$7M grant gives birth to CMU business incubator
By Bill Zlatos
Published: Saturday, March 9, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Nitsan Shai strums AC/DC's “Back in Black” on an electric guitar while he follows the notes on a website with his laptop.
If he misses a note, the program stops and an online maestro offers tips.
Shai, 18, a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University, is a part-time programmer at tunessence, a startup company founded by CMU alumni and faculty with the help of $50,000 from the McCune Foundation.
The money came from a $7 million grant from McCune, its largest ever, and the first in a series of “Big Ideas” grants, to provide financial aid for undergraduate and graduate students who are entrepreneurs and seed money for companies they and faculty establish.
The grant started the Carnegie Mellon Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship with a goal to start businesses and jobs in Western Pennsylvania. In the past, such companies and their employees often left for greener — as in, more money — pastures.
“The company debated between going to Silicon Valley or staying in Pittsburgh,” acknowledged Alex Soto, founder and a 2011 graduate of CMU from Miami. “The largest reason (we stayed) was the network I had from this program and the funding I received through them.”
Soto helped establish tunessence on the basis that 70 percent of would-be guitarists quit within two months out of frustration. This company utilizes popular music that users choose and gives them the experience of a personal teacher online.
“Our goal is to become the Rosetta Stone for music,” he said.
Shai and Soto visit an Oakland incubator, a converted horse barn, set up for CMU entrepreneurs. The incubator provides technological and business know-how, and makes available mentors, a network of sources and seed money.
Students sprawl around tables with whiteboards where they plot ideas and dream companies. A Brag Board posts the honors they garner. The students covet moving upstairs to the loft, a mezzanine where successful companies such as Dynamics took root. Cheswick-based Dynamics prevents fraud by rewriting credit card information while cashiers and waiters process cards.
The goal at Carnegie Mellon is to make the region a launching pad for companies, said Lenore Blum, co-director of the new center.
“We say, ‘When you're rich and famous — and we hope you will be — remember us,' ” Blum said.
Bill Zlatos is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7828 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Upper St. Clair woman’s death at Drexel probed as possible meningitis
- Redistricting spurs faceoff for Democratic state Reps. Molchany, Readshaw
- Job cuts at AGH part of ‘strategic’ process
- Fox Chapel Area superintendent seeks rapport with students
- Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh to hold annual public meeting March 26
- Assessment appeals draw Mt. Lebanon residents’ ire
- Newsmaker: Dr. Kyle Soltys
- Donor name to be stripped from Penn Hills library
- Allegheny County Democrats endorse several incumbents in primary
- Historical markers approved for 21 sites around Pennsylvania
- Ex-Sandusky lawyer investigated in divorce case