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Release Date: Wednesday, March 16th 2016


The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership announced at their Annual Meeting today four inaugural recipients of BetaBurgh grants. BetaBurgh is a new initiative that invests in innovative ideas from the startup, entrepreneur, non-profit and small business communities in Pittsburgh. The program is designed to create an opportunity to test and launch products and services within the Downtown marketplace. Applicants were asked to activate a Downtown space, anything from engaging pedestrians through interactive tools, programs, devices, or technology, or by implementing a new, creative physical infrastructure in the space itself that will also advance their business concept or demonstrate new technology or products.

“We were genuinely inspired by the more than 35 innovative, thoughtful proposals we received,” said Jeremy Waldrup, President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. “We are enthusiastically anticipating the arrival of the four inaugural projects. The projects will entertain and educate while bringing new energy and activity to Downtown while supporting start-ups in the development of their business.”

The program is financially supported by the BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania with technical assistance provided by Innovation Works, AlphaLab and AlphaLab Gear, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, and Thrill Mill.

“With each spark of innovation demonstrated by these exceptional first projects, we build a future that is more sustainable, more collaborative and more dynamic,” said Kenya Boswell, President, BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania.  “This program is a reflection of our mission and core values to improve lives through investing.”

The four selected projects are:

The Aquaponics Project

The Aquaponics Project was established to educate the public about sustainable urban farming practices, and bring those practices to life within the community. The Aquaponics Project demonstrates the principles of aquaponics through workshops, and allows those who are interested to gain hands-on experience building, and managing aquaponics systems.

This BetaBurgh project will involve the renovation of a 20’ shipping container that will house a sustainable aquaponics eco-system, which will provide various produce to local businesses and educate the community on sustainable farming practices. The shipping container will take up approximately 160 square feet, but has the ability to produce up to 400 pounds of lettuce a month, as well as 300 pounds of freshwater fish. The Aquaponics Project will be open for daytime tours and will sell produce to consumers.

Digital Dream Labs

Digital Dream Labs is a Pittsburgh-based company focused on engaging children in Kindergarten through 5th grade with an interactive tool that assists in jump-starting STEM education in previously unreachable grades. They have developed a product called Puzzlets that uses puzzle pieces and a digital game to engage children in in cooperative and creative game play. 

For BetaBurgh, Digital Dream Labs will create a large-format Puzzlets product that will have their signature game Cork the Volcano. A large table-top kiosk will replace the tablet and the hand-held tray with small puzzle pieces will become a 2 feet by three feet panel with six inch square puzzle pieces. This large-scale version of Puzzlets will be available for testing throughout Downtown. Expect to see Puzzlets at major Downtown events and out and about during your lunch hour. 

Fine Art Miracles

Fine Art Miracles (FAM), a Pittsburgh-based non-profit, provides the cognitive, social and emotional benefits of fine art lessons, art and music therapy and social robot enhanced learning to under-served children and adult, has partnered with CEEMI, Collaborative Experiential Electronic Musical Instruments a new music technology start-up from Carnegie Mellon University.

For their BetaBurgh programming, FAM and CEEMI will use a CEEMI hardware device that can turn any Wi-Fi compatible device into a musical instrument. It has been specifically designed to bring together groups of people with little to no musical experience to play and engage as a symphony, jazz band, African drummers, and more. “CEEMI for Lunch: A Musical Luncheon” will test the new technology with daytime crowds throughout Downtown Pittsburgh.

LA Kids

LA (Land + Art) Kids is an initiative that provides experiential education in renewable energy, community sustainability, construction and art design for Pittsburgh Public School students in grades six through twelve. Students combine their technical knowledge with art design to construct solar energy artwork that educates the larger community on the importance of our collective role in conserving the earth’s resources with real world applications. 

For BetaBurgh, LA Kids will be build a solar powered art-installation that will also provide free charging stations for mobile devices. The artwork will be comprised of reusable materials from Construction Junction and work with a local solar energy manufacturer to install solar panels. The sculpture will be a smaller version of a concept they have submitted to the 2016 Land Art Generator Initiative competition in Santa Monica, California.

According to Tess Almendarez Lojacono, president and CEO of Fine Art Miracles, Inc. “Fine Art Miracles, Inc. and CEEMI, are thrilled to have a chance to share CEEMI for Lunch with the Downtown crowd - an eclectic group of folks who deserve some creative respite.”

It was also announced at the meeting that later in 2016, and additional round of proposals will be sought, with plans to fund additional BetaBurgh projects.

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