Local startup Thread pitches and wins $25K at Thrival Festival
September 14, 2014 12:00 AM
Lee Kimball, chief operating officer of Thread International, speaks at The Pitch, part of Thrival an annual festival designed to highlight innovation in Pittsburgh. The event was held at alphalab gear's office in East Liberty. Mr. Kimball and Thread won the $25,000 prize.
By Molly Born / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
An impassioned pitch to a roomful of tech innovators and investors made one Pittsburgh startup $25,000 richer on Saturday.
Competing with seven other local companies, Lee Kimball, chief operating officer for Thread, had only five minutes to sell a four-judge panel on why his textiles company — which turns trash from developing countries into wearable fabrics — should receive the award, sponsored by PNC.
“This $25,000 doesn’t go to things like overhead or travel,” he said. “It goes directly to putting a humble little Pittsburgh company likes ours onto shelves nationwide very soon.”
“The Pitch” keynoted a week of festivities in the Thrival Innovation + Music Festival, a fundraising event of East Liberty startup accelerator Thrill Mill that included workshops, panel discussions and educational forums, along with music all day Saturday and Sunday.
Last year’s three-day celebration was confined to Bakery Square and attracted around 2,000 guests, and organizers were expecting more than 5,000 for this year’s events, which fanned out across the neighborhood along the Penn Avenue corridor.
The Pitch was hosted by AlphaLab Gear, a startup accelerator focused on entrepreneurs developing hardware, robots and other physical technologies.
Its 10,000-square-foot Broad Street facility is a largely open space with an industrial feel and, on Saturday, included a stage for presenters.
LifeShel, a smartphone case designed to alert police and sound an alarm in emergency situations, tallied the most audience votes via text, with Thread landing in second place. But the judges — two investors, a director of an entrepreneurship center at a local university, and a startup co-founder — made the final decision in favor of Thread.
Since its creation, Thread has recycled millions of pounds of plastic into polyester textiles, including 660,000 pounds last year alone.
The process has created 1,620 jobs for Haitians who gather bottles for recycling and $164,931 in 2013 revenues for collection centers owned by Haitian citizens.
The company is currently working to expand the program to Honduras and recently paired with Carnegie handcrafted bag manufacturer Moop to create fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles collected from Haiti’s streets.
Before the judges announced the winner, Mayor Bill Peduto told the young audience about the mid-1990s East Liberty heroin epidemic, when “we were pulling bodies off of this street about once a week.”
“This was the drive-by capital of Western Pennsylvania. Today it’s the home of Google and startups throughout, and those startups have the opportunity to transform this economy,” he said, adding that he wants people in East End communities to play a part in that transformation.
The six other startups that competed in The Pitch were FutureDerm, a skin-care company and website; Conversant Labs, creators of a voice-enabled app for the visually impaired; ImagineCareers, a platform that hosts a technology-driven talent agency for job placement; Nymbus, a system that allows musicians to interact with their fans through smartphones; Diamond Kinetics; a sports motion kinetics company; AthleteTrax, a South Side team sports scheduling and communications platform, which earned a spot on Inc. magazine’s list of America’s Coolest College Startups of 2014.
“PIT Talks: The Innovation Mind Mesh,” a panel focusing on policy, innovation and technology, is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today. More information: thrivalfestival.com.
Molly Born: email@example.com or 412-263-1944.
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