Pittsburgh Technical Council

Venture Outbound NYC: The Pittsburgh Technology Council, Pittsburgh Regional Alliance and Rustbuilt take local tech startups to the Big Apple

Venture Outbound NYC: The Pittsburgh Technology Council, Pittsburgh Regional Alliance and Rustbuilt take local tech startups to the Big Apple

Article Published: February 13, 2015

By Jonathan Kersting, Associate Publisher

Just this past December, the Pittsburgh Technology Council, Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, Rustbuilt and FortyX80 headed to New York City for a two-day trip to introduce 13 Pittsburgh-based startups to nearly 10 New York venture firms and national tech media.

The charter bus departed from the PTC’s parking lot at 5:30 AM for a 2 PM start in the Big Apple. Despite the pre-dawn departure, all of the entrepreneurs were buzzing with energy discussing business plans, marketing strategies and elevator pitches. So who was on the bus? Some of Pittsburgh’s most promising companies:


Digital Dream Labs



Lily & Strum









We poured one over the curb for MegaBits’ Patrick Perini. He got a bad cold and couldn’t make the trip. The bus was abuzz as Digital Dream Labs’ Justin Sabo brought a box of its Puzzlets. The learning toy is set to hit store shelves shortly. He was stoked at the opportunity to show it to the media panel that awaited in Midtown Manhattan a few hours away.

The Media Panel included editors and reporters from Mashable, Fast Company, Tech Cocktail and CNBC. More on that later.

As the bus traversed the turnpike through a mix of snow and sleet, a few entrepreneurs nodded off. We almost left Rewyndr’s David Palmer at the turnpike rest stop Roy Rogers. Good thing for headcounts.

The nearly seven-hour drive flew by quickly with people talking and swapping stories. Rustbuilt’s Kit Mueller even set up a swear jar. Anyone muttering the words Big Data, Disruptive, Pivot or Paradigm Shift would have to toss in a dollar. Luckily no donations were made!

Before we knew it, we were stuck in Holland Tunnel traffic, antsy to get to the Hippodrome for the media panel, lunch and a restroom break.

Once we got off the bus, Mueller handed out some sweet Fygment T-Shirts to everyone. Score!

At 2:30 the media panel kicked in, with lots of advice to the entrepreneurs. Some top takeaways included:

  • Put urgency and passion into your pitches
  • Know your story
  • Articulate your competitors and what problem you are solving
  • Don’t be gimmicky
  • Tweet a reporter or editor
  • Share good links of previous media coverage

The reporters quickly learned more about our cadre of talented companies. Sabo debuted his shelf-ready Puzzlets. PieceMaker showed off its digitally printed toys. Eyebrows were raised at Thread turning garbage into fabric.

After the panel, Erik Nordlander from Google Ventures addressed the group, allowing them to warm up their pitches for the following day’s meetings. He provided insight into what Google Ventures looks for before making an investment. Google puts dollars in companies across the spectrum, with a recent focus at the intersection of life sciences and Big Data. Oops, gotta put a buck in the swear jar.

By 5 p.m. it was time to head to our Air BnB, grab some dinner and recharge for the investor meetings. Time to get some needed shut-eye!

Day two of Venture Outbound NYC centered on back-to-back-to-back investor meetings at Rockefeller Center with some of New York’s top firms, ranging from seed to institutional.

Investors included Mir Arif of Blue Cloud Ventures, Brendan Syron of Scout Ventures, Bryan Hinkle of Insight Ventures, Katie Frankel of ff Venture Capital, Jason Black of RRE Ventures and Nnamdi Okike of 645 Ventures.

There was a common theme of advice that came from all of the investors:

  • Sounds obvious, but know your market! Hinkle noted that many companies are trying to attack a large market when they can be even more successful hitting a subsection of a market.
  • Build a strong team that is both technical and passionate. Investors all said the team must have conviction and integrity. The investor is really investing in that team, not just the product.
  • Here’s a dinger: Have revenue.
  • If there is no revenue yet, clearly articulate the financial model.
  • Any relationship with an investor is like a marriage. There has to be good chemistry between the startup team and the investor team. After all, this will be a multi-year commitment. Some days will not be easy!

Each investor presented for about an hour with each startup giving its pitch to start the meeting. It was interesting to watch the pitches evolve over the afternoon.

Many of the startups later commented that it was an excellent exercise in further refining their pitches to specific investors.

As mentioned earlier, the investor group was quite diverse, cutting across investment size and industry. For example, Insight Ventures puts Series A and B money into software companies in the tens of millions of dollars, whereas 645 Ventures is strictly into seed funding of $100-$500K per deal. In fact 645’s Okike used to be at Insight Ventures and left to work specifically with seed-ready startups.

Each investor noted that they look for deal flow wherever it is happening, and Pittsburgh is on their radar.

“We’re scrappy,” said Insight’s Hinkle. “We go wherever the deals are.”

This time, Venture Outbound NYC brought some potential deals right to them. Look for more of this in 2015!

Quick note. Venture Outbound was made possible with the awesome help, resources and hard work of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance and Rustbuilt. Great partners make great stuff happen. Listen to a TechVibe Radio StoryTellers podcast detailing Venture Outbound NYC at www.pghtech.org.

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