Case Study: A Match Made in Energy

About the Energy Alliance of Greater Pittsburgh

The Energy Alliance of Greater Pittsburgh increases the scale of the region’s energy industry, creating and retaining jobs and attracting investment across a portfolio of energy-related assets, while continuing to advance our global leadership in improving the environment. A joint initiative of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and Innovation Works, the Energy Alliance is a strategic partnership of traditional and alternative energy companies, global leaders in material science and intelligent building technologies, academic, corporate and government researchers, and supply-chain providers in 32 counties across four states.

Challenge

As one of the managing partner organizations of the Energy Alliance, Innovation Works realized a pattern of disconnect between professionals across the greater Pittsburgh region’s energy sector and sub sectors. Since collaboration is vital to ensuring the success of the regional energy sector, this trend was worrisome. . Innovation Works needed to connect the dots among energy professionals, while measuring the successes of these connections to ensure future funding and support of the Energy Alliance.

Solution

The Energy Alliance, through Innovation Works, partnered with Fourth Economy Consulting to provide strategy development, project management and regional collaboration to the organization. A piece of this partnership included assistance for bridging disconnect amongst professionals across greater Pittsburgh’s energy sector. With third-party partners of World-Class Industrial Network (WIN) and SMaSh, Fourth Economy brought to life the EnergyMatch event. EnergyMatch is a networking event designed for industries, entrepreneurs, university and industry researchers, and the funding community to connect, develop new products, form research and development teams, collaborate on grant opportunities and seek investment capital. EnergyMatch is an “anti-conference.” Rather than speaking to participants through keynote addresses and breakout sessions, the event focuses on action-oriented networking intended to make real connections that produce real projects with tangible action items, next steps and follow-up. An online profiling form was developed by Fourth Economy and WIN to analyze a professional’s needs and assets, as well as the needs and assets of their employer or organization. These profiles were then analyzed and matched with one another with each attendee being matched to four to six fellow attendees. At the event, attendees received a personalized list of individuals to seek out throughout the evening. Attendees could also make matches on their own through general networking at tables labeled by energy sector (wind, coal, solar, distribution, etc.) throughout the venue. When a match was made, each person texted the follow-up for that match to a SMS texting system developed by SMaSh. A counter projected throughout the evening kept track of the number of connections generated as a result of the event.

Results

EnergyMatch event. Those individuals created a total of 439 “matches” as recorded by the texting technology. The average number of matches made by an attendee was 6.6 (with a median of 4) and the most matches made at the event was 39, by an individual who also won an iPad for their superior matching efforts. In a follow-up event survey, all participants rated EnergyMatch very highly:

  • 96% were either “satisfied” or “extremely satisfied” with the overall event.
  • 94% are “likely” or “extremely likely” to follow-up with at least one of their matches.
  • 97% said they would likely attend another EnergyMatch event.

Another EnergyMatch event is in the early planning phases for Fall 2011, with subsequent events to follow. Additionally, an online collaboration tool used to mimic the activities of the event is in development.

Quotes From Participants

[I liked] the opportunity to meet a variety of people from different backgrounds. I also liked that the point of the match was to introduce yourself to people – that is, that you didn’t have to know people ahead of time or be “connected.” Great atmosphere. Well organized. Nice mix of people. Texting contact info was good. [EnergyMatch] was a new/unique spin on traditional networking. Well intentioned and well organized. I liked the idea of being able to network with others who are in the energy/cleantech/green sectors, and I appreciate the opportunity to meet with so many different companies in one place, and learn about mutual interests. I spent my whole career on that problem…it must be why they matched us.

Also, check out Imagine Pittsburgh’s recap of the EnergyMatch event, featuring all of the event videos!

Pittsburgh: The Entrepreneurial City (Part 1)

The short answer? Entrepreneurs.  A recent study by the Kauffman Foundation found that the rate of business startups is very stable from year to year, varying between 3% to 6%.  Entrepreneurship is resilient to both economic booms and busts which is good news for policymakers interested in a sustainable growth strategy that doesn’t suffer from cyclical downturns.

What does this mean for Pittsburgh?  We have tremendous research enterprises – both in our universities and a growing base of innovative firms.  The City of Pittsburgh – led by Oakland – is the region’s seedbed of innovation, accounting for more than one-third of the patents, more than two-thirds of the SBIR awards in the region, and three-fourths of the venture investment.

But to rely on entrepreneurship to drive growth in the region, we have some work to do.  Pennsylvania competes for last place among states for new business creation. The Pittsburgh region ranks in the bottom fifth of the nation’s metropolitan areas on the same indicators.  We have produced some notable entrepreneurial successes, but on the whole, we are the tip of the tail of entrepreneurship.

Why?

It’s not taxes.  Massachusetts and California both had higher taxes than we did and still grew faster. A true entrepreneur is a change-maker driven to overcome obstacles.  They don’t look at the wall and say, “If it were two feet lower, I might try to climb it.’  Similarly, an entrepreneur with a disruptive business opportunity is not likely to be scared away by the tax rates.

In a study on why places have different levels of entrepreneurship,  Edward Glaeser and William Kerr found that the number of smaller suppliers and pool of qualified workers. within an industry can promote the creation of new firms in that industry. In response to the crisis of the 1980s, our mantra was diversification.  Our success in diversifying the economy has now hurt us in this area of creating enough depth for new industries to prosper.

IT as Bright Spot

One success in our region is the information technology sector.  It’s taken more than twenty years, but we have developed a talent pool of technical and management talent with varying experience levels. Three regional startups: Transarc, FORE Systems and Carnegie Group – have spawned a dozen startup firms that are seeding future generations of entrepreneurs.

For the first time since its start in 1983, Innovation Works has more good deals than they can fund.  We can now say that we are approaching a critical mass of second and third generation entrepreneurs and we may be only a few years from seeing that the tangible economic impact.

We have often explained our lagging entrepreneurship as a cultural residue of our industrial past, blaming the old steel mentality and being adverse to risk.  A 2002 study found that firms in the region were less likely to share information than in other regions.  But this may be fading, due to three trends:

  1. Regional entrepreneurs have progressed on the learning curve, creating not just 2nd and 3rd generation entrepreneurs but a whole new crop of innovators like Joshua Dziabiak of ShowClix – one of Inc.com’s top 30 under 30 Entrepreneurs.
  2. Mainstreaming of entrepreneurial achievement—think Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook and even the movie, The Social Network–has improved understanding of how we benefit from local startups like FORE Systems, Spinnaker and FreeMarkets even as they fade away.
  3. The return of Boomerang Entrepreneurs.  We lamented every time a firm was recruited away in the 1990s but we are seeing those entrepreneurs return, bringing with them the expertise and networks from other regions. One example: Nick Manolis who went to Boston with Internet Securities but has now returned as CEO of TrueCommerce, an Innovation Works portfolio company.

Moving forward, we must avoid the temptation to pick the “one approach that works best.”  The reality is, you have to do a lot of things well. One of the strengths of Pittsburgh is that we have not put all of our eggs in one basket. The failed efforts to consolidate economic development has left us with a dynamic and flexible eco-system akin to a cloud-sourcing network for entrepreneurial support.

The notion of a One Stop, One Size Fits All approach is not suited to the diverse needs of a vibrant entrepreneurial climate.  It takes some effort to navigate, but the resources in Pittsburgh allow an entrepreneur to select the services and programs that best fit their needs.

While there is no silver bullet to promoting growth or entrepreneurship, whichever path you choose you have to be able to do many things well to enjoy sustainable growth and prosperity.

 

 


This article originally appeared in PopCity on 11.03.10.