The Pittsburgh tech scene is getting a little more love from Seattle.
Cascadia Capital, a Seattle-based investment banking firm founded more than two decades ago, is looking to Pittsburgh for its new special-purpose acquisition company, according to a report from the Pittsburgh Business Journal.
The firm traditionally helps facilitate deals, but last month it raised $ 150 million for its own SPAC called Cascadia Acquisition Corp. Its goal is to buy a technology company as part of the “fourth industrial revolution”, in sectors such as AI, vision by computer, blockchain and more.
Cascadia president and CEO Michael Butler has spent more time in Pittsburgh in recent years and is convinced the city is poised for a tech boom.
“Pittsburgh is Seattle about 10 to 15 years ago,” he told GeekWire on Tuesday.
Butler pointed to “world-class” technological development in robotics, automation, artificial intelligence and medical technology, as well as research coming from institutions like Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh.
“Great engineering talent, great city and quality of life,” he said.
GeekWire reported on some of those same trends when we spent a month in the City of Steel four years ago, as part of our GeekWire HQ2 project.
This was my 2017 take on the Pittsburgh and Seattle tech communities comparison:
Both places have crazy smart people working on innovative technologies that are open to collaboration. There is an impressive positive energy in both cities.
Seattle’s tech ecosystem is simply more robust. There are anchor tenants at Microsoft and Amazon, along with huge second-tier companies like Tableau, Zillow, Redfin, Zulily, Expedia, T-Mobile, and others. Pittsburgh needs more like these. That will help attract more investors and tech talent, ultimately growing the ecosystem.
There is also more technology in Seattle in general. For example, Pittsburgh still has a ton of cash-only restaurants, while in Seattle it seems like every local store now has Square. It seems that Seattle is just a few steps from the future. But the countless self-driving cars that buzz around Pittsburgh are a sign that things may be changing in the City of Steel.
Pittsburgh’s influence as a tech hub has grown since then.
The city’s best-known startup, Duolingo, went public in July, which should provide even more impetus for the local startup scene. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft also have sizable corporate offices and are hiring. Uber had part of its autonomous driving unit based in the city; announced plans late last year to sell that arm to Aurora, another growing Pittsburgh tech company.
Local universities also continue to focus on innovation. CMU is building the world’s first academic cloud lab, while the University of Pittsburgh launched a Disinformation Lab in June.
Other investors are also looking at Pittsburgh as a possible next big tech hub.
In addition to its SPAC, Cascadia is looking in the city for other potential deals. Butler said Pittsburgh has a shortage of management, sales and marketing leaders, but like Seattle, “it is able to attract talent because of the livability of the city.”
“It’s the same movie,” he said.