Can an urban campus that fosters the growth of technology and social innovation startups accelerate economic redevelopment in the rest of Uptown Pittsburgh?
Dale McNutt believes in the domino-effect beginning with StartUptown
, an idea he envisioned more than five years ago with the purchase of a shuttered building on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Jumonville Street.
McNutt, a graphic designer, and his wife remodeled the vacant, 100-year-old structure, converting the 12,700 square feet into a home for themselves and a cool space for some of the region’s most promising startups, many of them Alpha Lab
companies graduating from the Innovation Works
By formalizing StartUptown as a nonprofit, McNutt hopes to attract further funding from public and private resources. The incubator has already received $250,000 from an Allegheny County CITF Grant.
This month, it was awarded 501c3 federal nonprofit status, a critical turning point, says McNutt.
Economic development happens through a culture of innovation, says McNutt. The best way to spark interest in the revitalization of Uptown is by attracting young companies who bring innovation, diversity and energy to the neighborhood—and maybe a few coffee shops and restaurants.
“It’s about developing Uptown through the creation of this campus, making it a destination, trying to bring in investors and raise public money,” McNutt explained during a BBQ last week that showcased "The Big Room" and the surrounding garden, an oasis of hope in a neighborhood that has struggled with urban blight.
With the help of UPSTART Collaborative, a loose group of people who are helping McNutt to enlarge the campus, StartUptown will expand its campus to the Paramount Pictures Film Exchange this fall. The Paramount addition will expand StartUptown’s footprint by 5,200 square feet, making room for up to 62 employees and a café.
Seventeen startups have worked over the past four years in StartUptown’s space, featuring high ceilings and below market-rate rent. Subsidized rents allow fledgling companies to get their footing. The model is proving successful and companies are growing.
A few, such as AllPoint
, may be ready for larger space soon. Career Imp
, acquired in July by Professional Diversity Network, has moved to Chicago.
"With Dale's visionary leadership, we are seeing entrepreneurs play a significant role in the transformation of Uptown,” says Bill Generett, president and CEO of Urban Innovation21.
“I’m excited that the companies in StartUptown are also concerned and working on solutions to connect the residents of that community to the transformation."
“The only problem is I’m a child of the 60s,” McNutt adds with a smile. “I want it to all happen now.”
Source: Dale McNutt, StartUptown; Bill Generett, Urban Innovation21