University of Pittsburgh
November 17, 2016

Maker-Entrepreneurs to Receive Manufacturing Help from Pitt with $500,000 U.S. Department of Commerce Grant

Pitt and Idea Foundry partner for life-sciences innovation project on a second $500,000 grant
Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH—Artists and craftspeople may be good at creating a work of beauty, but what happens when the demand for their handiwork outstrips their ability to produce? Now, the University of Pittsburgh will be able to help them find ways to manufacture their wares, meet demand for their product, and expand their businesses, thanks to a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce through the Economic Development Administration’s Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) i6 Challenge grant program.

Pitt is a partner on a second $500,000 RIS i6 Challenge grant to Idea Foundry, a local technology-based economic-development group, for a program to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in life science-focused ventures at the University and in the region through the Idea Foundry’s Life Sciences Accelerator.

“As the maker movement continues to flourish in the Pittsburgh region, artisans are searching for ways to grow their businesses through connections with manufacturers in order to meet the demand for their product,” said Robert Stein, executive director of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, a part of Pitt’s Innovation Institute. “The new Manufacturing Accelerator Program (MAP) will allow maker-entrepreneurs to leverage a breadth of services to scale their production and grow their businesses under the guidance of experienced professionals.”

The Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, along with the Manufacturing Assistance Center (MAC) within Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, will operate MAP along with two local partners, Catalyst Connection and Innovation Works.

MAP will provide maker-entrepreneurs with educational resources, technical support, and hands-on experience in lean manufacturing and assembly techniques, along with valuable insight into how to grow the business, market their product, or deal with day-to-day business concerns.

MAP will be based in MAC’s headquarters in Homewood, an economically disadvantaged part of the city of Pittsburgh.

“One of the goals of the program is to jump-start commercial activity in one of Pittsburgh’s most severely neglected and underserved neighborhoods, and it’s exciting to have the opportunity to transform this neighborhood utilizing basic assembly and manufacturing skills,” said Bopaya Bidanda, co-director of MAC and the Ernest E. Roth Professor and chair of the Department of Industrial Engineering. “This grant is especially relevant for Pittsburgh, where we are beginning to return to our roots to give people a better future.”

Pitt was one of 35 organizations selected for RIS grants this year from a group of more than 200 applicants nationally. Pittsburgh was one of four urban areas to receive more than one RIS grant this year: Austin, Texas; Durham, North Carolina; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, were the others.

“Between the two RIS grants, Pittsburgh is getting a $1 million boost from the Department of Commerce to help entrepreneurs in two of the region’s strengths—the life sciences and the artistic community,” said Marc Malandro, vice chancellor for technology management and commercialization at Pitt and founding director of the Innovation Institute.

“Pitt’s ability to partner with regional organizations is a critical component of winning these grant opportunities,” said Rebecca Bagley, vice chancellor for economic partnerships at Pitt. Bagley credits Pitt’s involvement with the Innovation Advocacy Council, an initiative of SSTI, with ensuring that the federal program had funding to deploy.

“The RIS program advances innovation and capacity-building activities in regions across the country by addressing two essential core components that entrepreneurs need to take their ideas to market: programmatic support and access to capital,” said Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. “As America’s Innovation Agency, the Commerce Department has a key role to play in supporting the visionaries and job creators of tomorrow. Congratulations to today’s awardees who will make U.S. communities, businesses, and the workforce more globally competitive.”

The i6 Challenge is a national initiative to support the creation of programs that provide assistance to innovators and entrepreneurs and that increase the commercialization of innovations, ideas, intellectual property, and research into viable companies.