Pittsburgh’s tech and start up universe is rich and diverse and has been a major driver of our economic stability and growth over the past decade. However, recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other agencies have shown Pittsburgh lagging in new job creation, especially in high-tech industries. The city has to be a strong partner with our emerging industries and work hand-in-hand to ensure that they are getting the public and private resources and opportunities they need to be successful. One of the best ways to do this is create new business incubators that provide the transitional space and resources for young firms in a collaborative, cooperative environment where they can learn from one another and from established firms in related fields. The idea is not to try to force innovation to happen where it is not already happening but to nurture organic startups and provide a bridge from start up to successful company.
1. A Pittsburgh Innovation Incubator
As Mayor, I will work with the Pittsburgh Tech Council, CMU’s Project Olympus, groups like Innovation Works, Start Uptown, and Alpha Lab, and the URA to create one or more start up incubators. There are already several successful start up incubators, but the city can help to provide more space, more resources, and more support to expand the options available for young companies. We have hundreds of underutilized buildings in neighborhood business districts that would be excellent candidates for restoration into live/work cooperative spaces where young entrepreneurs from a variety of fields could open office space. Putting a dozen or more start ups in one building allows them to learn from one another, find synergistic links among their peer companies, collaborate on projects, and grow together. We need to work as a city to foster that spirit of innovation that will catalyze the companies of the future and keep them in Pittsburgh. We can set up a sliding scale lease agreement through which the companies pay what they can based on their annual profits until they are successful enough to begin working with the city to find permanent office and/or retail space.
A brick and mortar incubator space coupled with the partnerships with stakeholders in the tech and start up fields could dramatically increase the speed at which companies coming out of our universities begin to stand on their own and create the jobs of Pittsburgh’s future. I consider an innovation incubator as a down payment and an investment in the future job growth that will attract new residents to our neighborhoods, attract new businesses to the region, and keep our college graduates in the city. The jobs of the future aren’t going to be created by government but government can provide the support and the infrastructure the companies that will create them need.