Building a Startup in Pittsburgh

I moved from Austin to Pittsburgh because Pittsburgh’s a great city to work in

This piece was first published May 18, 2023 in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. You can read the full article here:
https://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/guest-columns/2023/05/18/tech-google-pitt-carnegie-mellon/stories/202305180019?

I might be the only tech entrepreneur in the country who has moved from Austin to Pittsburgh. With a bit of a branding campaign, more would follow. Pittsburgh has all the ingredients to attract anyone it wants from anywhere it wants.

Austin is a city with a brand. It is consistently ranked one of the fastest-growing cities in the US and has become a hub for tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Elon Musk is planning to build his own town located just outside the city limits.

The weather is warm (or hot, depending on your perspective), the tacos are stuffed with brisket, and the state has no income tax. Walking around Austin, it’s hard to find anyone who will complain about the city.

I grew up in Connecticut and spent the first five years of my career as a software engineer working for companies based in the San Francisco Bay area. I started as an engineer on the mobile search ads team at Google and later transitioned to an SF-based digital healthcare startup. The second position was remote, and I took this as an opportunity to live in Austin.

During my two-year stint in Austin, I watched the city boom. Everyone you met had just moved there, often from the coastal cities of New York and San Francisco. I watched the housing prices spike too: My rent increased 20% year-over-year during my time there.

In April 2022, I decided to make another transition: I decided to move to Pittsburgh to start a company with a co-founder living here. My coastal friends thought I was crazy, but at least the move was cheap. Austin had become overwhelmed with moving trucks that needed return trips.

Over the past year, my co-founder and I have been working on Resilient Lifescience, a startup building a wearable medical device to automatically detect and reverse an opioid overdose. Pittsburgh has helped us a great deal, largely because of the incredible ratio of talent to cost-of-living.

Major universities like Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh provide deep and diverse talent pools for startups ranging from artificial intelligence to biotech. My co-founder went to CMU, and we’re hiring two mechanical engineering interns from the universities this summer.

If you need to find an expert to help with a different aspect of the business, in this city you don’t have to look far. Within the life sciences ecosystem, startup accelerator programs like Pittsburgh’s LifeX help companies transition from prototypes and clinical trials to regulatory approval and commercialization. The robust medical system serves as a key partner for clinical research, in addition to keeping us healthy.

A lower cost-of-living (and cost of doing business) allows us to stretch investment dollars that much further. My rent in Pittsburgh is 2/3rds what it was in Austin, and the place is just as nice. Office space is affordable, the local manufacturing options are convenient and good at what they do, and we’re a short flight from major hubs around the country.

That’s just the start of the list. The food is good, the cultural institutions are great, and people care for each other and their city. But despite the abundance of reasons to live here, Pittsburghers seem to complain a lot. We complain about the weather and the air quality, the traffic and the crumbling infrastructure, and obviously, the sports teams.

When my co-founder and I attend networking events in the city, the attitude is “How can we turn Pittsburgh into the next ___?” Why? As someone who’s lived in San Francisco and Austin, and worked as a tech entrepreneur in both of them, I think Pittsburghers should think of their city as the one other cities should imitate.

I’m generally all in favor of authenticity, but when it comes to creating a brand, we could do with a little embellishment. Here’s what I propose: Let’s look at all our city’s advantages and tell everyone that we live in the best city in the country. Say it enough, and live as if it’s true, because it almost is, and soon it will be.

Contributor(s)
Charlie Proctor
Posted:
May 18, 2023
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