December Change Makers: Pittsburgh Cluster

December Change Makers: Pittsburgh Cluster

All year we have profiled leaders who work tirelessly to make their cities more beautiful, successful, and inclusive. To close out 2016, we are featuring an entire city, rather than a single person – the gritty, tough, and fabulous Pittsburgh.

Though we wish we could have profiled every person we have the privilege to work with from the city, it would have been a book, rather than a blog.

Check out four leaders who are growing Pittsburgh:

Tracy Certo, Founder + Publisher, NEXTpittsburgh
William Generate Jr., J.D., President & CEO, Urban Innovation21
Nathan Martin, CEO, Deeplocal
Jane Werner, Executive Director, Children’s Museum

Tracy Certo, Founder + Publisher, NEXTpittsburgh  //

What inspires you?
I find travel very inspirational. It’s the one time I can really blast through everyday constraints and see the big picture. A few weeks ago I spent several hours hiking a glacier in Iceland, one that was featured in the outstanding documentary Chasing Ice. It was not only one of the top adventures ever but it was fascinating seeing firsthand the effects of climate change such as the mountain next to the glacier, which wasn’t visible 30 years ago.

What are one or two projects on which you are currently working that excite you?
We’re nearly finished with a renovation project in our new home. I love design and when things come together just right—the fireplace stone, the refinished floors, the gorgeous wood bar top my brother made — it’s a beautiful thing and we get to enjoy it every day.

I’m working on all kinds of things with NEXTpittsburgh, including a major imitative about makers that we’ll be announcing soon — but mostly I’m excited about the many creative and ambitious people we feature and the cool things they are doing to advance the city. It’s a great time to be in Pittsburgh.

What’s your advice for the next generation of city change makers?
Keep the big goals in mind and park your ego. Collaboration doesn’t have to be a contact sport. In a recent two-hour meeting with a group working on a very worthwhile but challenging neighborhood project, I was struck by how many people around the table were listening intently, seeking to solve problems, and working toward our objectives. Be one of those people who works to get things done without making it about themselves.

What should we know that you haven’t yet mentioned because I didn’t ask the right question?

William Generate Jr., J.D., President & CEO, Urban Innovation21 //

Bill Generett is the inaugural President & CEO of Urban Innovation21, a public-private partnership that supports the growth of Pittsburgh’s innovation economy and connects underserved communities and their residents to this growth.

What inspires you to work for increase economic equality?

This work is in my blood. I grew up in a civil rights family: My uncle was the attorney that integrated the University of Alabama. My mom worked on school desegregation issues for the Johnson Administration, and throughout her professional and civic career worked for the economic equality. And my father was a doctor who fought for women’s rights.  Because of my upbringing I’ve always worked on these issues.

My wife and I decided to move to Pittsburgh in 2007 because the city was different from the city I left.  I was excited to see the city’s transformation from steel and manufacturing into an economy based on education, technology, and medicine. But at the same time, I was equally upset that there were so many neighborhoods and people that were not connected to this economic transformation. That motivated me to get involved in this work, and I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s my life’s calling.

I was very lucky to grow up with a strong family and support system. I want as many people as possible to have the things that they need to be the best that they can be.

Why Pittsburgh?

I grew up in Pittsburgh. I left when I was eighteen years old, and after living through the painful economic decline of the city, I swore that I would never come back.

I lived in Atlanta, in Japan for a short while, and in Washington, DC. When my wife and I were looking to move from D.C., my wife suggested we look into moving to Pittsburgh. We realized that it would be a great place for us to raise our family and to grow in our careers.

With my background as an attorney, and my wife’s as a professor of education, we were fortunate to be bale to take advantage of much of what the city’s new economy could offer. But so many people in Pittsburgh cannot take advantage of the good jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities in this new economy. So we both work to bridge those gaps for city residents.

What are one or two projects on which you are currently working that excite you?

I am really excited for the upcoming year. At Urban Innovation21, our work focuses on developing and educating a wide array of stakeholders about inclusive innovation and equitable development, policy while simultaneously making that work come alive in practice.

We have been working with partners including Policy Link and Neighborhood Allies to create an equitable framework for the city that provides, at a high level, tactics that can be used in order to become a more equitable community.

This project arose as a result of conversations about equity in Pittsburgh, and the realization that there was not one common framework for for-profit, non-profit, and public entities. One challenge is organizations not understanding why this work was important.  Another is organizations not using the same language to discuss economic inclusion. We also see some organizations doing good work that needs to be scaled to have impact.

With support from Heinz Endowments, Policy Link collected feedback from the public and private sectors, as well as community organizations, and put together this roadmap. It’s been really well received in the community, and we hope that it will help everyone get onto the same page. We are looking forward to implementing this roadmap as a guide for our action next year and beyond.

I am also excited about the “inclusive” entrepreneurship place based programming that is taking place in four of our regions most disconnected communities. We are especially excited about a public private partnership that is taking form in the Northside section of Pittsburgh that will focus on inclusive innovation. There will be more details as this project moves forward, but I am excited.

What’s your advice for the next generation of city change makers?

First, make sure that you understand the history of the field in which you work and the community you are working.   Too often, people believe that they are creating new tactics, but they’re not. By taking the time to learn from what has worked – or hasn’t – it allows you to be more effective.

Second, it is important to understand that this work will not be solved in three or five years. There should be progress in that time frame, but building an equitable community will take generations to achieve. It’s also important to remember that there will be ebbs and flows. During times when we are not feeling hopeful, know that these losses are temporary, and in the long term, we build a more equitable community. It’s like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Finally, leaders step up and lead.  They don’t wait for instructions.  So be fearless, but also be informed. We need the new generation to come forward now, and utilize new approaches and ways of doing things that build on previous success so that we can move further toward creating a world that is just.

What should we know that you haven’t yet mentioned because I didn’t ask the right question?

We have to realize the important role that cities play in the fight for equlity. During the Civil Rights era, we pushed for change through the federal government. But in recent years, we have make more progress in cities. There are great mayors and city executives throughout the country – we have them in Pittsbrugh. We must figure out how to work more effectively at the local level to accelerate this positive change.

Nathan Martin, CEO, Deeplocal //

Nathan Martin heads Deeplocal, an innovation studio based in Pittsburgh, which has been described as “Willie Wonka with a tool kit from Mythbusters and a punk rock soundtrack turned up to 11.”

How did Deeplocal evolve?
Deeplocal was spun out of Carnegie Mellon’s Studio for Creative Inquiry in 2006 as a software company. Over the years, it has evolved first into a consultancy, and then spread into advertising space. Now, we create stories for loved brands like Spotify, Netflix, and Nike by bridging the online and offline worlds.

For example, in 2009, we developed the Nike Chalkbot, for use during the Tour de France. The Chalkbot allowed people to tweet messages that were then printed in chalk by a computerized road painting machine. It also took a photo of the printed message and sent it back to the person who tweeted.

More recently, we worked with Netflix to create Mr. Bear to coincide with the release of Fuller House, season two. The plush teddy bears are like Mr. Bear, Stephanie Tanner’s best friend from the original series. The difference is that these bears have glowing hearts, which, when hugged, can connect with another bear anywhere in the world, and caust its heart to glow, too. When both are hugged, Netflix turns on in both homes, and the same Fuller House episode begins.

Given your work with national and international clients, why did you choose to be based in Pittsburgh?

Pittsburgh was a part of creating Deeplocal.

I went to Carnegie Mellon for undergrad, and, after living in other parts of the country, came back. I think that the combination of having this really strong university and the affordability of living in Pittsburgh were critical to our early success.

Carnegie Mellon offers some of the best science and technology programs in the country. Many of our staff have graduated from the university. And we benefit from the support we receive from the broader community as well. Mayor Peduto, other businesses, and entrepreneurs have provided immense support and guidance to us of the years.


Another reason that I don’t think we could have done this anywhere else is because I don’t think that we could have afforded to do it anywhere else – I had $300 when we started! The low cost of living here meant that we had lower overhead costs. And when I spoke with talented individuals about moving to Pittsburgh to work for us, being able to buy a house for $70,000 was an attractive selling point.

DeepLocal Before

The blue collar background of our city has also influenced our work. Pittsburgh is a manufacturing town, and we involve local makers and manufacturers in as much of our work as we can.

The city has also influenced our brand. When we first started, one of our challenges was that our competitors and clients are primarily based in New York and California. So we turned this challenge into an opportunity, building the city’s personality into our brand. We are grungy, tough, direct, and a little punk rock – just like Pittsburgh.

DeepLocal After

What inspires you?
I have always liked making stuff. I have a fine art background, and am a self-taught software engineer.

I am really inspired by the people around me. I work with my wife, which might seem like a terrible idea to some people, but its been a wonderful experience for me. We, and the rest of the staff, are really inspired to impact culture in a positive way.

What are one or two projects on which you are currently working that excite you?
The Netflix Mr Bear project was fun. It was nostaligic to work on something from my own childhood.

I am also really excited about our work in the relaunch of Zagat’s brand. The challenge we faced was introducing the brand to a younger audience. Based on the insight that one thing unique about Zagat is that it compiles user reviews to create a singe review that allows you to understand the best (or worst) of a place. Because of these tiny reivews, we created a tiny café. Partnering with restaurants like Emily’s Burgers to make tiny versions of their most popular dishes, we created a pop up café in New York. From this project, we earned over a billion earned media impression or the brand in a week.

What’s your advice for the next generation of city change makers?
The best advice? Ignore a lot of advice.

Everyone’s advice comes from their own experiences, and it’s not wrong, but it should be taken with a grain of salt.

For instance, much of the advice we got starting out was that we needed to have one, singular focus, because that’s what works for most companies when they are starting out. But we are abstract generalists. And that’s what brings talented staff and clients to us. So we needed to build a different business model that worked for us.

So when you talk with others about their thoughts, ask them why that’s their suggestion. It’s hart to figure out when to follow and when to ignore advice, but it’s important to the success of your venture. Know what others have done, and then trust your gut.

What should we know that you haven’t yet mentioned because I didn’t ask the right question?
Pittsburgh is such an interesting city. And it’s been interesting to watch it change over the last fifteen years.

We are currently going through a period of investment, change, and opportunity that are bringing in new young, talented people from across the country. This is all great for the city.

But one of the things that allowed us, and many other companies to be successful in Pittburgh was that we could subsist cheaply, and start and fail easily. We need to make sure that we are able to protect this space for artists and entreneurs.

Also, as the city grows, and people move here that had no previous ties to the city, it is important that we don’t lose what makes us unique. We can’t lose the grittiness, toughness and lack of pretention that are part of what makes us Pittsburgh.

Jane Werner, Executive Director, Children’s Museum //

What brought you to the Children’s Museum?
I came to Pittsburgh from New York City because I had family here. I never thought that I would stay, but there is something about the city that makes you want to stay.

I started my career here at the Buhl Science Center (now part of Children’s Museum). I then moved to Philadelphia to work at the then to Franklin Institute, but still commuted back to Pittsburgh to see my husband. When we started a family, I moved back here, and started my own design firm.

When the Children’s Museum asked if I would be interested a position as exhibit and program director, I jumped at the opportunity. And I have loved every minute.

I know that Mayor Peduto has said that he has the best job in Pittsburgh, but I challenge him that I have the best job in the city.

What Makes Pittsburgh Home?
I came to the city in the early 1980’s. At the time, businesses were closing, and there was very little nightlife. Fast forward to today, and there are great restaurants, a thriving arts scene – it has really been an amazing transformation.

Pittsburgh knows how to work. We know how to get things done. We are really lucky to have so many talented people in the city, and I can’t wait to see what the next generation dreams up.

I have never had so much hope for Pittsburgh as I have right now.

What inspires you?
It’s easy to be inspired working here.

First, kids are tremendous – you can learn so much from them. They are honest and straightforward. If I have a bad day, I just have to go out onto to the floor; something hilarious will be happening. You can also feel the love between grandparents, children, aunts, and parents. All of the good things in life happen here.

In addition to the kids, our staff is inspiration itself. They are always full of ideas of how to make things better. And when you work with great people who want to make things happen, it makes the work really easy.

Finally, the city (including elected officials and residents) has been a great partner. For instance, the museum has been greatly influenced by Fred Rogers, who was a great friend and mentor to the museum and to me.

What is One Challenge Facing Your City?
One big challenge, that is not unique to our city, is that some people may be left behind. In some other cities, you will see a strong, healthy diversity that we do not yet have. As a city, we are having a discussion about how to increase equity. And if I know Pittsburgh, we will catch up fast.

What is One Project on which You are Working that Excites You?
In 2004 the museum completed a large expansion. After that, we created our theater. Next we created a part in front of the museum. This block by block development has been very successful. I am excited about our next adventure – turning the old Carnegie Library into something called Museum Lab.

Museum Lab will be a new way to think about museums. We want to take creative education a step further, using the unique freedom that exists within a museum.

The second floor of the building will hold Manchester Academic Charger School. And the first floor will be a more informal space, host several of our partners, including Reading is Fundamental, Allies for Children, and Saturday Light Brigade. It will also include a maker space called Makeshop Plus, which will be a space for older children.

We will treat Museum Lab as a laboratory for learning. We are working in conjunction with our internal Department of Research and Learning, as well as the University of Pittsburgh, to document and disseminate our findings on learning in informal space

Our goal is for this project to be complete for the 2018 school year. With the completion of Museum Lab, we will have created the largest cultural campus for children in the U.S.

What’s your advice for the next generation of city change makers?
There are three things that I recommend for our next generation:

First, think with abundance. Think about all of the resources that exist, and how you can make connections between them, rather than thinking about a lack of resources.

Second, do the work. Don’t just promote things, actually do the work.

Third, find joy in situations. Because what is the point of doing something if you don’t get joy from it? And you have to love your work in order to get through the boring or tough parts. If you don’t love what you do, try to find something else.

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