Pittsburgh: the Robotics Capital of North America

Sabrina Sasaki
4 min readMar 20


This is the 2nd of a series of posts about Boston, Pittsburgh and Toronto, relevant East Coast startup hubs for active early stage hardtech investors. My purpose is to share a few impressions for a glimpse of the current state of Robotics, AI & AV Startups in the US & Canada. In the context of post-pandemic lessons, I traveled to meet founders in the robotics industry, a vertical addressing a critical labour shortage situation, with constant disruptions in the workforce and long term consequences that require investor’s acknowledgement.

Pittsburgh Robotics Network organized Discovery Day 2022, focused on Autonomous Mobile Robots

As our Monozukuri Ventures Canada office kicks off, I recap a few selected urban hubs where robotic-related startups seem to be leading the future of manufacturing and automation, AI and robotics.

Since we invested in over 50 companies based in Japan and the US, eight of these startups are from Pittsburgh, PA (+ two others from Philadelphia, the capital), making this hub a very important one for our investments. So far, about 1 out of 5 companies in our portfolio are originally from the state of Pennsylvania.

And it looks like we haven't been alone: in 2017, when we started writing checks for Pittsburgh-based companies, local startups attracted a record of $687m in investment with more than half of this money coming from VCs. And over 30% of this investment has gone into the hardware-related sector, the core of our investment thesis. At the same time, back in 2018 there were 16 exits worth more than $250m.

Source: Startup Genome

Pittsburgh gained fame as “Steel City” since the industrial revolution but suffered drastic economic decline and job losses during the 1980s. Now, it uses its heritage of industry, university expertise and a skilled workforce to build the footprint to become a hub of high tech, robotics, AI, health care and much more.

Source: Startup Genome

'Pittsburgh is home to two world-class research universities — Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and the University of Pittsburgh — as well as two other major research institutions and dozens of other post-secondary institutions. The ecosystem continues to be home to one of the greatest concentrations of research and tech talent in the U.S., and a community of purpose-driven builders, makers, and innovators has grown up around this nucleus.' (Source: Startup Genome)

The emerging “Advanced Manufacturing” wave, with more than 1,600 technology firms in town and companies such as General Electric (GE), Bosch, Philips, Google and Uber establishing large research centres there (Advanced Manufacturing Center for GE and Advanced Tech Centre for Autonomous Driving for Uber), joined more recently by Facebook Reality Labs, Amazon Alexa for the International Technology (INTech) team and Apple.

It has attracted a vibrant startup scene — with Alphalab Gear as one of the top Hardware Accelerators in the world, part of Innovation Works (one of top 20 most active seed stage investors in the world and one of the few based out of the Bay Area). Source: Pitchbook NVCA Venture Monitor.

Back in 2018, I shared a post about the Hardware Cup, a startup competition organized by Pittsburgh-based Alpha Lab Gear, a hardware accelerator part of Innovation Works ecosystem. Since we co-organize Monozukuri Hardware Cup in Kyoto, a Japanese edition in a similar format of pitch competition, we’ve been working closely with local investors, mentors and startups in the ecosystem.

Carnegie Mellon University Spin-offs: we have been in touch with dozens of CMU spinoff founders with great understanding of edge tech. The university has great ecosystem supporters, providing mentorship and coaching since their initial steps toward commercialization.

The recent announcements by startups shutting down — Fifth Season, Argo AI and more recently Locomation, allow local companies to offer new opportunities for the qualified laid off talent willing to join a new project, in a way the ecosystem is in constant transformation.

Robotics Discovery Day 2022 by Pittsburgh Robotics Network had an entire area dedicated to edtech, where children could play and experience what the future of robotics might look like when they grow up.

Pittsburgh Robotics Network: co-hosts of the RAAI (Robotics, Automation & AI Conference) with Innovation Works + Carnegie Mellon University’s AI & Robotics Venture Fair, adding a combined event with Cascadia Capital, a Seattle-based investment bank.

The next event will take place from May 1–3, 2023​​​​​ at The Fairmont Pittsburgh, US. Are you're planning to join us? Sign up here and let's meet there!



Sabrina Sasaki

Latina in Toronto. Principal@Monozukuri VC. Innovation, cultures & people. Investment & BizDev. Early Stage Hard-tech/Manufacturing Emerging Manager