A new approach to startup growth is coming to Pittsburgh.
Lynsie Campbell, a founder, investor and the newly anointed inaugural startup czar for the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, announced plans to launch the city’s first startup studio this year. With a working name of Hooman, the new startup studio will help founders who might be at an earlier stage than required by most accelerators, as well as those looking for a more hands-on approach in the early growth process.
Campbell was previously the founder of startups LaneSpotter and ShowClix. Joining her on this new studio mission is her former VP of product at ShowClix, Nathaniel Minto — who is now the founder of New Ambit — and Alejandra Rovirosa, an investor with several venture capital firms including the Fund Midwest, where Campbell has been a general partner since February 2021.
After doing some contract work last summer with Indianapolis-based startup studio High Alpha, Campbell told Technical.ly she was just was “blown away by how fast you can make progress when you have a group of people working together to do it kind of efficiently and quickly.”
“I realized that a studio in Pittsburgh could be a good solution to a lot of the problems I was hearing.”
Startup studios often help founders and companies conduct basic market research, collect early customer feedback, develop products and more. Those are all areas of concern that Campbell has heard from local founders in her role so far as startup czar for the PRA. In starting her role, she spoke to as many founders as possible about their experiences building here.
“A lot of the same things started coming up over and over again — you know, not enough early-stage funding here, first customers are really hard to come by, mentorship and advisors are slim at this [early stage] point,” she said. “And as I started to put all these pieces together, I realized that a studio in Pittsburgh could be a good solution to a lot of the problems I was hearing.”
While Hooman doesn’t have an official launch date yet, Campbell said she and her cofounders are pushing for some time this summer. First, they’ll be fundraising for the $250,000 to $500,000 investments they plan to make in successful ideas during their time growing in the studio. The hope, she said, is that this will help resolve the struggle many young startups have to find a big lead investor in their first round. That investment comes with an equity stake that the studio will take in the startups it helps, largely because of the more active hands-on role it has compared to accelerators, which typically don’t take equity, Campbell said.
Hooman will focus on growing people-first, positive impact consumer startups and aim to distribute money across different sectors.
Both investors in the startup studio and founders with an idea they want to grow at the studio can apply from anywhere in the country, though Campbell hopes to have as much Pittsburgh involvement as possible. The types of businesses Hooman will be looking to grow is flexible, too, though Campbell emphasized that she and her team are most interested in “people-first, positive impact consumer startups,” hoping to distribute the money across different sectors, as opposed to a concentration on “deep tech.” Eventually, she hopes that the studio will operate out of a physical space in Pittsburgh that can provide offices for workshopping, meeting, marketing and other needs, as well as offer audio visual and photography equipment.
News of Hooman comes after a dismal year in venture capital raises for Pittsburgh, which fell far behind the record-shattering volumes in other areas of the country in 2021. Though the funding planned for Hooman won’t be enough to fill that gap, it could kickstart companies here that have the potential to attract more, Campbell pointed out. And even if the studio ends up helping a startup that isn’t based in Pittsburgh achieve those milestones, she’s OK with that.
“My hope is that there will be strong interest from Pittsburgh founders, and ultimately, I want to build great startups and I want to help founders be successful,” Campbell said. “But there’s also a big part of me that wants to continue to bolster this ecosystem and be a place where any founder can come and learn and build and not necessarily have to be part of an existing ecosystem.”
Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments. -30-