First came steel. Then came eds, meds and tech. But the “next” economic transformation of the Pittsburgh region is innovation, and it’s already underway.
So says Ketaki Desai, director of FortyX80, a new arm of the Pittsburgh Technology Council specifically committed to advancing the growth of entrepreneurs across southwestern Pennsylvania.
Fresh off a trade mission to Seattle on the new nonstop Alaska Airlines flight with some of Pittsburgh’s rising tech stars on board, Fortyx80 took the GeekWire Summit by storm earlier this month, and now the organization is preparing to do the same this week at Pittsburgh International Airport.
The organization’s first ever pitch-and-demo showcase, featuring seven Pittsburgh-based travel startups, will take place on Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Airside Terminal Center Core. The event gives companies and young entrepreneurs a chance to connect with key audiences — travel agents, businesses and travelers themselves — to promote new ideas, apps and products.
“The idea is to showcase Pittsburgh’s innovation economy at the airport,” Desai said. “The airport has been making huge strides and everyone sees it as one of the most innovative and forward-thinking organizations in the city, not to mention having the ability to have actual travelers participate.”
Katherine Karolick, senior vice president of information technology at PIT, said the event is another example of how the airport is becoming an innovation hub as part of its partnership with Carnegie Mellon University.
“Successful innovation starts by seeking to address challenges and deliver new and better customer experiences, “ Karolick said. “It’s not just technology; it involves business models, processes, services, etc. At PIT, we want to curate and accelerate innovation for the air transportation industry.”
For Arjan Guglani and Justin Waltrup, students at Pine-Richland High School, the showcase is a chance to unveil the latest version of their app, Travel Time, to potential users.
Travel Time gathers a variety of information — including live traffic data and flight information — into one place so users can determine when they need to leave for the airport to comfortably catch their flights. It also includes all-important flight details about gate numbers and seating maps and even sends texts to alert family or business associates an hour before landing.
Guglani said the idea for the app had its origins in typical teenage exasperation.
“Every time we needed to go to the airport, our parents would sit there and try to find out when we needed to leave, but they would never really know, and so we would end up getting there hours before and sit there waiting, or we would barely make the flight because we left too late,” he said.
The duo wanted to provide something more comprehensive, unlike Google Maps or Waze, that would take into account all possible factors, including road conditions, airport parking capacity, security wait times, amenities, lounge access and more to give a more complete picture of how long it actually takes to get to your gate.
The startups were selected by Fortyx80 with input from the tech council based on their relevance to the travel and hospitality industry and to the airport’s partners, leisure travel agents, corporate travel partners (from companies like Highmark, Bayer, Westinghouse, etc.), hotels, and other community partners from organizations such as VisitPittsburgh.
With Pittsburgh recently named one of four tech hubs to watch in 2018, as well as an affordable city for millennials, Desai said this is the first of many events Fortyx80 hopes to offer.
The idea, she said, is to “connect emerging growth companies to large corporations with the goal of providing a first/beta pilot customer.”
Desai added that holding the event at the airport also demonstrates public and private collaboration.
“The ultimate goal is to have a vibrant innovation economy and sustainable innovation ecosystem in our city with partnerships such as this to fuel the next economy of Pittsburgh — the innovation economy,” Desai said. “We want to ensure that our emerging growth companies are supported, and that is crucial if we want more companies to scale and succeed.”