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Thrival Festival to showcase Pittsburgh’s music, tech scenes |

Thrival Festival to showcase Pittsburgh’s music, tech scenes

Pass through East Liberty and Larimer this week, and you might hear some music and see some gadgets made right here in Pittsburgh.

The Thrival Festival starts Monday, featuring a week’s worth of novel computer products and people brainstorming about how to persuade tech types that Pittsburgh fosters innovation. Plus, there’s music. Talib Kweli will play on Saturday, and Moby will perform on Sunday.

“The goal of this year is to make some noise, to get Pittsburgh on the map more than we already are — to darken the blot,” said Bobby Zappala, CEO of Thrill Mill, an East End tech business incubator sponsoring the festival.

In its second iteration, Thrival panels will look at technology in education during the week, plus the local maker movement, video games and social responsibility in technology. During the weekend, hours of music will include local bands and up-and-coming acts, in addition to the headliners. It’s a similar, if smaller, version of the yearly South by Southwest Festival in Austin, with one big difference.

“In Austin, for South by Southwest, everyone’s converging from other places,” Zappala said. “Here, we want to highlight, to spotlight, all the things inherent in Pittsburgh.”

On Saturday, several small businesses will compete in a business pitch contest, with the winner getting thousands of dollars to develop and promote a product, be it an app, or something manufactured.

It’s those manufactured products that have Ilana Diamond feeling hopeful about Pittsburgh’s future. She’s the managing director of AlphaLab Gear, an incubator that helps businesses get from concept to creation.

“There have been changes in hardware, and now investors are more interested,” Diamond said. “Now is a great time to be a physical product company.”

Zappala said several of the companies pitching on Saturday actually make things, such as clothes and other products from recycled plastic, and a cell phone case that offers personal protection. Others use software to improve the lives of people who are blind and young graduates seeking jobs. There’s even high-tech makeup in the competition.

As much emphasis as the festival has on tech, other types of entrepreneurship won’t be overlooked.

On Tuesday night, Kara Rolf, a student at Brownsville Area High School who makes handcrafted fudge, and Derica Sanchez of Urban Pathways Charter School, Downtown, who makes rugged dog collars, will present their products in a public practice session. The audience will give the students feedback as they prepare to pitch their products at a national contest that offers a $20,000 scholarship.

“We want them to get their presentation skills under their belts, get their jitters under control and hear different things from people who may bring different perspectives,” said Jerry Cozewith, president of Entrepreneuring Youth, the program that taught the girls about business. “I’m hoping people will recognize the need to go further upstream in the education process. We’re working with kids as young as 11.”

Megha Satyanarayana is a staff writer at Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7991 or [email protected].

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