Innovation Works, along with the Pittsburgh Robotics Network and other regional partners, launch the Robotics Factory, a set of inter-related programs that are part of the $63 million Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant awarded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to the Southwestern Pennsylvania New Economy Collaborative. The Robotics Factory will create, accelerate and scale robotics startups in the Pittsburgh region. The accelerator program kicks off first with applications opening February 1, 2023 for startup companies in robotics, robotics-adjacent sectors, and other advanced technologies that are – or can be – related to robotics. Interested individuals should go to www.roboticsfactory.org for more information about the accelerator program.
The regional EDA grant allows southwestern Pennsylvania to seize a once-in-a-generation opportunity to further the regional robotics and autonomy cluster – a sector for which Pittsburgh’s expertise and leadership are globally recognized. It is funding five regional projects – including the Robotics Factory – which together are designed to transform people and places across all of southwestern PA by providing long-term opportunities for individuals, businesses and communities to become involved in this burgeoning sector, especially those who have been excluded from opportunities for employment, wealth creation and innovation generated by robotics and autonomy.
The Robotics Factory is being led by Innovation Works (IW) to further develop a globally prominent robotics ecosystem in the Pittsburgh region. With four-year support from the EDA, Innovation Works will match a portion of the $12 million provided by the EDA with additional operating and investment capital to provide seed funding to selected startups to help them grow.
The Robotics Factory will create startups focused on industry-identified challenges that require robotics and related innovations, accelerate the growth of startups, and scale up manufacturing. The Robotics Factory comprises the following three programs:
Create: The Robotics Factory – Create program will drive innovation to meet industry demands by bringing entrepreneurs, technology experts, and researchers together with specific industry experts to define existing and emerging problems and identify solutions together. IW and the Pittsburgh Robotics Network will convene and facilitate multiple workshops per year, each workshop focused on one specific industry/customer segment (ex. agriculture, construction, aviation, etc.). A number of entrepreneurs, technology experts, and researchers from southwestern Pennsylvania will be selected to meet with industry leaders to understand their pain points and collaborate on developing innovative solutions to these problems/defined needs.
Accelerate: The Robotics Factory – Accelerate program is an opportunity for up to six pre-seed robotics startups to receive up to $100,000 in funding from IW, mentorship, and resources to take their company to the next stage of growth. Similar to IW’s nationally ranked AlphaLab accelerators, the Robotics Factory accelerator is an intensive, seven-month program, during which companies will move into the Robotics Factory’s co-working space, have access to manufacturing and robotics resources including a production-grade prototype shop and robot lab, and receive coaching and support tailored to their specific business needs. The participants will also have access to mentorship opportunities with other Pittsburgh-based robotics companies and national and global industrial partners via the Pittsburgh Robotics Network. Startup companies in robotics and robotics-adjacent sectors, as well as other advanced technologies that relate to automation, are encouraged to apply for the accelerator when the one-month application period opens February 1, 2023.
Scale: The Robotics Factory – Scale program provides expertise in product prototypes and services to help startups develop production-ready products. The program provides in-house design for manufacturing, supply chain management, prototyping assistance, and access to the region’s expansive manufacturing resources. The Robotics Factory includes a production-grade prototype shop with in-house staff to support product development and low-rate production, as well as focusing on the production of complex physical products. By considering manufacturing during the early design stages, companies can rapidly grow, deploy their technologies and achieve scale more quickly.
“The Robotics Factory will further the region’s efforts to grow robotics startups and link them to industry and manufacturing capabilities,” said Ven Raju, president & CEO of Innovation Works. “What captured the attention of the EDA and made the Southwestern Pennsylvania application stand out for the competitive Build Back Better grant was the region’s cohesive approach to building and leveraging the workforce and capabilities of robotics industries.” Speaking about the IW-led initiative that is part of the greater Build Back Better Regional Challenge, Ven continued, “Not only will the Robotics Factory programs address existing problems experienced by industries that can be solved using robotics and automation solutions, we plan to also provide the resources and funding that are so critical to emerging companies. Together, the Robotics Factory Create, Accelerate and Scale programs will be dynamic additions to one of the region’s most important economic engines.”
Mike Formica, Managing Director of Hardware for Innovation Works, added, “The skilled team and specific capabilities of the Robotics Factory programs will make meaningful connections that benefit both emerging startups and the thousands of manufacturers in the region. By starting and growing companies that build their products locally, we provide opportunities for broader regional job growth.”
The Pittsburgh Robotics Network, a nonprofit organization focused on developing business opportunities for the local robotics industry, will assist Innovation Works in marketing the programs of the Robotics Factory. Joel Reed, President & CEO of the Pittsburgh Robotics Network said, “Pittsburgh is a world leader in robotics and automation, and the Robotics Factory helps take this to the next level by providing the mentorship, resources and connections needed to take new innovative concepts from the idea stage to a commercial solution that can be deployed at scale. The Robotics Factory provides an opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs to learn how to develop successful solutions to pressing industry challenges.”
Applications open February 1, 2023 for the Accelerate program and can be found at: www.roboticsfactory.org. Individuals interested in any of the programs should sign up to receive more information or to connect with the Innovation Works team. Those who sign up to receive further information will receive early announcements about the location of the Robotics Factory and the first industries involved with the Create program.
About Innovation Works
Innovation Works (IW) is the Pittsburgh region’s most active investor in and supporter of early-stage companies developing hardware, software and life sciences technologies. Though focused exclusively on helping startups in the southwest PA region, IW’s level of investment activity makes it one of the most active investors in the U.S. Innovation Works is part of the statewide Ben Franklin Technology Partners, a network of four centers developed to help diversify PA’s economy and retain the state’s high caliber innovations that are invented and incubated here. The Ben Franklin Technology Partners are partially funded by the Commonwealth of PA and overseen by the Department of Community and Economic Development. To date, IW has invested $117 million in over 700 companies that have brought in an additional $3.3 billion in outside funding, making it one of the most productive uses of state dollars.
About the Pittsburgh Robotics Network
The Pittsburgh Robotics Network (PRN) represents the companies and leaders who make up the Pittsburgh robotics ecosystem, which is anchored by Carnegie Mellon University, and driven by 130+ robotics organizations. It is the PRN’s mission to accelerate the adoption of robotic solutions by bridging this large and dynamic community, to the world. The PRN executes this by making connections, expanding collective knowledge and positively influencing the advancement of robotic and artificial intelligence technologies.
The Southwestern Pennsylvania New Economy Collaborative
The Southwestern Pennsylvania New Economy Collaborative was formed to apply for the Build Back Better Regional Challenge, the marquee initiative of the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s American Rescue Plan programs which aims to boost economic recovery from the pandemic and rebuild American communities. The Collaborative is an 11-county coalition, which includes dozens of organizations: community-based organizations, labor unions, educational and research institutions, economic development partners and leaders from the private, public, and philanthropic sectors across all of southwestern PA. It focuses on communities that need support, adopting a hub and spoke approach designed to benefit not only the urban core but surrounding communities as well. The Collaborative is led by a board of directors co-chaired by Stefani Pashman, CEO, Allegheny Conference, and Farnam Jahanian, president, Carnegie Mellon University. On September 2, 2022, the Biden-Harris Administration announced the Collaborative as one of 21 winners of the challenge. The Collaborative will receive $62.7 million to build the region’s robotics and autonomy cluster. The award will fund five regional projects, which together are designed to provide long-term opportunities for individuals, businesses and communities in southwestern Pennsylvania to become involved in the burgeoning robotics and autonomy industry.