The business of building businesses in Pittsburgh has gotten a huge assist from the McCune Foundation and Carnegie Mellon University.
The university is combining two of its most notable entrepreneurial initiatives, Project Olympus and the Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship, into the CMU Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The center is part of the university's Greenlighting Startups Initiative, which focuses on advancing university technologies to the marketplace.
The merger, made possible by a $7 million grant from the McCune Foundation's Big Idea program, will not only combine the programs' offerings into a single resource, but will ensure that technologies coming out of those programs are seen by the nation's top investors.
Dave Mawhinney, executive director of the Donald H. Jones Center, said the collaboration falls in line with the university's history of combining winning programs and initiatives.
"Carnegie Mellon's heritage is being interdisciplinary and collaborative so this is a collaboration between business and technology, but we also have great collaborators in design and engineering as well as technical disciplines like computer science and the Mellon College of Sciences," he said. "This is really walking the talk of CMU."
Project Olympus, which provides work space and professional guidance for student and local entrepreneurs in the Olympus Probe (Problem Oriented Business Explorations program), will continue to showcase its members work during seasonal events.
However, those events will be supplemented by Launch CMU, a biannual preview day that will give Silicon Valley investors introductory views of promising businesses in an attempt to draw them to a full show in Pittsburgh later in the year. The first Launch CMU event is scheduled for May 21.
Project Olympus founder and director Lenore Blum said attracting investors to Pittsburgh is essential to the center's mission to make Pittsburgh a destination for the nation's entrepreneurs.
"From the very start [of] Olympus, I've been very big on the idea that what we're doing has to work for Pittsburgh. I want to build Pittsburgh up as a big center because it's in our self-interest as a university. To attract these faculty and students who are entrepreneurial, they want to be in a place that's booming, where they can start their startups and there will be funds to support them, where there's an infrastructure. And I think we're starting to see a lot of that in Pittsburgh."
The second major component of the center is attracting entrepreneurs by providing access to graduates who have already found their way in industry.
The Alumni Entrepreneurial Network will connect alumni with budding entrepreneurs working to start businesses in similar or related fields. Student finalists who take part in the McGinnis Venture Competition, which awards $60,000 in cash and prizes to winning entrepreneurs' business plans, will be matched with alumni entrepreneurs to help them better shape their plans. The Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund, established by CMU alumnus and Flip Video Camera creator Jonathan Kaplan, also will provide mentors to student winners.
The program also will increase efforts toward commercialization by providing undergraduate scholarship and graduate fellowship awards. Ms. Blum said the idea has drawn interest from both students and faculty.
"Faculty who in the past probably wouldn't have thought so much about commercialization, they're all calling me up and saying, 'I'd like to have lunch with you,' " she said.
If a faculty member, existing student or one of the thousands of new students the university hopes to draw to the center is sitting on the next great tech innovation, that's all the better, said Mr. Mawhinney.
"We want to create the Google or Facebook that came from CMU. That's our goal," he said. "When that will happen we can't predict, but if we put the resources and connections together for these companies it will happen."
Deborah M. Todd: email@example.com or 412-263-1652.