Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Pittsburgh Entrepreneur Network (PEN)

PEN is not an existing entity or organization*, which is unfortunate given Pittsburgh's struggles to promote entrepreneurship in the region. This oversight is about to be addressed, but more on that initiative come Friday. Since I started blogging, I've been able to audit the efforts to improve the Pittsburgh regional economy. I've focused mostly on what is missing and kept tabs on the attempts to fill the gaps. Donald Bonk is part of a group of pioneers diligently working to generate new opportunities for the next generation of Pittsburgh entrepreneurs.

I think it fair to write that Mr. Bonk is endeavoring to build a global entrepreneur network for CMU. The economic implications for Pittsburgh should be obvious, but if not, please see Project Olympus. I highlight Mr. Bonk's project for two reasons. First, Pittsburgh needs more people to work together, not another organization or even another campaign. Second, Mr. Bonk is doing what I've only blogged about doing.

I've met Mr. Bonk on a few occasions and he was at a meeting I attended that I hope will become famous in economic development lore (not to put any pressure on everyone present). Mr. Bonk stays in touch with me primarily through sharing articles he thinks I would find of interest and I think help detail his vision for CMU and the Pittsburgh region. His latest forward is particularly poignant and builds upon (my opinion) Mike Madison's Pittsburgh 2.0 post:

"Silicon Valley pioneered the open office," [Jon Medved (one of Israel's leading high-tech venture capitalists and CEO of a new startup called Vringo)] says, which makes it easier to know your colleagues and to meet the real "movers and shakers" in a company. Israel's tech sector companies caught on to the benefits of that informal work atmosphere, which gives young people with ideas that chance to meet old people with money. That culture also resists entrenched hierarchies, encouraging youth to challenge superiors and raise new ideas. Add that to a larger popular culture that glorifies successful risk-takers in business, and a pioneering attitude, and you have a recipe for successful innovation.

But in both locations, Jon says the most important ingredient is the immigrants. "Being an immigrant is like being the CEO of your own mini-start-up," he says. "You're taking huge risk to improve your life." Moreover, immigrants bring Diaspora connections from their homelands that help new companies establish transnational partnerships and open up markets.

I have no doubt that Pittsburgh does not receive enough immigrants to foster a vibrant risk-taking culture. That's another issue to address and, yes, more on that initiative down the road (perhaps months from now). However, the people who left (or will leave) Pittsburgh are not as risk averse as those who stayed (or will stay). The Burgh Diaspora (e.g. CMU alumni) is a surrogate for Immigration Pittsburgh.

But don't forget about the new blood coming into the region to attend world-class universities. The intellectual capital making the journey to Pittsburgh does foment an impressive creative capacity. Non-natives residing in Pittsburgh surmounted considerable obstacles to arrive and thrive in one of the most parochial cities in the United States, if not the world. To get to Pittsburgh and then succeed there takes all the sweat and guile you would look for in an entrepreneur.

There is another burgeoning Pittsburgh economic renaissance beginning if you know where to look.

*My Google search yielded no hits, but please correct me if I am wrong.

1 comment:

Frank said...

Yes! The universities and alumni associations in Pittsburgh need to take a larger role in promoting entrepreneurship and innovation in the region, and connecting the E&I to other alumni/a who've left the region.

Maybe if they did I'd actually join my alumni association... ;)

The Blurgh