jim Russell's Burgh Diaspora for more information on IP).

What might be called the "rustroots" movement has a challenge. How do we take it out of the blogosphere and out of column's like Bill's (where it gets flattering coverage but is nonetheless marginalized by the paper itself), and how do we connect it to real economic momentum? If IP and the Great Lakes Urban Exchange and the Rust Belt Bloggers Network come across as a bunch of outsiders trying to fell trees in their own forest, then the movement is a non-starter, amusing to its own members and to no one else.

IP has to follow the money, to borrow a phrase from a different time and a different context. Grassroots activism needs to connect, in specific ways, to folks who not only are of like mind but who are of better economic standing. We have to persuade them to put their money where our mouths are.

Jim Jen at IW and Ed Engler at PEP are two of the people in Pittsburgh who get that connection, which is why I've assembled these items in this one post. If others like them stand up and are counted, then IP will have something to show for itself.

Comments

1 Response to "The Revolution Will Be Networked"

Jim Jen said... 3/02/2008 10:59 PM

Mike,

Thanks for the feedback and kind words. We are excited about AlphaLab and encouraged by the enthusiastic response we've received.

In terms of the name, I agree with your comment about the Google search result and we're going to work on that.

But in terms of the name itself, that was actually generated by the community, so to speak. One of our portfolio companies, ShowClix, suggested a variant of the AlphaLab name and we also surveyed a group of about 50 entrepreneurs, technologists and social media enthusiasts. AlphaLab was the clear winner among the group.

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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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