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2nd 'Big Ideas' grant awarded

Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Rich Lunak, president & CEO of Innovation Works, at AlphaLab Gear in East Liberty Tuesday, January 7, 2014.

Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
 

The McCune Foundation has given $3.5 million to Innovation Works to make sure that its impact remains long after the philanthropy is gone.

“Here in Southwestern Pennsylvania, it will help fill funding gaps, ensure high-growth companies have the resources to grow and ensure our region can attract and retain the entrepreneurs and talent to fuel these companies,” said Rich Lunak, president and CEO of Innovation Works, a Hazelwood-based economic development group.

The nonprofit is the second recipient of McCune's “Big Ideas” grant. Innovation Works has invested more than $52.3 million in 168 technology startups — usually in the life sciences and medical devices, robotics, advanced materials and advanced electronics fields — and provided business expertise. Its website reported that those companies have established thousands of jobs and attracted more than $1.5 billion to the region since its seed fund began in 1999.

McCune started the Big Ideas program two years ago as part of a goal to have the foundation spend down its assets by Oct. 16, 2029, when its founder, the late banker and oilman Charles L. McCune, required the foundation to go out of business.

Last year, the McCune Foundation, one of the region's biggest, gave away $26 million in 134 grants in the areas of education; health and human services; arts, humanities and religion; and civic, community and economic development.

McCune made its first Big Ideas grant of $7 million to Carnegie Mellon University. The money started the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to provide financial aid to undergraduates and graduate students and seed capital for spin-off companies that faculty and students founded.

McCune director Henry Beukema said its grant will help build a $25 million pool called Riverfront Ventures. The money is expected to establish 800 jobs and attract $200 million in capital to the region.

Lunak said Innovation Works has many potential firms to support. In 2006, about 100 entrepreneurs sought capital and technical help from Innovation Works. By 2012, the number grew to 400 entrepreneurs.

ALung Technologies Inc., a South Side developer of artificial lungs, is the first startup in which Innovation Works has invested, using $500,000 from McCune.

Pete DeComo, CEO of ALung, called the investment by Innovation Works important because money from economic development groups has dried up as they get less state money. He said the money from Innovation Works is a seal of approval for “angel” investors, wealthy people who invest in startups.

“It sends a message to angels and venture capitalists that this is a company worth looking at,” DeComo said.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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