PGH Lab in Transition: 6.0 Summary and 7.0 Announcement


A banner logo for PGH Lab


PGH Lab began in 2016 to provide startup companies an opportunity to connect with local government. PGH Lab serves to be mutually beneficial to both startups and our City government by allowing startups to test their products and services while improving local government.

PGH Lab offers startups:

  • Opportunities for product and service case studies
  • Access to government networks and experts
  • Educational Programming
  • Consulting
  • Promotion from city platforms

In turn, startups help us innovate City government and engage residents in new and meaningful ways.

This medium post marks the end of our 6th iteration of PGH Lab by providing a summary of the PGH Lab 6.0 cohort. Information for those interested in the next cohort (7.0) will be toward the end of this article.

The PGH Lab Cohort 6.0 was the first in the history of the PGH Lab program to run in an all-virtual capacity, with all 6 startup pilot projects led by or benefiting minorities, women, and disadvantaged residents of Pittsburgh. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, these startups and their government staff volunteers, “City Champions”, persevered to complete 6-month projects about ways that local government could improve its processes and serve the community better with new ideas.

From platforms to engage volunteers to cut grass for elderly neighbors, to text message reminders to residents for recycling bin distribution, these diverse teams were able to test their ideas for the sake of civic innovation in the City of Pittsburgh. A summary of each project and remarks from their respective teams is reviewed below:

Jireh Mobile

A person’s hand is holding a mobile phone with a blurred cityscape in the background. A logo for Jireh Mobile is in the bottom left of the image with a blue hand touching a blue mobile phone. Below is the “JIREHMOBILE” with “JIREH” in blue, and “MOBILE” in gray. At the very bottom are the words “Now You’re Mobile” in orange.
Jireh Mobile’s logo showcasing a phone and hand

Civic Issue: Communication and Engagement with Stakeholders

Jireh Mobile had established two primary projects throughout their time with PGH Lab working alongside their city champion Jamaal Davis. Jamaal Davis works for the Allegheny County Department of Human Services as their Client Experience Manager and helped Jireh Mobile throughout their projects. One of the projects they completed was creating an automated chat service to help a local children’s advocacy organization: Kids Voice. The chat service helped the organization automatically engage with stakeholders and direct them according to user inputs to provide what they request or need assistance with. Additionally, Jireh Mobile also helped create a text message campaign to help disseminate information and engage residents regarding blue-bin distribution. When asked about their experience with PGH Lab, Jireh Mobile founders Curtis and Cassandra Brown had this to say:

“We had a great experience working with the PGH Lab team headed by Itha Cao and our City Champion Jamaal Davis. Working within the two departments of the City of Pittsburgh and The Allegheny County helped us understand how things get done in local government. We were also able to better understand the technology needs and how implementation was executed on a citywide and countywide basis.”

You can read our previous article featuring Jireh Mobile to learn more about their process, or you can access their website here.


A flow chart of information and how it is processed by the AdSkate platform can be seen. Inputs include Newspapers, YouTube, Blogs, and Social Media. Outputs include: Understanding Popular Topics, Tracking Topics of Interest, Analysis of Sentiments for Topics of Interest.
AdSkate’s logo and process flow showcasing inputs from social media and possible outputs

Civic Issue: Lack of Brand Awareness and Service Engagement

AdSkate’s primary project was the creation and monitoring of a targeted ad campaign on YouTube to direct residents who review finance-related content to the City’s Financial Empowerment Center (FEC). The reason they did this was to help raise awareness of the service offered by the FEC to residents and they did so strategically through their startup’s model. Toward the end of PGH Lab, Akaash Ramakrishnan, a member of the Adskate team stated that:

“AdSkate was able to provide value through their project and gathered a variety of data to better enable ad promotion on behalf of the City of Pittsburgh.”

Working with their City Champion Henry Horn-Pyatt, the Small Business and Redevelopment Manager in the Mayor’s office both parties were able to learn a lot about what worked well, what barriers existed, as well as potential next steps to what AdSkate could look to do in the future.

Check out a past article featuring AdSkate here, or if you would like to learn more about AdSkate, you can access their website here.


Sustainible’s logo is placed in the upper left corner with the words “ANALYZE Your business MODEL!” below in various fonts and colors. Sustainable’s partners and their respective logos lie on the bottom. To the right of the image is a man holding a computing device dressed warmly.
Sustainible Banner Logo & PGH Lab 6.0 Partners

Civic Issue: Fostering Success for Small Businesses in Tough Times

Sustainible’s main project involved testing its business assessment tool with small businesses and the URA where their City Champion, Karlee Turkaly, works as a Senior Lending Analyst. Toward the end of PGH Lab, Sustainible was able to gather a significant amount of data and knowledge through feedback sessions with URA’s commercial and business lending staff; in other words, employees who would have a lot of background and knowledge that could help Sustainible grow and develop its tool further. As a consequence of working with the URA, Sustainible pivoted more heavily toward developing its tool for the sake of entrepreneurs.

Reflecting on their experience together, Sustainible’s City Champion, Karlee, had this to say:

“Not only did Talpha [Harris] (founder of Sustainible) and I work very well together and have similar working styles, but we were also able to explore; with the help of the URA and the City, the Sustainable assessment tool in detail and bring to light how it can help entrepreneurs in the first 6–12 months of starting a business or for those who are thinking about starting one.”

To learn more about Sustainible, you can read a past article featured here. You can also access their website here.

Civic Champs

An image with green grass on the bottom and a bright yellow sun in the upper right corner encompasses “Community Cuts” in a large green font. Right below “Community Cuts” is “powered by” in blue font with the Civic Champs logo, which is a c surrounded by a hand and a + sign with a logo for the City of Pittsburgh. A site is also in the image which reads “”
Community Cuts Banner Logo & Partners

Civic Issue: Difficulty of City Volunteer Management

Civic Champs partnered with City Champion Leah Friedman from the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs to deliver a new and unique way to engage residents as volunteers. They did this by helping to implement “Community Cuts”, a voluntary lawn servicing program for those who need it. In their implementation of the Community Cuts program, Civic Champs developed a software tool called "helping hands". This tool was designed as a mobile-first technology platform to connect neighbors in need of volunteers rapidly and at scale. After deployment of helping hands, Civic Champs trained and engaged several volunteers to serve residents in Council Districts 2 and 4 which are overseen by City Councilors Theresa Kail-Smith and Anthony Coghill, respectively. In working with PGH Lab, the team at Civic Champs felt they had learned more of how the City works, as well as how it could be improved; especially with how it handles volunteers. In reflection of their work the Civic Champs team had this to say:

“The entire team at Civic Champs wants to offer our immense gratitude to the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs and our patience, positive, and insightful city champions Leah Friedman and Gisele Betances. Leah and Gisele’s collaboration on this project was our primary conduit for learning about the complicated task of fostering civic engagement in cities and they were a joy to learn from and work with. … PGH Lab provided Civic Champs with a unique opportunity to manifest our vision in a new sector and continue to execute our mission of creating the most intuitive and impactful volunteer management software for impactful organizations and their champions.”

You can read more about Civic Champs in a past article featured here. You can also learn more about Civic Champs through their website which can be found here.


An image of a person pushing pathMet along sidewalks in the City of Pittsburgh to map accessibility.
A worker pushes pathVu’s tool to analyze sidewalk infrastructure

Civic Issue: Lack of Reliable Data for City Infrastructure

pathVu’s main work revolved around aggregating data related to pedestrian infrastructure. This is important for two reasons: 1) because there must be an accurate record of the state of government infrastructure and 2), because it helps inform governments on where their priorities should lie to make strategic decisions. Founded in 2014, pathVu has worked to create an ever-expanding database with data relating to pedestrian infrastructure. What sets pathVu apart, however, is the unique way they collect data which is several times faster and cheaper than traditional data collection for infrastructure.

pathVu’s work aligned closely with that of their primary City Champion, Hillary Roman who serves as the City of Pittsburgh’s ADA coordinator. In working with pathVu through PGH Lab, Hillary had this to say:

“PGH Lab fosters opportunity for Pittsburgh’s community-minded innovators. It was a joy to work with such an inspiring team!”

You can read more about pathVu in a past featured article here. Additionally, you can access their website to learn more here.

Overview & Moving Forward

The PGH Lab 6.0 cohort collectively spent approximately 2,500 hours and engaged hundreds of residents with each of their startup projects. While the startups were a part of the PGH Lab program, they additionally received educational presentations and consultation from the City to help inform them of how they can do business in the City, or improve aspects of their current business operations based on social media, process improvement, and data visualization. We are proud to have been able to work with so many great companies who are civic-minded and are eager to work with more in the future providing greater value to entrepreneurs and residents of the city alike.

You can now apply for the 7.0 Cohort of PGH Lab here! Stay up to date with I&P news by subscribing to our newsletter or following us on Twitter.


We would also like to acknowledge the Center for Empathy Education’s Samantha Watkins and Footbridge for Families’ Kimberly Eckel for their participation in PGH Lab to test their early pilots alongside their City Champion agency which was the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh.

A special thanks to Itha Cao, former Senior Civic Innovation Specialist for all her hard work facilitating the PGH Lab 6.0 Cohort.