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Technology: Tech contest offering big cash prizes for really big idea 

For small tech companies, cash and public exposure of their products can sometimes be hard to come by. An ongoing contest sponsored by the Greater Oakland Keystone Innovation Zone (GO KIZ) is offering local tech-savvy innovators the chance to garner both.

"There are a lot of small start-up technology companies in this city and a lot of people with really good ideas that could be the cornerstone of a new company," says Kathryn Connor, coordinator of GO KIZ, a collaborative group that focuses on increasing technology-company formation.

"This contest is a way to take advantage of the Internet to allow people to tell their friends and neighbors about the cool and interesting stuff they are working on.

"The hope is that one or more of these ideas will then take off and turn into something bigger."

The Pittsburgh Innovates contest -- www.pittsburghinnovates.org -- is open to individuals, teams or companies who have created and developed a technological innovation in the Pittsburgh region.

Contestants can post a presentation of their innovation in various formats directly to the Web site. A $20,000 judge's prize will be awarded to the best innovation, while $10,000 will be awarded to the most popular innovation selected by Web-site visitors. The people's choice winner will be determined through a combination of page views and cumulative ratings.

The money should be a major motivation for people to enter, Connor says -- especially for young companies. Connor says the ultimate hope is that the cash will be put into developing the innovation, although there are no stipulations as to how the prize money can be spent.

"We certainly hope that for the winners they will be able to take this idea to the next level," says Connor.

Nathan Martin and his software design and development company, Deep Local, have so far submitted three ideas to the contest. One of them -- Meet Me, soon to be launched under the name Text Date in the next few weeks -- allows individuals in one location, such as Brillobox bar or an event like the recent Hothouse, to chat via text messaging before meeting face to face. Martin calls it anonymous flirting that will allow two people to develop a rapport before meeting up in person.

Martin says he wishes the prize money was divided up into more, smaller prizes to help spread the money around -- but adds that he welcomes anything that brings attention to Pittsburgh's tech start-ups.

"There are a lot of great start-ups in this city doing some interesting things," he says. "People think that most of the companies here involve medical devices, but that's not the case. There are new media companies, robotics companies and toy companies. ... Hopefully this will expose all of us to something we haven't seen before. If it does that, then it will have been a success."

click to enlarge Keepon, the dancing robot, was an innovation submitted by Marek Michalowski, a CMU Ph.D student and co-founder of the Pittsburgh company BeatBots.
  • Keepon, the dancing robot, was an innovation submitted by Marek Michalowski, a CMU Ph.D student and co-founder of the Pittsburgh company BeatBots.

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