Engage. Converse. Optimize.

Thought-provoking conversation about Pittsburgh's future

Thank you to all who attended OPT412! Keep the conversation going by watching and sharing the inspiring talks from this event, posted below.

Looking ahead at Pittsburgh's bright future

Positive. Powerful. Passionate. These are just some of the words that describe the conversation that hundreds were having at OPT412 on April 9th. Kicked off by keynote speaker Paul Graham, co-founder of the startup incubator Y Combinator, this free event welcomed visionaries from Pittsburgh and across the country to talk about the future of the Steel City.

Did you attend OPT412? Please share your thoughts about the event.



Keynote: Paul Graham

Paul Graham in 2008 said, “To spawn startups, your university has to be in a town that has attractions other than the university. It has to be a place where investors want to live and students want to stay after they graduate.” At that time, he wasn’t highlighting Pittsburgh as being that kind of place. Now, the co-founder of Y Combinator and 1981 graduate of Gateway High School will reveal his current thoughts about Pittsburgh. Has our region changed enough to develop its own unique innovation strategy?


Panel: Pittsburgh As A Magnet

Pittsburgh has been attracting a growing array of international companies. What is making Pittsburgh an attractive selection as the site for a corporate presence?


Andrew Moore: Dean, School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University; former head, Google Pittsburgh


Kamal Nigam: Engineering Director, co-site lead and charter member, Google Pittsburgh
Vanessa Jameson: Co–founder & CEO, Covey
Tony Stentz: Engineering Lead, Uber Advanced Technology Center
Hahna Alexander: Co-founder & CTO, SolePower
Yaser Sheikh: Head, Oculus Research Pittsburgh, Facebook


The Power of Parks

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy President and CEO Meg Cheever discusses how an excellent park system could be a competitive advantage for Pittsburgh.

Read the text version of this presentation here.


A Competitive City Innovation Burst: Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy, former mayor of the City of Pittsburghgives his thoughts on how Pittsburgh met the challenge of the decline of the steel industry and what now needs to happen in the Pittsburgh of today.


Panel: Pittsburgh For All

Pittsburgh is getting low ranks for diversity — the city is one of the least diverse places in the U.S., according to a recent study of 200-plus cities that considered factors such as the types of jobs and industries as well as race and ethnicity. What is needed for us to develop a collective strategy for integrating social, economic and environmental goals?


Doug Heuck: Editor & Publisher, Pittsburgh Quarterly


Claire Hosteny: Partner, East End Development Parters, LP
John Wallace: Professor, University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work, Katz School of Business
Bill Generett: President & CEO, Urban Innovation21
Jeremy Leventhal: Managing Partner, Faros Properties/Alloy 26 co-working space

Melanie Harrington: President & CEO, Vibrant Pittsburgh
Audrey Russo: President & CEO, Pittsburgh Technology Council


Technology Innovation Burst: Chris Harrison

Chris Harrison, Director of the Future Interfaces Group at Carnegie Mellon University, discusses interfaces and interactions of the future between humans and computers.


Panel: Brews And Bites

Pittsburgh exciting food scene and a burgeoning array of craft breweries has made a myriad of national lists recently. What’s driving it? What’s luring talent back? Are there any threats to this vibrancy that we need to collectively address?


Michelle Wright: Anchor, WTAE


Bill Fuller: Executive Chef, Big Burrito Group 
Quintin Bullock: President, Community College of Allegheny County
Dominic Cincotta: CoStar Brewing
Tracy Certo: Publisher, NEXTpittsburgh
Sonja Finn: Chef & Owner, Dinette; Consulting Chef, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh

Kate Romane: Chef & Owner, E2; Kate Romane Productions


Panel: The Lure Of The 'Burgh

Entrepreneurs and business leaders have located their companies in Pittsburgh to take advantage of the talent, business climate, and high quality of life found here. Are there any common issues they would highlight as our city's greatest positives and greatest challenges?


Bill Flanagan: Chief Corporate Relations Officer, Allegheny Conference on Community Development


Avi Geller: Founder & CEO, Maven Machine
Jim Russell: Research Fellow, Center for Popultation Dynamics, Cleveland State University
Charlie Batch: Former Steelers quarterback; tech entrepreneur, Impellia
Helen Hanna Casey: President, Howard Hanna Real Estate Services
Don Charlton: Founder & CEO, Jazz (formerly the Resumator)

Marlee Myers: Managing Partner, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP Pittsburgh


Education Innovation Burst: Amy Ogan

Amy Ogan, Assistant Professor of Human Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University presents research on facial recognition sensors improving classroom learning.


Panel: Becoming An Entrepreneur 

Four innovators with Pittsburgh connections talk about what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur.


Jim Morris: Professor of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


Luis von Ahn: Founder, Duolingo; Associate Professor of Computer Science, CMU
Ruchi Sanghvi: VP of Operations, Dropbox; Facebook's first female engineer; CMU Alumna
Clara Sieg: Partner, Revolution Partners; Pittsburgh native
Charlie Cheever: Co-founder, Quora; Pittsburgh native

Opt412 Committee

Charlie Cheever: Co-Founder, Quora

Greg Coticchia: Director of Blast Furnace, University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute

Bill Flanagan: Chief Corporate Relations Officer, Allegheny Conference on Community Development

Barbara Granito: Chair, National Academy of Sciences Advisory Board

Chris Harrison: Assistant Professor, Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Carnegie Mellon University

Douglas Heuck: Editor & Publisher, Pittsburgh Quarterly

Debra Lam: Chief Innovation & Performance Office, City of Pittsburgh

Rich Lunak: President & CEO, Innovation Works

Andrew Moore: Dean, School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University

Jim Morris: Lead Creator, Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Carnegie Mellon University

Amy Ogan: Assistant Professor, Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Carnegie Mellon University

Audrey Russo: President & CEO, Pittsburgh Technology Council

Ruchi Sanghvi: Facebook’s first female engineer

William Scherlis: Professor, School of Computer Science; Director, ISR

Paul Supowitz: Vice Chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations, University of Pittsburgh

Opt412 is produced by:


Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy


 In association with:


University of Pittsburgh
Carnegie Mellon University
City of Pittsburgh Department of Innovation & Performance






Media Sponsors


Pittsburgh Quarterly


 Community Partners


Pittsburgh Technology Council
Innovation Works
Allegheny Conference on Community Development