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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

New Pittsburgh Collaborative celebrates 10 years with a work party at STUDIO of Creative Inquiry

Celebrate the 10th anniversary of the New Pittsburgh Collaborative--some of the most active, forward-thinking and civically engaged young professionals in the region—by joining the working party. 

NPC is a diverse group of the region’s influential voices, open to anyone who has a stake and represents a clear constituency in the region, says Dan Law, president. Current or interested members are invited to CMU's STUDIO of Creative Inquiry on Nov. 9th, but bring your thinking caps and party clothes.
 
The evening will begin with a priority-setting dialogue, from 5 to 7 p.m., through facilitated, small breakout groups to brainstorm policy priorities facing young professionals. Once the list is prioritized, attendees will then have an opportunity to discuss the list.
 
“Our goal is to really drive at addressing the challenges and opportunities facing young professionals in our region,” says Law. “Instead of simply identifying problems, we will foster partnerships that will take an active role in shaping the way in which we as a community take on some of our most pressing issues.”

While Design Our Future is calibrated toward young professionals, the identified issues will be have an intergenerational impacts, he adds. “The larger message is that regional progress involves everyone -- regardless of age or experience-level. And the NPC will continue to work hard to incorporate even more stakeholders as we move forward.”
 
Once the work is done, the party begins with a celebration of NPC's anniversary and an opportunity to explore CMU’s STUDIO for Creative Inquiry. Registration is required as space is limited. To RSVP, and for any questions related to the event, please email npcannounce@gmail.com

The event is supported by The Sprout FundAllegheny County, and Pop City.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: NPC

Busking is back and taking it to the T Stations with a year-round schedule of performances

Busking is back in a big way. The centuries-old practice of street troubadours who perform for not much more than the joy of playing (and tips) will assume a year-round schedule in Pittsburgh beginning this weekend. 
 
Unlike most busking, which tends to be spontaneous, BuskPGH is an organized undertaking of the Pittsburgh Downtown Community Development Corp. (PDCDC).
 
“When we were discussing BuskPGH, we looked to the city of New York,” says John Valentine, executive director and a native of the Big Apple. “You see all these great minstrels playing music. It adds a tremendous flavor and atmosphere to the city. We figured if we brought this here it will add to the whole personality to our downtown.”
 
The program kicks off this weekend alongside the festivities surrounding the reopening of Point State Park. Performances will continue through the winter months.
 
The whole idea is to expand the public’s awareness of the city’s diverse cultural identity. Buskers will initially play at the four indoor T-stations: Gateway, Wood Street, Steel Plaza and the Northside, with more venues to follow, Valentine says.  
 
“Our main goal is to make downtown an art centric community, “ says Ryan Firkel, a busker and program organizer.
 
Program funding from The Sprout Fund and PDCDC will cover insurance and website costs. The performers will generate revenues from the tips they receive, estimated to be between $50-$100 for a one to two hour stint.  
 
Some may recall another organization, Busk Pittsburgh, funded by Ground Zero Action Network and the Sprout Fund, which actively supported busking in the past, Firkel says. BuskPGH is absorbing the former group, along with its list of more than 200 musicians, poets and jugglers.
 
Each T Station will host different types of performances, depending on the space and the crowd. Gateway, for example, might be the best place for jugglers and visual art, says Valentine.
 
 “We want to encourage more year-round public performance in Pittsburgh. For many (performers), its an opportunity to get out and play to an audience.”
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: John Valentine, Ryan Firkel, PDCDC

Two Pitt studies: The future of Twitter. Are your "mutual friends" putting you at risk?

Two recently published studies by the University of Pittsburgh have interesting implications for users of Twitter and Facebook. 
 
A study of Twitter suggests that if the social media site fails to continue to attract new users, it will devolve into a platform for corporations and celebrities that will resemble television or radio broadcasts.
 
The Facebook study, on the other hand, warns that Internet attackers are infiltrating our personal and private information on Facebook through our “mutual friends.”
 
The Twitter study is coauthored by Andrew Stephen at the Katz Graduate School of Business and Olivier Toubia at Columbia University. The idea was to unmask the motivation behind some of the most prolific tweeters on the social media site, says Stephen.
 
In other words, do high-volume tweeters tweet to broadcast their thoughts and share their opinions with a wider audience? Or are they simply looking to increase their social status by accumulating followers?
 
In the end, they found that while mid-range Twitter users were encouraged to post more in an effort to gain a larger audience, high-end users went in the opposite direction, reducing the number of daily tweets as they gained a larger following.
 
“As they get more followers, they want to be careful about what they post,” explains Stephen.  The results indicate, therefore, that higher volume users are more interested in amassing followers than using Twitter to broadcast their views.
 
When it comes to commercial, corporate and celebrity users, however, this finding does not apply. Those with corporate-celebrity status continued to post continuously regardless of how many followers they had.
 
As long as new users continue flowing into Twitter, which is presently the case, Twitter will remain a voice of many, the researchers agreed. If the number of new users drops, however, Twitter will become a channel for high-end users like corporations and celebrities who will fill it with packaged programming.
 
As for Facebook, a separate Pitt study published in Computers & Security revealed that that hackers are finding they way through security settings on Facebook through “mutual-friends.”  
 
The same problem exists for LinkedIn and Fouraquare, says James Joshi, coauthor and associate professor of information assurance and security in Pitt’s School of Information Sciences.
 
While Facebook allows users to block hackers from a public search, the block proves inefficient if a mutual friend isn’t using the same security settings.
 
“Being able to see mutual friends may allow one to find out important and private social connections of a targeted user,” said Joshi. “An attacker can infer such information as political affiliations or private information that could be socially embarrassing.”
 
The information could also be used to create false identities that appear even more authentic than the actual user.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Andrew Stephen, James Joshi, University of Pittsburgh

Extreme pogo short filming in Braddock. Join the jumping community action tonight!

An independent film production company is shooting an extreme pogo sports film in and around Braddock this week with some of the world’s most daring pogo athletes.
 
Be warned, leaping tall walls in a single bound is not for your springy vintage stick.
 
Xpogo LLC, a NYC sports marketing firm, is generating interest for the extreme pogo craze and filming in such far-flung locales as Rio and Hong Kong. So why Braddock?
 
We wanted a gritty, industrial backdrop, says Nick Ryan, Xpogo CEO and a graduate of CMU. Carrie Furnace and Carnegie Music Hall are the perfect metaphor for a sport like pogo that is in the throes of reinvention.
 
As part of the celebration, the film company is throwing Braddock a free-to-the-public community event tonight, May 8th, from 5 to 9 p.m., with exhibitions by seven of the word’s best extreme pogo athletes. There will also be pogo stick raffles, clinics, BBQ from Kevin Sousa’s Union Pig and Chicken, drink, and music.
 
Like skateboarding, extreme pogo goes well with concrete and walls. The newer air and band-powered sticks are made for height and durability, able to break the upper atmosphere and propel over parked cars.
 
Check out the wild, leaping gnome-like action here.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Nick Ryan, Xpogo

RustBuilt strives to amplify the voices of innovation in the Great Lakes region

A new regional initiative to redefine the Great Lakes region and the emerging modern innovation marketplace is underway.

It’s called RustBuilt, although it’s far from a new idea. A handful of organizations in recent years have mounted similar campaigns. There was the Great Lakes Urban Exchange (GLUE), which led a mission to catalyze transformation and reinvestment in the region from western Pennsylvania to Michigan. Renovating the Rustbelt is another, a Cleveland-based initiative that is chronicling the transformation of the Rust Belt to the GreenBelt. And there are others.

RustBuilt is still gaining momentum as an initiative, but it's picking up traction from leaders in the Great Lakes region, most recently the Tech Belt initiative, which is facilitating a dialogue for companies in the Cleveland-Pittsburgh corridor, the city of Buffalo and PLSG. The idea is to bring together leaders in the seven-state region, those who are already hard at work on similar initiatives, and get them on the same page.

RustBuilt takes its cue from the Brookings Institution’s John Austin, a non-resident senior fellow, who has written about the economic strengths and opportunities of the Great Lakes region as detailed in the BI report: The Vital Center, A Federal-State Compact to Renew the Great Lakes Region.

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but want to be able to reveal all the cool stuff that’s going on,” explains Kit Mueller, a seasoned tech entrepreneur and co-organizer of Pittsburgh Startup Weekend. “The more we celebrate ourselves, the better.”

Mueller is joined by Paul Burke, a managing partner of the local startup accelerator Thinktiv, Adam Kelson, an attorney, and Ellen Saxon, a CMU program administrator. Together they want to accomplish two things at first: amplify the region’s voice and convey its dynamic new economy and create a central clearinghouse where entrepreneurs can identify and share opportunities. Seed incubators is another idea that may be launched next year.

RustBuilt is currently in the process of discussing the initiative with regional economic entities, founders and funders in the startup space and others with like-minded propositions underway in the seven target states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, New York and Michigan. 

“The next step is to build content around it. People are already identifying that this is a worthy movement to join,” says Mueller.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Kit Mueller, RustBuilt

Where the cool people are. TEDxGrandview Ave is coming.

Imagine some of the most innovative people in Pittsburgh, all in one room. Braddock’s John Fetterman. Serial social entrepreneur Ji Jai. Architect and sustainability champion Christine Mondor. Culinary pioneer Kevin Sousa.
 
It’s a glimpse of the lineup for TEDxGrandviewAve, the latest local incarnation of Tedx, the fast-talking, idea-popping brain fest.
 
Taking a cue from the scenic stretch of road along Mt. Washington, TEDxGrandviewAve will embrace the strengths of Pittsburgh, from key brands to dedicated entrepreneurs, inspired artists and perceptive humanitarians says Kacey Wherley, founder and director of TEDxGrandviewAve.
 
“TEDxGrandviewAve will celebrate how Pittsburgh, as an exceptional whole, stands on the edge of innovation,” she says.
 
This event, independently organized and operated under license from TEDx, will be held on Feb. 23rd, 2013, downtown Pittsburgh, at The Pierce Studio, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Arts Education Center. Reserve tickets are going fast.
 
TEDx is a nationwide forum for bringing people together to share great ideas and stories. Talks feature live speakers and combine to spark deep discussion and connections in smalls group.
 
In addition to the above mentioned local celebrities, speakers will include: Matthew Keener, professor at University of Pittsburgh, CEO and founder of Emodt Health Design; Justin McElhattan, President and CEO, Industrial Scientific Corporation; Nicki Zevola, CEO of Alpha Lab company FutureDerm; Rory Varrato, Graduate Student, School of Politics and Global Studies, Arizona State University, originally from western Pennsylvania; and Dr. Justin Hill of the Neurorehabilitation Department, Cornell University, a former UPMC physician.
 
The Pillow Project will perform. For more information and reserve tickets, click here.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Kacey Wherley, TEdxGrandviewAve 

Pittsburgh is growing younger and has one of the most educated younger workforces in the country

 
The long-held belief that Pittsburgh's younger workforce is declining was shattered this week with the official news that the exact opposite is true.  

A report released by the University of Pittsburgh’s University Center for Social and Urban Research and local think tank, Pittsburgh TODAY, confirmed what many have been saying for awhile: Pittsburgh is not only attracting more young people to the region but it is successfully retaining its own.

And they are a highly educated bunch.

Pittsburgh leaders came together on Pitt's campus on Tuesday to celebrate the news in "Young Adults Report 2012," one of the most comprehensive studies to date on youth and the region.
 
Among the highlights:
 
The population of adults ages 20-34 rose by 7 percent in the past five years and is on track to grow another 8 percent by 2020.
 
The region has a young adult workforce that is among the best educated in the country. Pittsburgh ranks fifth in the U.S. for workers aged 25-34 with at least a four-year degree and is one of only three regions where more than 20 percent of young workers hold advanced degrees.
 
Nearly half of young adults earn at least $50,000 or more and 22% earn $75,000 or more.
 
“It’s a great time to be a young person coming out of school in your twenties and living in Pittsburgh,” said Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald, who vividly recalled the dark state of the local economy when he graduated in 1984. “We need more policies that will continue to attract the kind of talent that will move this region forward.”
 
Young people today aren't buying cars at the level of previous generations, he noted. They want better public transportation. They ride their bikes. They enjoy the arts.
 
Bike Pittsburgh advocate Scott Bricker agreed. Pittsburgh is attractive to many young people as a place where they can get involved and make a difference, he noted. 
 
There’s a lot of buzz about the health of the arts community in Pittsburgh outside of the region, both nationally and internationally, added Jon Rubin, CMU art professor and the director of Conflict Kitchen. Rubin recently returned from China where Pittsburgh was among three American cities recognized, alongside Los Angeles and New York.
 
Work remains to be done, others said. The region must continue to attract and welcome diverse talent, said Melanie Harrington of Vibrant Pittsburgh.
 
Young adults have the lowest rates of voter participation of any age group, others noted. One in four young adults reports never voting, even in presidential elections.

The report was released to coincide with the arrival of the One Young World conference in Pittsburgh this week, bringing some 1,200 young delegates from around the world here to learn more about what's working in the region and discuss a wide of range of pressing global concerns.

Read the report.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: PittsburghTODAY

Pittsburgh startup scene is a Thrill Mill. And then you Hustle (Den).

What began as a backyard BBQ to raise money for local startups has expanded into a new organization and incubator for entrepreneurs.
 
Thrill Mill was founded to build on the momentum of the first Pittsburgh Business Bout, a competition that awarded $5,000 last year to a young group of entrepreneurs who created an online legal notice search engine called FindNotice.  
 
This year’s Business Bout, currently underway, is upping the stakes with $25,000 in prize money for the best business plan. The winnings were made possibly through sponsors Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). Submissions are due Oct. 31st
 
Thrill Mill consists of an annual cycle that begins with a large-scale music festival – Baller BBQ – that will not only showcase national music talent, but local music, art, entertainment and business talent.  Revenues generated by the festival will be awarded to the winner of a Business Bout.

Lucky applicants in the Business Bout may then gain admission to an early stage business incubator, the Hustle Den, opening early in 2013, where entreprenuers will receive free office space, mentorship, programming and investor relationships, for one full year. 

“The security blanket of corporate America is not what it use to be,” explains Bobby Zappala, Thrill Mill CEO. “Startups will become more a part of mainstream growth and certainly this is happening in Pittsburgh. We have all the elements. We just need to encourage those in Pittsburgh to stay here.”
 
The 5,000 square-foot space was secured with the help of a $750,000 investment from an anonymous donor, says Luke Skurman, of College Prowler and an original founder of Business Bout.
 
“We want hungry entrepreneurs who are going to go for it,” says Skurman. “All industries are welcome.”
 
At the conclusion of the cycle, the Hustle Den participants will have an opportunity to pitch their businesses to investors at the next year’s BBQ, and the cycle continues says Skurman.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Bobby Zappala, Luke Skurman, Thrill Mill and Business Bout

Obscure Games’ City of Play Festival kicks off on the North Side this Saturday

Imagine the city as your personal playground. Three point lines around trash cans. Tether balls swinging overhead, inviting gameplay, with the goal of bringing people together and making the city a place of wonder and fun.
 
Obscure Games is back, bringing with it the best new urban games in the world for The City of Play Festival on October 13, noon to midnight. Sponsored by South Side game studio Schell Games, the festival is changing the way we see the city, says Adam Nelson, the master gamer behind it all. 
 
Since its inception in 2009, Obscure Games has been playing around Pittsburgh with live gaming events. (You may recall the Steel City Games Fest and Human Curling Tournament.)
 
Urban gameplay acts as a social glue that connects people through the environment, reinforcing the idea that players have ownership of the city, says Nelson.
 
The festival will feature about 15 game installations with streets, parks and public spaces as the backdrop. Games will be located on the North Side and around the Allegheny Center and Buhl Park. Play is open to the first 100 players with a ticket, but anyone of any age can play for free in Buhl Park.
 
Among the games is Circle Rules Football and Nelson’s own game called Nashville, which involves wandering the city and giving secret signals to others in a sort of old west showdown.
 
“Pittsburgh has an opportunity to use play to convey itself as an interesting and exciting, progressive city for young people to live,” says Nelson. “The fact that we’re a smaller city is a strength. It’s who we are and easier to build a community around this.”
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Adam Nelson, Obscure Games
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