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Whistl: Smartphone case uses technology to fend off assault

From nail polish that detects roofies to hard-to-remove undergarments, inventors of all types-- including some here in Pittsburgh-- are using their creativity to fend off sexual assault.

A group of Carnegie Mellon University engineering students formed a company called LifeShel and created Whistl, a phone case that is also an alarm aimed at combating sexual assault. They invented the device after one of their friends fell victim. The case fights back against would-be attackers by deploying a powerful alarm system while calling 911 and loved ones and recording whatever criminal action may be occurring.

The inventors have turned to Kickstarter to fund their project, which already has the support of start-up funder AlphaLab.



“As a survivor of attempted sexual assault, I know what it’s like to feel very alone and unsafe,” said Leah Yingling, LifeShel’s Director of Community Relations in a news release. “I was a college student, on my afternoon run, and all I had on me was my phone. I feel safer now having the Whistl there when I need it, to help me where I am, and to call for help with the click of a button.”

The case performs many of the same functions apps can perform, but without the same start-up lag time, according to LifeSchel Chief Operating Officer Alan Fu. "With other apps you have to unlock the phone and find the app, and when you are in a panic scenario, your brain can't work fast enough for that. You don't even have to look at your phone to engage the LifeSchel app," Fu said. In addition to allowing for blaring alarms, Fu said the product also has stealth mode so that users can activate it without an attacker knowing. "We launched a 15-unit test at CMU last month," Fu said, adding that many users became reliant on the app for security.

With two clicks of a button, Whistl strobes a blinding 90 lumen LED light and sounds an alarm at 120 decibels-- which is as loud as being front row at a rock concert, the creators say. The device sends a 911 alert and notifies loved ones through a group SMS message and also activates protective video and audio recording.

A limited number of Whistl smartphone cases will be available for an early-bird price of $57 through the Kickstarter campaign and cases for iPhone 5/5s/6 will ship in Summer 2015, with Galaxy S and HTC One series cases expected to ship soon after. The company has also created a LifeShel app that is free and will be available on the iPhone in the Summer 2015, followed by an Android release.

Every two minutes in the United States, someone is sexually assaulted, according to data provided by the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. Fu said the company hopes to combat this problem, but added the app could be used in a variety of situations including "in the office space or even in cabs or in Uber or Lyft for driver safety. It also could definitely be used by the elderly because we have simplified the interaction," Fu said, citing the two-button operation.

To find out more about Whistl, visit http://www.lifeshel.com/

Race to the race exhibit at Carnegie Museum of Natural History before it's gone!

?What is race? This is the question that a traveling exhibit now on view at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History through October 27 seeks to explore. Speaking at the Carnegie Music Hall in conjunction with the exhibition, journalist Michele Norris of NPR fame interrogated the phrase "post-racial society."

"What does post-racial mean to you?" she asked the audience.

"Utopia," shouted one audience member, and everyone laughed.

It's nice to think we have evolved to value the content of character above the color of skin, but the world we live in is far from color blind, as the exhibition "Race: Are we so different?" points out. The exhibition demonstrates the ways in which historic discrimination-- including downgrading credit ratings for non-whites-- led to inequality that persists today.

"Some people still believe that people of different races have different blood," said museum spokeswoman Cecile Shellman, explaining the need for education. "The exhibition does treat that assertion that racism is prejudice plus power," she added. 

The show was organized by the American Anthropological Association in conjunction with the Science Museum of Minnesota, and perhaps its most interesting feature is its Pittsburgh-specific examination of race.

In 1951, the United Steelworkers of America asked the Carnegie Museum of Natural History to create an exhibit that would use scientific evidence to dispel racist misconceptions. This lead to the creation of the museum's 1951 exhibit, "We Humans." The show was incredibly influential and toured from coast to coast in the 1950s. Materials from that exhibit are now on display at the museum and show just how far we have and have not come. They also show the role Pittsburgh played historically in combating racism. 

The museum also re-created a Pittsburghers Speak Up column that ran in the Pittsburgh Courier, asking black Pittsburghers how they felt about race relations. The museum juxtaposed old archival photos by Charles "Teenie" Harris and interviews by George Barbour, in which black Pittsburghers spoke candidly about race with modern updated photographs by Nikkia Hall and interviews by Lynne Hayes-Freeland. People, both then and now, think we have come a long way, but more work must be done.
 

Help find E.T. in Pittsburgh

There are aliens in Pittsburgh walking among us, according to Mike Zelechowski, who is soliciting support on Kickstarter to raise $703 to help fund his search.

Zelechowski runs aliensearchguide.weebly.com, where he posts "up to date" information about Bigfoot and the aftereffects of alien abduction. Previously, he ran a podcast, but encountered some equipment failures that set him back, causing him to turn to Kickstarter to continue his search.

On his website, he claims to have had his first alien encounter eight years ago, while volunteering to help people affected by Hurricane Katrina. "I believe that extraterrestrials are here on Earth, having met one, and walking among us as we speak," he wrote on his Kickstarter page. People in nearby Kecksburg, Westmoreland County, known for its famous UFO crash, may agree with him. 

Whether Zelechowski can be believed or whether his work should be viewed as fact, fiction or art, the dedication he has to his craft (no pun intended) and his spirit of inquiry is admirable and innovative. He has published an e-book, "Alien Search Guide," which purports to help average people find aliens in their midst. Another e-book, called "Psychic Ghost Stories," may be worth buying since it's only $.99-- and Halloween is just around the corner.

"One basic tenet brings us here today, the search for alien life," Zelechowski writes in the introduction to "Alien Search Guide." "We have a curiosity that cannot be extinguished. We want to know more, we need to know more." With curiosity like that, if aliens are here in Pittsburgh, Zelechowski will be first to find them.

How do you recycle a house of gold?

What if demolishing a building were a gentle process, more like taking apart a puzzle than bulldozing? Wilkinsburg artist Dee Briggs hopes to dismantle an abandoned home she purchased, so that each part can be reused.
 
In a Kickstarter video she created to help fund the project, Briggs explains that initially, she was going to tear the house down and build a side yard for herself, since the Wilkinsburg home is beside her own. However, after learning the history of the 139-year-old home, she decided the property needed to be treated with love. 

The first step for Briggs was painting the house gold.

"The House of Gold project is a metaphor, and it's meant to remind people to see the value in people and places before they're gone," Briggs writes of the project. "Would you remember me if I weren’t gold?  Probably not," Briggs writes from the perspective of the house, whose narrative she has reconstructed and re-told.

"In 1875, Caroline Richmond owned this land….. Caroline, David and the kids lived here for almost 30 years," Briggs writes as the house, located in front of a bus stop at 1404 Swissvale Ave. "In 1906 I was sold to Martha Daugherty. She was 22 years old at the time and her husband Henry was 27. They were beautiful, kind, brown people and I was very happy to be their house. Henry was a house painter (I think he would have loved seeing me gold)."

The Daughertys also lived in the house for 30 years before it was again sold to Joseph Marcotulli, an Italian immigrant who arrived in the United States in 1909, according to Briggs. "He, his wife Mary, and their kids .... lived with me for almost 60 years. Joe built a storefront in my basement that faced Park Avenue and his wife ran a corner store in it. Everyone in the neighborhood called the market Mary Marcotulli's," Briggs writes.

Taking the house apart piece by piece will pay homage to its history, and Briggs has assembled a team devoted to ensuring what she calls a "gentle demolition." "Simply put--I don't want to throw this house in the garbage," Briggs writes on her Kickstarter page. 
 
However, taking the house apart by hand is more expensive than simply knocking it down, and Briggs says she will need to raise $30,000 in order to complete the demolition. "Supporting this project will give this house a chance at a new life and greatly reduce what goes in the landfill," the sculptor and architect writes on her Kickstarter page.
 
The first team of people in the home will be from Construction Junction, an organization that will take the decorative elements out of the home so they may be re-sold to area residents.

Then, Briggs’ team will take over: "Instead of one guy, one day and a big machine, the house will be dismantled by at least seven people working together over the course of three weeks," Briggs writes, "And most of all it will create an important case study that tracks the real costs of taking a house like this apart and reusing it so that it can be shared with others.”
 
When the demolition is finished, Briggs writes that she hopes to use the space to benefit the community.

“I'm sure there will be challenges - starting with relocating the groundhog who seems to have moved in," she writes, adding that she's sure the project can be completed. “It will be a labor of love for me for sure but I think it’s worth it and I hope that you do too,” Briggs writes.

She has already raised over $9,000 from 84 backers, but with the Kickstarter campaign expiring on Sept. 25, she needs all the help she can get.

Children's garden in North Braddock has super powers

There is a garden in North Braddock where children can play Tetris with plants, and that's just the tip of the iceberg lettuce. Gardweeno, an interactive children's community garden space at 1014 Bell Ave. is working to intergrate technological learning into plant life, according to co-founder and artist Lindsey Scherloum.

"We are adding digital components to the garden through the use of Arduino," Scherloum says, explaining Arduino is a microcontroller that allows computers to sense and control more of the physical world than a desktop computer could.

Arduino will allow sensors in the garden to function as barometers, check the plant's Ph balance and most importantly, serve as teaching tools for children. The garden also has software called Makey Makey that can turn any conducting object into a button, and that's how the kids are able to play Tetris by touching the leaves of plants.

Scherloum explains,"Our idea was to introduce digital literacy through the garden and use open source computer programing to implement additional observation tools."

The idea to add computer components to the garden came after Scherloum's project parter, Zena Ruiz, discovered artists and makers were using tiny programable Arduinos to make magic happen in ordinary environments. The pair realized that when kids in the neighborhood were not outside, they spent most of their time playing computer games at their local library, and decided that introducing kids to computer literacy early was particularly important. The women, who are neighbors in North Braddock, thought it would be cool to use the computer tools "to quantify the qualitiative observations they made in the garden," Scherloum says.

As unusual as it may seem to intergrate technology into a garden, where things get hot, wet and dirty, Scherloum says the idea to garden with local kids happened somewhat naturally.

"All these kids on our block between the ages of 10 and 14 would come up to us and say 'we are bored, can we help you in your garden,'" Scherloum says.

So she and Ruiz obliged and created programming for them. Around 14 kids are now garden regulars and participate in Gardweeno's summer programs. The kids who came to the garden lived two blocks on either side of it, Scherloum says, explaining that the garden helped kids understand that they can make an impact on their small stomping ground. With funding from the aptly named Sprout Fund and support from North Braddock Cares and the Borough of North Braddock, Gardweeno will offer afterschool programing from 4PM to 6PM on Mondays and Wednesdays through October 26.

Scherloum says the program is open to all kids, but asked that kids who aren't coming from the North Braddock area BYOP—bring your own parent. Scherloum is looking for adults who might be interested in working on the technological aspects of the garden as well as others who might want to spend time hanging out in a garden with a bunch of kids. The garden is currently growing tomatoes, kale, green beans, herbs, cherries, radishes, beets, onions, asparagus---and possibly a future generation of high-tech farmers.

Thrival will show entreprenuers a good time

Many revelers will gather at Thrival this weekend to check out the festival's musical lineup, but for area entrepreneurs, the festival offers the opportunity to network, learn something new and maybe even be discovered, according to Thrill Mill CEO Bobby Zappala.

Zappala says the music and innovation festival started in 2007 because he and friends in the startup community felt they needed somewhere to have a good time while learning about what entrepreneurs in Pittsburgh were up to.

"People were doing interesting things, but they weren’t really communicating effectively," says Zappala, whose start-up incubator organized the festival. He described the festival as a local South-by-Southwest, "except instead of spotlighting talent from other places, we are shining a light on what's already here."

Buried behind the headlining acts, the event offers a free panel of workshops from September 8 through 14 aimed at entrepreneurs. Zappala says part of the thought behind this was to connect area startups with others who might be able to assist them and to help incubators like his discover new great ideas.

"In some places like Silicon Valley ideas are a dime a dozen," Zappala says, "but here in Pittsburgh, everyone wants to hear what you've come up with."

The panels are listed here, some require registration ahead of time, but Zappala says, "If there's something you're really curious about, just show up."

Who knows, your big idea could be discovered by one of the area's many startup backers including AlphaLab, Thrill Mill, The Sprout Fund or New Sun Rising. Google will also be hosting a workshop as will Chatham University.

Tickets to the muscial portion of the event are being sold at http://www.showclix.com/event/THRIVAL and cost $45 for one day and $75 for the entire weekend festival. Zappala said last year's event drew a crowd of around 2000 people and he expects this year's festival, featuring performers including Moby, DJ Z Trip and Talib Kweli to attract even more patrons this year.

JOBS 1st Summit focuses on building a 21st century workforce

Leaders and innovators from Pennsylvania's business, education and public sectors will convene to tackle the challenges and complexities of developing a 21st century workforce at the state's first JOBS 1st Summit, set for August 25 through 26 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. 

Among the highlights will be "The Game Changer: Energy = Jobs for Pennsylvania" (1 p.m. August 25), a conversation between Governor Tom Corbett and T. Boone Pickens, who built one of the nation’s largest independent oil companies. The pair will discuss the state’s energy policy and how it is preparing its citizens for energy jobs now and in the future.

"Make it in PA" will be a panel discussion focused on bringing manufacturing jobs home through innovation, targeted reshoring and talent development. Other conference topics include developing talent, enhancing employer involvement, using technology to foster the intersection between work and learning, and building targeted talent pipelines for older workers, people with disabilities, veterans and former prisoners. 

"Having a workforce ready to tackle the jobs of the 21st century is critical to the overall health of our economy," says Gov. Corbett. "The JOBS 1st Summit will build on our efforts to align education, training and technology with employer needs."

Source: PA Department of Labor & Industry
Writer: Elise Vider

Pittsburgh Brewing Company pouring on new label

Are you over 21? If so, then keep reading because Pittsburgh Brewing Company just introduced a new brand seeking to appeal to craft beer drinkers and rolled out a Pumpkin Ale that will be available until October. The Block House brand is headquartered in Lawrenceville, with brewing operations taking place in Latrobe.

The beverage represents what Pittsburgh Brewing Company CEO Brian Walsh called an admittedly late foray into Pittsburgh's thriving craft beer scene in an interview with Pittsburgh Business Times. Walsh told the Times a double chocolate bock will be coming out in October, and another spring and summer product will round out the collection, providing a year round offering from the label available for purchase in stores.

Though we have yet to taste the Block House Brewing Pumpkin Ale here at Pop City, Beer Advocate gives the 7.00 ABV beverage 75 out of 100 possible points, which is a much higher score than Pittsburgh Brewing Company's flagship brand Iron City beer received. The beer is described as a medium-body ale in a glowing golden-orange color with subtle reddish shading. In a press release, the company says the beverage "enchants the nose with a wallop of graham cracker crust, ginger snap cookies, and subtle notes of brown sugar." The alcohol content isn't super high for a craft beer, but is above that of the brewing company's other products.

"The boldness of the 7.0% ABV is hidden beneath layers of creamy vanilla, hearty nutmeg and a hint of caramel that when blended together creates a homemade pumpkin pie taste," the press release states.

Though Walsh is late to the craft beer party, Pittsburgh Brewing Company has been around for a VERY long time. The regional brewery started in 1861, giving it over 150 years of experience making various beers in various cans as well as various amazing commercials for them. I just spent WAY too much time on their website watching their amazing oeuvre and have selected several vintage ads for your viewing pleasure. If you don't get a jingle in your head or a sense of Pittsburgh pride in your heart, check your pluse. We can only hope commercials for the Pumpkin Ale will be as inspiring.

Pittsburgh Brewing Company Commercial Oeuvre

Workin' on a Cold Iron presents a unique view of the city: 
 

But check out the rich history of the brewing company: 
 
And the song that will absolutely stay in your head, "The Pumper":
Another extremely catchy jingle aka my new favorite dance song:
#PittsburghPride :

And the strangest commercial, which I call "elevator music": 
Tell me which was your favorite commercial @fakepretty because I want to know I am not alone in my old ad #PittsburghPride obsession.

Nebulus brings musicians together in the cloud

For musical collaboration, just look to the cloud and you will find Nebulus, a new website that allows for virtual collaboration without having to store large data files on your home computer.
 
Created by musician and Carnegie Mellon computer science graduate Robert Kotcher, the site allows users to record and edit audio online and add on to tracks that have already been recorded. Kotcher says Nebulus is like a mixture of Google Docs the online document storage and editing application, Apple’s recording software Garage Band, and the popular music-sharing site Sound Cloud, “Except there are no local files you need to store,” he says.
 
Anyone who has a large iTunes collection knows that audio files can take up a huge amount of space on a computer, often slowing down its functionality.

“We are all musicians,” Kotcher says of his startup team, “we all have different musical backgrounds and we’ve all had the same problems, where we go and record our tracks, save it locally, send it to the next guy and eventually you end up with 10 different versions on your computer,” he explains.

If users want to download the final track from Nebulus they can, but they don’t ever have to store the rejected recordings and they can work together to edit the piece like users can in Google Docs.
 
Before cloud computing—yes I said it—musicians would all have to go to the same studio to record a song, creating scheduling problems and requiring travel. If anyone remembers, that great band The Postal Service (circa 2001, hits such as The District Sleeps Alone Tonight) got their name because the band members would actually send eachother recordings in the mail in order to collaborate on songs, because the Internet couldn’t store huge files. Welcome to the future!
 
“What we wanted to do was to emulate what musicians do in the studio through the layering recording process, where one player records a track and then another person comes and records a track over them,” Kocher says. He and his partners are all musicians and they’ve had a great time playing together while perfecting the software.
 
Nebulus is allowing us to share its link with you for the first time publicly, so use it wisely and record your next greatest work at Nebulus.io

Thinkerous: Helping communities solve problems through structured collaboration

The idea for Thinkerous, the free online platform that helps communities rank problems and track solutions, was born in a Carnegie Mellon residence hall.
 
When Aaron Zhang was a freshman at CMU studying electrical and computer engineering, he noticed it was hard for his peers to openly discuss ideas, and even harder to find a team to build these ideas. The following semester, he put up an “idea bulletin board” in his residence hall.
 
“This was the catalyst to several projects I saw completed,” he says. Among these projects were a custom RFID-protected wallet and a low-cost velcro snowboard.
 
Zhang realized the bulletin board was increasing structured collaboration, which resulted in more creative and productive communities.
 
Zhang and two friends pondered these realizations and developed Thinkerous. They launched the platform by the end of their sophomore year. In fact, it only took a few hours to get the first prototype up, running and public.
 
“People are passionate about solving problems they experience, but often don’t have the resources to do so,” says Zhang. “And people don’t always know how to verbalize their problems, but often have ideas to improve their current situation, whether at work, at home or in the community.”
 
There are lots of tools out there that simplify collaboration – so what’s different about Thinkerous? Structure. Whereas other collaborative software, such as Google Groups, lack organization, Thinkerous provides a guided method to help communities efficiently find and support the ideas that solve its most pressing issues.
 
The website is divided into three sections: Issues, Ideas and Thinkathons. The Issues section features factual problems that community members experience first-hand, while the “Ideas” section contains possible solutions to these issues, as submitted by community members. Thinkathons, are competitions, virtual or otherwise, where community members can work together to bring prototypes and business plans to fruition.
 
“Our platform has unique ranking and matching algorithms, to give decision-makers inside organizations more information when determining which ideas they should invest their resources in,” says Zhang.
 
Thinkathons bring issues and ideas together with judges, prizes and rules for 1-2 day events where people come in with issues and ideas and leave with working prototypes. Zhang compares Thinkathons to hackathons for “business people, designers and people who are actually experiencing the problems that need to be solved.”
 
The company is also piloting “Thinkerous for Enterprise” for corporations, non-profit organizations and government organizations, adding special capabilities like privacy controls, group management and analytics to help track the lifecycle and impact of a submission. Participants in the enterprise pilot include CMU, the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, TEDxGrandviewAve and Startup Weekend Pittsburgh. Zhang suggests communities with an interest in joining the pilot program contact Thinkerous at team@thinkero.us.
 
Because Thinkerous is always tweaking its algorithms and evolving, it will soon phase out Thinkathons in favor of focusing on enterprise software, as it has much greater long term viability than one-off events surrounding specific issues.
 
“We found that with Thinkathons and the like, most projects end up not surviving past the conclusion of the event and thus don't benefit much from our longer-term analytics and ranking algorithms,” says Zhang.
 
Thinkerous also recently worked with the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children to identify and solve leading problems in today's classrooms.
 
“Our software gave the opportunity for teachers from across western Pennsylvania to see which problems were the most common, and the opportunity for the local community to work together directly with teachers to build the solutions,” says Zhang.

Pittsburgh 2030 District is two years ahead of schedule for energy reductions in Downtown Pittsburgh

With the goal of reducing Downtown Pittsburgh’s impact on the environment by 2030, the Green Building Alliance launched the Pittsburgh 2030 District in 2012. The initiative was inspired by the Architecture 2030 Challenge, a non-profit, non-partisan and independent organization established in response to the climate change crisis by architect Edward Mazria in 2002. Their mission is to rapidly transform the built environment from the major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions to a central part of the solution to the climate and energy crises. The Challenge calls for 50 percent reductions in building energy use, water use and transportation emissions by 2030, with incremental goals along the way.  

Last week, the Green Building Alliance released the Pittsburgh 2030 District’s inaugural progress report.

The Pittsburgh 2030 District has become the fastest growing 2030 District in the country and is already two years ahead of schedule for energy reductions, according to the Green Building Alliance. It originally sought to achieve a 10 percent reduction by 2015, but had already attained an 11.6 percent reduction by the end of 2013. The energy reductions reached thus far represent the equivalent of removing 7,748 homes from the grid, according to the Green Building Alliance.

“This report confirms that we’ve reached a dynamic moment in our region’s history,” says Sean Luther, senior director of the Pittsburgh 2030 District. “Through the Pittsburgh 2030 District, we will fundamentally alter the way we view our energy distribution system.”

Green Building Alliance will continue to work with property partners to achieve energy reductions while simultaneously working to recruit additional properties in order to reach its goal of 100 percent participation. Participation in the program has already grown to almost 40 property owners and managers, representing 109 buildings and 35 million square feet of real estate. 

Reducing energy demand is the key to maximizing the utilization of existing power plants, eliminating the need for new coal- or gas-fired plants and related infrastructure costs. Reduction in energy consumption also paves the way for greater use of renewable energy sources and dramatically improves air quality, according to the report. On a related note, the District is working with the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation at the University of Pittsburgh to develop and pilot an indoor air quality metric for possible implementation across the country. 

In addition to reducing energy demand, the initiative plans to place an increased focus on water use reduction, which is one key to solving the region’s sewage infrastructure crisis.

“Substantially reducing water consumption in individual buildings has a direct correlation to increased capacity in the combined sewer system, allowing for better handling of major storm water events and increased reliability of potential future “green infrastructure” investments,” according to the report.

The Green Building Alliance attributes the success of the Pittsburgh 2030 District thus far to its property partners, community and resource partners and funders, as well as the 2030 District sponsors: The Efficiency Network; The ECB Network, Powered by Bayer; Stantec; and Scott Electric, GE Lighting. 

Writer: Amanda Leff Ritchie
Sources: Green Building Alliance, architecture2030.org, Sean Luther, and Leslie Montgomery

Plugged in: CMU's Electric Garage now offers the only public Tesla charging station in Pittsburgh

Need to recharge? Carnegie Mellon University’s Electric Garage is now home to a high-power wall connector for Tesla electric cars, joining eight existing vehicle recharging stations available for public use in the Oakland facility. All of the charging stations are available at no cost 24 hours a day on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

Located at 4621 Forbes Ave., a former gas station now houses ChargeCar, a community-centered electric vehicle research project that wants to make electric vehicles practical and affordable enough to revolutionize urban commuting.  

“This is definitely the largest charging infrastructure of any institution in this half of Pennsylvania, and likely anywhere in the state,” said Illah Nourbakhsh, CMU professor of robotics and project director. “And the Tesla charger is the only one available to the public locally.”

Made possible through private donations, the Tesla High Power Wall Connector at CMU’s Electric Garage can provide 58 miles of range per hour of charge.

In January, Tesla’s first Supercharger station in Pennsylvania opened in Somerset off of exit 110 of the I-70/I-76 turnpike, a toll road connecting Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia. Superchargers can replenish half of the battery in as little as 20 minutes. The Somerset station supports the Tesla cross-country route that will soon enable Model S owners to drive from Los Angeles to New York without paying a cent to refuel.

Interested in joining the electric car revolution but can’t afford a new electric car? ChargeCar can help. In addition to lowering the costs for commercially-developed electric vehicles, the project helps people convert their cars in collaboration with local mechanics and garages. ChargeCar is hosting an open house from 4 to 7 p.m. on Friday, April 4, during which gas vehicles converted to electric power and other electric vehicles will be on display. 

Writer: Amanda Leff Ritchie
Sources: Byron Spice, Carnegie Mellon University, ChargeCar, Tesla Motors

A note from your Pop City editors...

After seven years, Pop City’s Innovation News Editor Deb Smit bids you a fond farewell as she moves on to new challenges.
 
Pop City Managing Editor Erin Keane Scott and Matt Wein will be taking over this space in the interim. You can continue to forward innovation, tech and hiring news to erin@popcitymedia.com.

It has been a pleasure to serve the entrepreneurial community of Pittsburgh.  

What do you get when 85 Broads in Pittsburgh concoct martinis for the holidays?

Want to know what you get when 85 Broads get together to make martinis? In this case, a highly creative holiday fundraiser.
 
85 Broads is a national women’s networking group that opened a chapter in Pittsburgh four years ago. The chapter was founded by Christina Morgan, account director with Revive Marketing, to fill a void, give ambitious women here a way to connect locally, showcase women's accomplishments on the 85 Broads' national website and put Pittsburgh on the map.

The original 85 Broads was organized by several women working at Goldman Sachs at 85 Broad Street, the investment banking firm’s former NYC headquarters.  Over the past decade, the organization has expanded its membership to include women who are alumnae and university students with members from 90 countries around the world.

The Pittsburgh chapter, with 200 members, meets monthly and is open to women within Allegheny County who are interested in meeting other women and growing professionally through skill sharing and professional speakers, says Sofia Maravich, an account exec with Gatesman+Dave.

“It’s really nice to meet with like-minded women who are professional and smart,” she says. “It’s empowering to be in that environment.”
 
On Dec. 13th 85 Broads will hold its annual Martini Marking Competition to raise money for Special Space, a nonprofit that designs and builds out dream bedrooms for critically ill children in the region.
 
The competition gets underway at Summa Design Studio, 5933 Baum Blvd., at 6 p.m. Corporate sponsors and teams will battle against one another for the title of best martini recipe while the rest imbibe.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Sofia Maravich, 85 Broads

What is UpTo? For starters, the community social accelerator is up to a regionwide expansion

Look for UpTo to pop up all over Pittsburgh and beyond, thanks to support from two local organizations.
 
A neighborhood experiment launched by marketing firm Shift Collaborative, UpTo stages pop-ups in underserved communities by bringing businesses and nonprofits together with freelance designers and writers who can turn work around quickly and at an affordable cost.
 
Successful pop-ups were held in this fall in East Liberty and Butler. Intrigued, Idea Foundry has adopted UpTo as part of its Intersector Accelerator Program, which funds businesses that have social or environmental benefits.
 
In addition, the Allegheny Conference is considering including UpTo as part of its Strengthening Communities Partnership, an initiative designed to address disparities in communities in the Pittsburgh region.
 
UpTo was created as a side project by marketing firm Shift Collaborative in East Liberty. It’s a way to challenge ourselves and do-good in local neighborhoods, says Sarah Mayer, a principal at Shift along with Eric Sloss.
 
The pop-ups are staged as community social events in the heart of main street communities--barber shops, Italian restaurants, ice cream shops, dry cleaners are all great candidates that have benefitted.
 
“People can walk in, walk around, meet people and make an appointment,” says Meyer.  “We want to educate people on the process and the importance of quality design work. Then we follow up to see how they are putting these designs into action.”
 
A menu of services is available to business owners, with rates of between $25 and $150 for content writing and design work, such as a business logo.
 
“This is an underserved population that doesn’t usually invest in quality design,” says Meyer. “We don’t hope to profit from it, we want to see it impact Main Street America. That’s our primary goal.”
 
With the expansion of the program, UpTo is building out its team, which consists of locally sourced freelancers. It’s a good opportunity for designers to fill out their portfolio, Meyers adds.
 
Scouting is underway for future locations, possibly Wilkensburg, McKeesRocks, Latrobe and Erie.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Sarah Meyer, Shift Collaborative
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