Business incubator AlphaLab shows off fledgling Western Pennsylvania firms
Matthew Pegula had a dream job, working as the director of technology at a major Pittsburgh tech company.
“The only way I would leave that job would be to do my own thing, which I did,” said Pegula, who with a friend, Dimitry Bentsionov, co-founded tech startup WorkShirt Inc.
The two entrepreneurs and the founders of six other early-stage companies received $25,000 from AlphaLab — an “accelerator” that helps startups — and spent the last four months trying to establish some of the region's newest tech companies.
Each one spoke on Wednesday at AlphaLab's 10th annual Demo Day, pitching their accomplishments to about 500 fans from Pittsburgh's entrepreneurial community and to venture capitalists who might be interested in providing more backing.
“These companies typically are at the earliest stages of growth,” said Rich Lunak, CEO of Innovation Works, a government-funded nonprofit that invests in startups and started AlphaLab in 2008.
“After 20 weeks of intensive assistance and mentoring, many have gone on to grow into profitable businesses, attract follow-on funding, hire talent from the region, grow their customer base and launch additional products,” Lunak said.
Typically, about 80 percent of AlphaLab's graduating companies attract further funding, said Jim Jen, AlphaLab's manager.
Pegula, 33, and Bentsionov, 27, started their AlphaLab experience with one product — an iPhone app call HitchedPic. Then they founded another — a website named Photailor — that they consider a bigger opportunity.
AlphaLab's mentors helped them see a broader strategy that they call “demand-driven photography.”
“While HitchedPic is probably the best photo-sharing app out there for wedding photos, we see Photailor as the star of the show at the moment,” said Pegula, who left Strip District-based Deeplocal Inc. to start WorkShirt.
HitchedPic allows a bride and groom to collect photos and videos from their wedding experience. “It dominates life for months, and HitchedPic documents the whole thing, the entire wedding journey,” Pegula said. Friends and relatives upload their photos and share full access.
HitchedPic started as a paid site, at $49 for one year, but switched to a free model as Pegula and Bentsionov moved to increase usage.
But a problem with all those wedding photos, Pegula said, is that many are similar, like the bride and groom walking down the aisle from different angles. So HitchedPic made a registry — like a gift registry — where the couple asks for certain photos.
“We started to get the feeling that there was a greater opportunity out there,” Pegula said.
The result was Photailor.com — which could “turn millions around the world with cameras into paid photographers.”
Its target market is “stock photography” used by advertisers, graphic artists and publishers to illustrate print and online content.
“The stock photo market as it exists now is a multibillion-dollar industry,” Pegula said. But stock photograhy can be “boring,” and the trend is toward genuine content, “what people see in real life,” rather than airbrushed photos, he said.
At Photailor.com, publishers ask for specific “real” photos and offer to pay. “Stock photography is ripe for a bit of a shakeup, and today, smartphone cameras can take high enough quality photos,” Pegula said.
He and Bentsionov said they can compete with stock photograhy companies like Getty, Corbis and Shutterstock, supplying photos that fit the real-life trend they think is there.
Publishers pay $3.99 to post a request. An order posted on Tuesday, for example, offered $15 for a photo of a FedEx truck “parked on a street on a business district.” Photographers whose work is selected get the $15 deposited directly to their bank account.
Pegula grew up in Plum and graduated from Allegheny College, and Bentsionov grew up in the North Hills and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh. They describe themselves as design-oriented software engineers.
John D. Oravecz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7882 or firstname.lastname@example.org.