Thursday, May 10, 2007

Exporting Innovation

While back in the Burgh, I enjoyed breakfast with two of Pittsburgh's poster children for young entrepreneurs. I don't want to burn any bridges, for me or for them, so they will remain well-placed anonymous sources. I'm under the impression that one of the nameless is not long for Pittsburgh, expressing a great deal of frustration with the lack of opportunities available in the region. However, the other start-up story is a glowing account of how Pittsburgh is a wonderful place to grow a business.

I won't try to reconcile these two versions of Pittsburgh's entrepreneurial ecosystem. Instead, I'll focus on the fear that both innovators share: The unfortunate consequences of leaving Pittsburgh for greener pastures.

Dogging the tale of success is the certainty that the pursuit of other opportunities elsewhere, no matter how sound the reasoning for relocation, will result in the drying up of her/his Pittsburgh network. Understand that once you leave Pittsburgh, you are dead to it.

Thus, the region celebrates those who stay or return, but ignores Pittsburghers who thrive beyond the pale. Instead of sharing in the accomplishments of its expatriates, Pittsburgh turns a cold shoulder. That would be akin to a university failing to highlight successful alumni because they fell too far from the school.

Ahem, CMU...

The unhappy ending is already upon the other entrepreneur. Waiting for him/her is a life in exile, a sacrifice for the sake of the business. Both entrepreneurs benefited from various Pittsburgh positives, but neither will be an ambassador for those attributes because the city feels scorned. Then no one ever hears about how great Pittsburgh is for sparking a start-up. Pittsburgh could help companies make the best move for the next stage, but a bruised ego prohibits the parent from doing everything it can to help its children.

No comments: