Bits&Bytes: Intrepid employees starting their own companies

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In the "old days" -- the era of the infamous bubble -- "spinouts" or startup companies launched by the former employees of a larger, more established tech firm typically didn't appear on the horizon until after a successful initial public offering or a lucrative sale of the older firm had lined the pockets of the talented workers.

But in this new post-bubble boom who needs to wait for that initial public offering or a big buyout to pursue their own paths?

In Pittsburgh, certainly not two former employees of robotics firm Hyperactive Technologies, Mike Bauer and Abishek Sharma, who broke ranks and launched two separate companies of their own this year.

Mr. Bauer, a local tech veteran who during the boom led the Internet Group, has founded Callisto, a producer of Web-based advertising software and services. Robotics enthusiast Mr. Sharma joined forces with Ric Castro, also a veteran of the startup world, to launch Mobile Fusion, a maker of a specialized sensor device that when tossed like a hand grenade will send back instant information in the form of photos, infrared images, or other data, to a soldier holding a hand-held computer.

Pittsburgh's own Frank Patterson is a star on the stratospherically popular video-sharing Web site, YouTube. Mr. Patterson's Web-based show, "DigitalSoul," rank 38th on YouTube's list of most viewed videos of all time with 7,220 subscribers and episodes that have been viewed nearly 2 million times.

Mr. Patterson's career as a video blogger began as he chronicled his weight loss of more than 100 pounds for viewers while simultaneously waxing on timely topics.

His popularity earned him an appearance on a new TV show, "The Fizz," where some of the Web's most popular videos are showcased and introduced by the video bloggers who created them. "The Fizz" is shown on the satellite TV network "The 101" on DirecTV. Check him out online at

Companies hoping to earn a spot in the upcoming Pittsburgh Angel Venture Fair, scheduled for March 14, must have their online applications submitted by 5 p.m. on Jan. 5.

A collaboration among a trio of economic development generators -- Innovation Works, Pittsburgh Technology Council and Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse -- the fair will host 20 young firms, eight of which will be chosen to give 30-minute presentations with up to 12 other budding companies selected to set up exhibits in the hopes of luring an accredited "angel" or private investors.

To apply, visit the Tech Council's Web site at pittsburghangelventurefair.asp) to submit the on-line application form.

A selection committee of three experienced angel investors will review the applications, and the chosen companies will be notified in mid-January.

Last year's fair, held in February, generated better-than-expected results for participants. Eight firms, including Shaler-based veterinary X-ray firm PetsDX Inc., Neville Island-based ChemDaq and Oakland-based voice software firm Carnegie Speech, met Innovation Works' challenge to raise $100,000 each in the 90 days following the fair. In turn, Innovation Works chipped in an additional $50,000 for each startup. In all, the companies pocketed a total of $2 million in the month-and-a-half after the inaugural fund-raising fest.

This year's sponsors are hoping to get at least 50 applicants -- which shouldn't be difficult considering the crop of new startups sprouting around town.

Human resources managers, take note. The 2007 CIO of the Year Awards, co-hosted by the Pittsburgh Technology Council and the Greater Pittsburgh CIO Group, honors the most innovative information technology executives in the region in industry, nonprofit, academia and government. These "back-office" brains will be celebrated for their innovation and creativity in planning and deploying their enterprise systems, future information technology goals, management philosophy and service to the industry and community. Nominations must be submitted to Jared Roberts, the director of member programs, at 412-918-4243 or at by Friday.

A gang of head honchos of Pittsburgh companies have signed up to learn from entrepreneurial evangelist Chris Allison, the former chief executive officer of Cheswick-based telecom equipment firm Tollgrade Corp. -- and more takers are welcome.

So far, 19 CEOs have signed-up for Mr. Allison's "Entrepreneurial Leadership Forum" held on the first Friday morning of each month. It's followed by "Entrepreneurship through Mergers and Acquisitions," on the second Friday morning of each month, led by private equity investor Chris Cynkar, president of Swisshelm Park Investors LLC.

The courses are part of the Executive Education program at the Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business. To register, call CMU's John DiRicco at 412-268-7758

Corilyn Shropshire can be reached at or 412-263-1413.


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