High-end software takes center stage at Demo Day

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The suited and wing-tipped crowd gathering outside of Stage AE for AlphaLab’s 2014 Demo Day on Tuesday wasn’t expecting a concert once they got inside, but they got a show.

“In case you thought you were at the Foo Fighters concert, it’s Demo Day, but our companies rock just as hard,” said Rich Lunak, Innovation Works president and CEO, to the crowd of approximately 650.

High-end software and physical product companies took center stage together for the first time at Demo Day, with companies out of AlphaLab’s hardware accelerator program AlphaLab Gear making their inaugural pitches. The addition of AlphaLab Gear companies gave the gathering of onlookers and investors a first glance at innovations ranging from Identified Technologies’ smart drones and docking stations to Tailored Fit’s personalized online shopping service.

The mix of companies helped to draw investors from across the country to this year’s event, said Mr. Lunak, but another year of blockbuster growth for AlphaLab and Innovation Works was also a motivating factor.

Innovation Works, the southwestern Pennsylvania arm of the Department of Community and Economic Development’s Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority, was the seventh most active seed stage investor in the nation last year, according to an annual report released Tuesday.

Innovation Works doled out $6 million in funding to 188 companies last year, 37 of which received first-time funding through seed fund and accelerator programs and 28 of which raised $1 million in outside funding. The organization also received a Big Ideas grant from the McCune Foundation, which created a fund in the excess of $20 million to support emerging companies.

AlphaLab, which was named the sixth-best accelerator in the country in March by San Francisco-based tech news site TechCrunch, also saw a series of wins with its latest class of companies, most of whom had clients and were generating revenues before Demo Day, according to AlphaLab CEO Jim Jen.

“All companies have started to tap into the value brought to customers at their core, and that’s the essence of what a strong company is going to grow from,” said Mr. Jen.

Client management software company Jetpack Workflow had pulled in 10 clients “before a single line of code” was written, according to founder David Cristello. Food temperature monitoring company FreshTemp, founded by Jeff Rieger, worked with national hamburger chain Wendy’s as its first client.

Retail 3-D printing company PieceMaker Technologies, founded by Carnegie Mellon University graduates Arden Rosenblatt and Alejandro Sklar, said its “Factory in a Box” custom toy manufacturer has become one of the most profitable offerings at S.W. Randall Toyes and Giftes during its four-month trial period.

Comparing this year’s class to more than a decade of graduates — including casual dining app NoWait, which announced a $10 million series B round of funding from Columbus, Ohio-based Drive Capital during Demo Day — Mr. Lunak said this class could be one of the most successful yet.

Pointing to LifeShel, a smartphone app/​phone cover armed with alarms and pepper spray for personal safety, Conversant Labs’ voice-enabled applications to help the visually impaired use visual apps, and Rapid TCP’s manufacturing system that creates composite parts out of affordable advanced materials, Mr. Lunak said some of these technologies have the potential to disrupt markets the same way injection molding revitalized the plastic industry.

“Many of these are really big ideas,” said Mr. Lunak.

For the full list of AlphaLab and AlphaLab Gear companies, visit http://​alphalab.org/​companies/.

Deborah M. Todd: dtodd@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1652. Twitter: @deborahtodd.

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