The Pittsburgh region’s startup ecosystem: now on the map with global ecosystem leaders 

On September 22, 2021, Startup Genome, Innovate PGH, Innovation Works, and the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance published the Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2021. The Global Startup Ecosystem Report (GSER) ranks the world’s top 100 emerging ecosystems in the world. Startup communities at earlier stages of growth are termed emerging ecosystems, and the emerging ecosystems list leverages a methodology adapted to reflect how well-positioned these global ecosystems are at becoming top performers in the upcoming years.  

The report analyzes success factors such as market reach, performance, funding, talent and experience to come up with a list of the top 100 emerging ecosystems. Pittsburgh was heavily featured in the world’s preeminent report on advancing startup ecosystems, ranking as the #23 merging startup ecosystem globally. 

 In the Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2022, Pittsburgh moved up 10 spots to be #13, predominantly due to Duolingo’s $3.6 billion exit. A few key insights about the major players in the emerging ecosystem rankings are as follows:  

  • India’s Chennai, Mumbai, and Pune. Chennai’s ecosystem witnessed a $1 billion exit in business software startup Freshworks, which moved to Silicon Valley after its founding in India. 
  • Hong Kong is the top ecosystem in Asia, ranking as the #2 emerging startup ecosystem globally. 
  • Jakarta ranked #12 and Estonia #31-40. 

Innovate PGH, Innovation Works, and the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance worked closely with us at Startup Genome to highlight Pittsburgh’s strengths against innovation ecosystems around the world. Pittsburgh fared quite well and was named a Top 30 North America ecosystem and Top 20 Global Emerging Ecosystem in Funding, which measures innovation through total early-stage funding and investor activity. In fact, Pittsburgh created $5 billion in ecosystem value with $180 million in total early-stage funding over the last 2.5 years. 

The region is also ranked as a Top 30 North American Ecosystem in Talent and Experience which measures long-term trends over the most significant performance factors and the ability to generate and keep talent in the ecosystem. Much of the region’s success as a tech and startup hub rests on the foundation of its outstanding local universities as engines of talent. Carnegie Mellon, a pioneer in AI, boasts the best graduate program in the field in the country. Other local universities also pump out a steady stream of tech talent. That has attracted many tech behemoths, including Google, Facebook, and Apple to set up offices in the area, further concentrating brain power in Pittsburgh and making the region fertile ground for tech startups. 

A growing AI and advanced manufacturing hub, Pittsburgh is leading the charge in developing the technology of the future. The local startup scene also draws upon Pittsburgh’s roots as a car town. Some of the biggest companies and funding deals to come out of the ecosystem recently are in the self-driving vehicle space, including Aurora’s acquisition of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) in 2020. Following the deal, Uber will invest $400 million in Aurora, and its CEO Dara Khosrowshahi joined the company’s board. Recently, Aurora officially named Pittsburgh as its corporate headquarters. 

It’s not just car-related innovations that are coming out of Pittsburgh’s famed “Robotics Row,” a three-mile strip of concentrated tech know-how along the Allegheny River. IAM Robotics is developing autonomous robots for warehouses. Not far away in Point Breeze, Near Earth Autonomy is working with the Kaman Corporation and Naval Air Systems Command to develop a fully autonomous helicopter. CleanRobotics is building a ‘TrashBot’ that automatically sorts recyclables, an innovation in the field of cleantech. 

Perhaps the region’s best known success story is the language learning app Duolingo, which went public in July with a $6.5 billion valuation. The region is also home to a growing cluster of biotech companies. The North Side-based firm CytoAgent is helping the world deal with the pandemic by developing a drug for COVID-19 patients, Peptilogics uses AI to speed the process of discovering new peptide therapeutics, and local life sciences success story Krystal Biotech raised $125.12 million in its second public offering in 2020. 

Building the future in this way is, of course, expensive, and one of the main accelerators for bringing investment to the region remains a work in progress. Ecosystem leaders have long worried about the fintech scene that lacks local venture capitals (VCs) to help the Pittsburgh startup community scale without relocating. A few new firms are now starting to fill that gap, including Magarac Venture Partners, launched in April with the goal of investing in diverse founding teams, and Black Tech Nation Ventures, which is raising $50 million in its initial round (series a) with the mission of investing in Black founders. 

Add this influx of capital to the talent and spirit of innovation and it’s clear Pittsburgh’s future involves a lot less rust and a whole lot more robots. 

Updated on April 4th, 2023