Is a startup ‘funding gap’ holding Pittsburgh back? Tech leaders disagree over popular theory

Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn, Pittsburgh Tech Council CEO Audrey Russo and Carnegie Mellon computer science professor Tuomas Sandholm talk tech in Pittsburgh during a panel moderated by GeekWire reporter Taylor Soper. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

PITTSBURGH — This city’s tech clout has grown immensely in recent years, yet it is often said that Pittsburgh still suffers from a lack of venture capital to fuel startups. But major figures from Pittsburgh’s tech scene differed with each other when discussing that theory during an event Tuesday night.

“Some people say that there is a funding gap; I personally don’t believe that,” said Luis von Ahn, CEO of Duolingo, a language learning company that is one of Pittsburgh’s top tech ventures. “It’s always going to be the case that it is going to be difficult for many emerging startups to get funding, but that would be true in every city because it’s competitive. Your idea has to be good to get funding.”

Duolingo has raised more than $108 million since it was founded in 2011. Von Ahn co-founded reCAPTCHA, which was acquired by Google in 2009. He and his Duolingo co-founder Severin Hacker have begun investing in startups themselves, but von Ahn said they’re having a hard time finding enough companies to put money into.

Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

Audrey Russo, CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, offered a different take — lamenting a lack of funding for startups trying to get off the ground. Investors, she said, will often seek concepts they can relate to because then they can add value to the company. A limited pool of investors restricts which startups can get funded.

Pittsburgh needs a few high-profile startup exits, Russo said, that can put some money in the pockets of entrepreneurs, who can turn around and invest in other companies from a variety of disciplines.

“That’s the piece I think is going to come in time,” Russo said. “I don’t think it’s happening fast enough, but I think as we create more wealth and more opportunities for people who are in different sectors, we will begin to see some of those changes.”

Audrey Russo, CEO of Pittsburgh Technology Council. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

That was one of the key topics addressed during the panel discussion, moderated by GeekWire reporter Taylor Soper at Duolingo’s headquarters in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood as part of our month-long …read more

Source:: GeekWire

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