Bits&Bytes: Big-name investors betting on BubbleMesh

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To the untrained ear, BubbleMesh might sound like a frothy preteen confection or a poorly named boy band.

Rather, it's the engineering design and analysis technology that Carnegie Mellon University's Kenji Shimada has been perfecting for 16 years and is the basis of Ciespace, the startup he launched from his Oakland office.

Investors including automotive giant Honda Motor and local tech startup engine Innovation Works are betting that BubbleMesh, which slashes the time it takes to create and test computer-generated models, will be the must-have accessory for manufacturers of, well, anything that is designed.

BubbleMesh more quickly and accurately simulates the toughest scenarios to test manufactured products such as cars, consumer electronics, medical devices than competitors' software, said company Chairman Tom Beckley.

"One of our [automaker] customers used BubbleMesh software and cut their crash simulation time from several weeks to several days," added Dr. Shimada.

Potential competitors, such as the much larger publicly-traded Cecil-based engineering software firm Ansys Inc., needn't run for cover -- yet.

For now, the upstart is focused on proving the BubbleMesh technology with a small but growing group of customers.

The strategy included turning away venture capital dollars, said Mr. Beckley. "The idea is to keep the company small and nimble," he said.

Last summer, Pittsburgh native Tom Gerace accompanied his parents to a fund-raiser hosted by Pittsburgh Pirates CEO Kevin McClatchy in his suite at PNC Park.

This week, Mr. McClatchy invested an undisclosed amount in Mr. Gerace's, an online networking site targeted at the well-heeled, urban-dwelling Whole Food set. He "understood the concept right away," Mr. Gerace said. encourages members to gather around topics of shared interest -- such as books, writing and politics. Expect sports to be the next topic to turn up on the site.

Mr. Gerace said the firm is hiring engineers for its Downtown Pittsburgh research and development operation that employs about 13.

Nonprofit at-risk youth advocacy group Child Watch of Pittsburgh will host a "Web-raising" on Monday, an event that borrows from the Amish tradition known as a barn-raising. In Amish country it's building a barn, on Monday in Downtown Pittsburgh, it's building a Web site.

The time, technical expertise and money donated by volunteers and local foundations will enable Child Watch to have a Web presence in two hours, said Child Watch Executive Director Amy Raslevich.

Add the Congressional Caucus on Robotics, co-founded by U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, to the growing list of cause-driven klatches on Capitol Hill.

The Forest Hills Democrat teamed-up with Tennessee Republican Rep. Zach Wamp earlier this week to create the caucus that aims to generate awareness of and foster the growth of the nation's robotics industry.

GOP mayoral candidate Mark DeSantis confirmed he's taken over South Side-based startup Mobile Fusion in the absence of former CEO Ric Castro, who left the firm recently to "pursue other business interests."

Prior to becoming Mobile Fusion's president, Mr. DeSantis was an adviser to the young firm, which is developing a prototype for a softball-like device equipped with a camera and sensors that when tossed into potentially dangerous situations acts as the eyes and ears of "first-responders" and soldiers.

"We decided that it was time for a reorganization," Mr. DeSantis said of the shake-up at the year-old firm.

Mobile Fusion experienced a growth spurt earlier this year, securing an undisclosed amount from private "angel" investors in addition to roughly $300,000 from startup generator Innovation Works.

Mr. Desantis' quest to unseat Mayor Luke Ravenstahl won't distract him from manning the six-person firm, he said. "Mobile Fusion is my full-time job. My spare time is running for office."

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


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