Innovation & Manufacturing


In 2017, a Foundation grant of $20,000,000 over three years is supporting CMU’s launch of the Manufacturing Futures Initiative (MFI), a manufacturing hub across industries. MFI, together with the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing (ARM) Institute, which seeks to help industry adopt new technologies that will lead to the creation of 510,000 manufacturing and related services jobs across the United States by 2025, will serve as the underpinning for all CMU manufacturing research projects, building the initiative into the country’s leading manufacturing hub and driving job growth throughout Pittsburgh. The grant also is supporting efforts to locate and outfit the ARM Institute’s facilities at Almono, where it will serve as the anchor tenant in the RIDC Mill Building.

A Foundation grant of $1,750,000 to Innovation Works is helping the organization to invest seed capital in the technology-based startup companies, expand its Scalable Innovation Manufacturing program to connect startups with local manufacturers, and expand Startable Pittsburgh to provide more students ages 16 through 18 with opportunities to design, prototype, and manufacture physical products for sale in retail settings.

Also in 2017, a Foundation grant  of $1,050,000 over two years to Thrill Mill – rebranded as Ascender – is supporting the organization as it expands its co-working space, programming, and Thrival Festival through new partnerships with Beauty Shoppe, Live Nation, and NewCo.


Nearly one in five Americans has a physical disability that renders them dependent on physical assistance to function in daily life. In 2015, the Foundation awarded a $250,000 grant to CMU’s Robotics Institute for a new initiative, the Center for Assistive Care Robotics for Everyday Living (CARE). CARE is working to develop new hardware and artificial intelligence algorithms to aid individuals with physical disabilities in completing daily tasks, such as eating, in a real-world setting such as a restaurant or home.

Again in 2015, the Foundation provided funding to Thrill Mill, a start-up accelerator and the only one in the region branded to appeal to millennials. A grant of $400,000 over two years enabled Thrill Mill to hire three full-time staff members to support 50 start-up companies annually, responding to local demand and effectively competing with other cities nationwide for a highly mobile talent pool. An additional Foundation grant of $5,000 helped offset the costs of a $10,000 fee assessed by RIDC for use of the Almono site for Thrill Mill’s weeklong, annual Thrival Music and Innovation Festival that highlighted the new ideas and entrepreneurs fueling Pittsburgh’s 21st century economic resurgence.


A Foundation grant of $250,000 to Carnegie Mellon University supported the research and technology phase of the international Lunar X competition, which was designed to land a robot safely on the moon, have it travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send data back to earth.


In 2013, the Foundation awarded $350,000 over two years to East Liberty Development Incorporated (ELDI) for Thrill Mill, Inc. a non-profit organization designed to invigorate the strong entrepreneurial core of students and professionals to generate new businesses and jobs in the Pittsburgh region. Thrill Mill encompasses a business plan competition, a business incubator space, and a music festival used as a fundraising vehicle. Business and educational leaders, as well as entrepreneurs leverage their networks to provide mentorship, instruction and programming, and ultimately investor relationships for start-up initiatives across all industries.


A Foundation grant of $2.5 million to the RIDC Fund for Economic Growth supported the organization’s efforts to attract high tech manufacturing companies to the region, as well as expand operations of those already established in southwestern Pennsylvania, through a loan program. Funding was limited to companies whose manufacturing endeavors created more than 100 jobs in the region and used the loans to develop or expand production facilities by purchasing machinery or by constructing buildings or manufacturing sites.


A 2010 Foundation grant of $30,000 to the Cleveland Development Foundation helped facilitate and develop partnership and funding opportunities in support of Cleveland-to-Pittsburgh Tech-Belt Initiative, a regional economic development strategy to reinvigorate the Cleveland-to-Pittsburgh region (Cleveland, Youngstown, and Pittsburgh) by leveraging and building on its unique civic, educational, healthcare, and industrial institutions. The Tech-Belt Initiative was instrumental in a proposal that led to a federal government award of $30 million that was matched by another $40 million in industry contributions to launch the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII), located in Youngstown, Ohio, and led by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining. Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh are key partners in the Institute, which helped set the stage for the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing (ARM) Institute and the Manufacturing Futures Initiative (MFI).

A $50,000 Foundation grant to CMU’s Robotics Institute (RI) helped support the university’s entry in the Lunar X competition, an international competition to land a robot safely on the moon, have it travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send data back to earth. Headed by William “Red” Whittaker, who guided several CMU teams to wins in driverless vehicle competitions, Astrobotic, CMU’s Lunar X competition team has, as of 2017, won three Lunar X Milestone Prizes: the Landing Prize ($1 million), Mobility Prize ($500,000), and Imaging Prize ($250,000), for a total of $1.75.

Operating under the belief that technology is a critical driver of growth in southwestern Pennsylvania, Innovation Works (IW) has, for nearly three decades, sought to increase the success rate of the region's technology and technology-adopting companies through direct investment, business assistance and infrastructure development. Economic conditions in 2009 caused the state to reduce IW’s budget from $8 million to $5.5 million, even as the federal National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), located in the region, saw a multi-billion increase in funding. A Foundation grant of $2.4 million in 2010 helped ensure that IW could play a significant role in the technology transfer process to commercialize NETL-funded research, even though NETL funding restrictions prevented the lab from compensating IW for this work. These efforts supported the Foundation’s strategic priority to create strong connections between the region and NETL by capturing funding for products and companies that would strengthen the region.

The Foundation awarded a $160,000 grant to the Allegheny-Singer Research Institute (ASRI) to conduct a Phase II evaluation of a bioremediation process for cleaning fluids associated with the fracturing process used in drilling Marcellus Shale gas wells. The Foundation previously funded laboratory research proving that naturally occurring bacteria can remove contaminants from the returned well water. Phase II of the research scaled the project to industrial-sized volumes, resulting in new technology to treat contaminated water that occurs when fracturing the Marcellus Shale for natural gas.


In 2009, the Foundation awarded a $100,000 grant to the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM), which was established to support the manufacturing and machining needs of the U.S. Department of Defense and its industrial supply base. One of NCDMM’s core programs is its small shop initiative, created to help smaller manufacturing shops compete for Department of Defense work through the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development Program.

A Foundation grant of  $40,000 was made to the Pennsylvania State University to support development of a business plan for BioEnergy Bridge, a university-industry partnership designed to address the need to integrate research and technology in efforts to develop and deploy bioenergy resources. Linking agriculture, forestry, environmental science, and energy through a special focus on biomass energy crops such as trees and perennial grasses grown specifically to provide raw materials (feedstocks) for energy producers and industry, the BioEnergy Bridge addressed the full spectrum of challenges associated with increasing biofuel production from source material and transportation to business development and environmental impacts.

A second Foundation grant of $40,000 to the Pennsylvania State University that same year supported development of a business and engineering plan to evaluate the feasibility of retrofitting and reusing the former Westmoreland Manor Waste-to-Energy plant to produce energy from biomass, and develop an energy incubator to stimulate economic growth in the region. 


Innovation Works, Inc. provides support to entrepreneurs and institutions working to turn raw ideas and technology into commercial products. In 2008, the Foundation awarded the company $600,000 for two-year support of the AlphaLab, an initiative designed to serve as a catalyst for rapid product development and commercialization of next-generation software, entertainment technology, and Internet-related companies. The model for AlphaLab includes housing the entrepreneurs and institutions in a common location, as well as offering invitation-only access to user groups to test products quickly, and using social media to market and sell products. To date, Innovation Works has invested more than $53 million in more than 160 technology start-ups – including ModCloth. 4Moms, Civic Science, and ShowClix, as well as AlphaLab companies such as The Resumator, No Wait, and Shoefitr – that have gone on to raise $1.3 billion from investors across the nation. 

The Robotics Foundry and Digital Greenhouse, Inc., doing business as The Technology Collaborative (TTC) advances and supports economic development through programs that create high-value jobs by attracting and expanding companies and supporting universities that are developing and leveraging the region's world-class assets in robotics, advanced electronics, and cyber security. Since its founding in 1999, the initiative has created nearly 2,000 new jobs that pay at least $70,000 per year and 46 new companies that have formed in or been attracted to the region from elsewhere, contributing to Pennsylvania’s venture capital growth rate, which is the second highest in the country. A grant of $1.5 million over three years from the Foundation to TTC in 2008 enabled TTC to continue its collaborative work with industry partners, including Sony, John Deere, IBM and others.


In 2007, the Foundation again supported CMU’s Robotics Institute with a grant of $250,000, this time for the Urban Challenge, a 60-mile urban race course for driverless vehicles. CMU’s team, Tartan Racing, a cooperative venture with General Motors and led by the Robotics Institute’s William “Red” Whittaker, created Boss, the self-driving SUV that won the competition and the $2 million cash prize for CMU.


Established in 2002 to identify and transform ideas in information technology into marketable products and companies, the Idea Foundry (IF) begins with “idea conception” and ends with “start-up” companies. In 2006, the Foundation awarded $600,000 to the IF’s Transformation Fellowship program, helping to make it possible for individuals and teams with early-stage ideas that have commercial promise to transform them into fundable companies. The unique process incorporates advice, support, and direction from the Idea Foundry’s mentors, advisors, and management team, all of whom are experienced entrepreneurs able to guide Fellows to develop and build critical business components around their ideas. By 2006, eight companies had been formed and spun out. Seven more projects had been purchased by other companies and/or were actively selling their products but had not yet been spun out. Thirteen projects were in development and two had failed. These companies and projects generated $25 million in funding or new revenues and created as many as 140 jobs.

Also in 2006, the Foundation awarded $600,000 to the Robotics Foundry and Digital Greenhouse, Inc. to support a technology commercialization competition designed to identify and support start-up organizations with economic development potential in advanced electronics, cyber security, and robotics, further leveraging the region’s advantages as a technology-based economy.


A Foundation grant of $300,000 to CMU again supported the Red Team’s driverless vehicle program. Five of the 24 vehicles finished the course successfully. CMU captured second and third place in the competition.

Also in 2005, a $50,000 Foundation grant to MPC Corporation, a joint venture between Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, supported development of a regional technology strategy that could be translated into concrete outcomes with measurable impact on the region.Founded in 1999 as a collaborative effort among the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Penn State the University of Pittsburgh, and Carnegie Mellon University, the Pittsburgh Digital Greenhouse (PDG) aimed to develop a cluster of companies focused on advanced semiconductor and related technologies, as well as cyber security, for computers, networks, and consumer electronics. The Robotics Foundry was begun in 2002 to generate economic development around robotics, advanced electronics, and related technologies. On January 1, 2005, when the PDG and the Robotics Foundry merged to form The Technology Collaborative (TTC), a Foundation grant of $750,000 to PDG supported the new entity, which sought to build an industry cluster around the application of System-on-a-Chip (SOC) technology in the digital multimedia and digital networking markets.


Established in 2002, Idea Foundry (IF) is a western Pennsylvania collaborative of universities, private foundations, industry, government, and venture capitalists collectively stimulating innovation, new company creation, and job growth to accelerate the region's position as a technology leaders. In 2004, a Foundation grant of $700,000 identified and supported the development of viable entrepreneurial technology projects.

That same year, a Foundation grant of $250,000 to CMU supported the Red Team’s driverless vehicle entry, Sandstorm, in a CMU-led alliance of more than 50 students, faculty members, and corporate partners organized and led by world-renowned robotics professor William “Red” Whittaker. The race, the Grand Challenge Desert Race, from Barstow, CA, to Las Vegas, NV, was sponsored by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and was intended to help pioneer autonomous ground vehicle navigation technologies designed to meet a Congressional mandate to deploy such robot systems extensively in the military by 2015. Although none of the vehicles finished the race, CMU’s Sandstorm traveled the greatest distance, completing more than seven miles of the course.


CMU and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) created the NASA Robotics Engineering Consortium (NREC). Within two years, the Consortium had attracted more than $10 million in matching funds from the city of Pittsburgh and the state of Pennsylvania to support the NREC physical plant. It also secured more than $10 million in corporate sponsorship, with major support from Caterpillar, Ford, New Holland, Silicon Graphics, Deneb, Joy Manufacturing, and Heister Corp. Among the NREC’s first major projects were development of an automated agricultural harvesting system and an autonomous mining vehicle.


A grant of $300,000 from the Foundation provided support to the Pittsburgh Technology Center, one of the nation’s first advanced technology inner-city research and development centers and the first knowledge-based industry housed on an overhauled and refurbished riverfront industrial site. The Pittsburgh Technology Center is home to the Enterprise Corporation of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh High Technology Council.


In 1983, a $1.5 million grant from the Foundation to the CMU President’s Discretionary Fund provided the University’s leadership with flexibility to develop new programs and to strengthen departmental offerings, including those in the Department of Computer Science. Among the top three computer science departments in the world and well known for its work in artificial intelligence, the department’s research findings have been a major force in endeavors that enable computers to serve human needs.


Foundation funding supported CMU’s University Technology Development Center, an incubator and accelerator facility designed to house fledgling companies and entrepreneurs. The Foundation also provided seed money to help establish the Enterprise Corporation of Pittsburgh, which was specifically devoted to nurturing new companies specializing in technology related products.


Dr. Herbert A. Simon, Richard King Mellon University Professor of Computer Science and Psychology received the Nobel Prize in Economics for his pioneering work in decision-making processes.


When the Mellon Institute merged with Carnegie Institute of Technology to create Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), the Foundation donated $300,000 to establish a Transportation Research Institute. By this time, research and development was Pittsburgh’s third largest industry, with more than 170 laboratories in the region. During the next two decades, the Foundation donated gifts totaling $11 million to the President’s Discretionary Fund at CMU, providing President Richard M. Cyert with flexibility and funding to lead the university to international prominence in research, technology, and teaching.


Aerospace technology research began at the Mellon Institute with a grant of $197,000 from the U.S. Air Force’s Office of Aerospace Research.


The Foundation donated $7.7 million (the largest gift in the Foundation’s first 25 years) to create and endow a Fundamental Research Trust at the Mellon Institute. It also helped construct and equip the Institute’s Bushy Run Laboratory, including the purchase of a Van de Graaff accelerator to study radiation and atomic energy.


Richard King Mellon supported Carnegie Institute of Technology with personal gifts totaling $14.5 million. The Charitable Trusts gave the school an additional $5.6 million in the 1960s, a portion of which was directed to building the school’s internationally renowned Department of Computer Science.


The Richard King Mellon Foundation was created as a vehicle for public educational and charitable purposes. Today, it invests in an array of broad and far-reaching initiatives throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.


Brothers Andrew W. Mellon and Richard B. Mellon, father of Richard King Mellon, established the Mellon Institute, the first applied industrial research organization of its kind in the U.S. It put Pittsburgh on a new course as a center for scientific investigation and manufacturing and set the stage for the family’s longtime support of innovation and manufacturing in its business and philanthropic endeavors. Complementing the work of the Mellon Institute, the brothers’ seed capital through Mellon Bank launched major industrial manufacturers, including Alcoa, and led to the development of other new companies in Pittsburgh. Among them were Union Carbide and Dow Corning.