Region III Innovation Events Span Startup, Mentoring, Market-Entry

All across Region III, diverse institutions are promoting innovation and entrepreneurship in novel and energetic ways. These are exciting developments because they are expanding discourse and making room for disparate groups to deliberately and systematically work together. This was my takeaway from three events in which I recently participated.

In Pittsburgh, the AlphaLab Demo Day featured pitches from innovators and entrepreneurs from the joint partnership of Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh, and Innovation Works. I had the honor of addressing the group at its evening session. Innovation Works is a southwestern Pennsylvania Ben Franklin Institute focused on innovation growth using mentorship and investment. It includes a 20-week AlphaLab Accelerator program that enables entrepreneurs to fast-track their market entry by reducing marketing and technology risk.

The second event was Lehigh Valley’s first StartUp Weekend, which took place at the Ben Franklin Technology Institute on Lehigh University’s Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, campus. I witnessed an event that was alive with an electric creativity, as the final stretch of a 54-hour weekend event yielded eleven competing teams. I was privileged to speak at the finals and the awards night.

A third event was hosted by U.Va. Innovation, the University of Virginia’s research accelerator. Titled the “Entrepreneurship Cup,” or “E-Cup,” it featured pitches from finalists from the university’s Schools of Law, Business, Health Sciences, Engineering, Education, Arts and Sciences, Commerce, and their newest addition, the Social Entrepreneurship track.

The winners of the University of Virginia’s 2012 E-Cup, the PhageFlag team, accept their prize. © 2012 University of Virginia.
The winners of the University of Virginia’s 2012 E-Cup, the PhageFlag team, accept their prize. © 2012 University of Virginia.

More than 240 entrepreneurs and innovators and 600 other individuals participated in the three events. Innovations ranged from a cardiovascular diagnostic imaging tool, to an iPad/Android app that allows teachers and students to communicate seamlessly, to a unique food truck catering to vegetarian tastes. At the Lehigh University event, one team filed a provisional patent for a home-brew beer-making machine within the 54-hour StartUp Weekend period!

Prizes were just as diverse, including monetary awards, free office space, business development, and legal consulting. Some of these relatively new innovators even made inroads into their markets at these events—one company closed a significant deal for its scientifically formulated beauty products.

Nicki Zevola, of the cosmetics company FutureDerm, was one of the startups pitching innovative products at the AlphaLab Demo Day in Pittsburgh.
Nicki Zevola, of the cosmetics company FutureDerm, was one of the startups pitching innovative products at the AlphaLab Demo Day in Pittsburgh.

What these and many events show is that there is a great buildup of entrepreneurship and innovation across the region. As I write, there are more invitations to attend other events for the rest of the year and into 2013. Each event is another great opportunity to expand on the work begun this fall at the Seattle conference on innovation and entrepreneurship.

—Ngozi Bell, Region III Advocate

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