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A bureau within the U.S. Department of Commerce
Funding Opportunities Background

Office of Innovation and
Entrepreneurship (OIE)

Innovation Works


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Project Name

Initiative that connects rural manufacturers with hardware startup companies in southwestern Pennsylvania.



Award Amount

$500,000 for a rural hardware entrepreneurship program in southwest Pennsylvania

Southwestern Pennsylvania’s startup economy is on fire, but while Pittsburgh’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is reaching new heights, the surrounding counties in southwestern Pennsylvania – mainly rural and driven by a manufacturing sector – are struggling to maintain economic stability. The region’s manufacturing-based economy has been in decline since the 1950s, and famously collapsed in the early 1980s. Despite that collapse, a substantial network of manufacturers remain in these rural enclaves; manufacturing is still the second-largest source of employment in southwestern Pennsylvania.

This program seeks to build the capacity for innovation, entrepreneurship, and business growth and expansion in the rural counties surrounding Pittsburgh, specifically for established manufacturers. The program harnesses and builds on the tremendous opportunity of one of the fastest-growing entrepreneurial ecosystems in the United States and connects it to the region’s moribund rural manufacturing economy, coupling the existing success of Innovation Works’ AlphaLab Gear program – the leading accelerator for hardware startups in the U.S. that focuses on domestic manufacturing – with a new support initiative that greatly benefits rural manufacturers by networking together the region’s high-growth startups and rural manufacturers for the mutual benefit of both and for the betterment of the regional economy.

As part of accelerating startup hardware companies to reach commercialization faster, Innovation Works will implement three cycles of AlphaLab Gear and implement a dedicated design-for-local-manufacturing curriculum as part of each AlphaLab Gear cycle. As part of creating opportunities for established, rural manufacturers to find new customers, new revenue growth and new markets, IW will identify manufacturers with capabilities most often needed by startup companies; hold networking events to make introductions among early stage companies, design firms and manufacturers; hold trainings and education sessions for manufacturers on expectations of working with early stage companies; network individual startup companies and manufacturers for design support, prototyping and building local manufacturing relationships and supply chains; and develop a manufacturing incentive program to minimize first-batch purchase-order costs for startup companies.