Rich Lunak to Retire from Innovation Works After a Career that Helped Transform Pittsburgh into One of America’s Top Startup Hubs
Lunak helped develop 20,000 jobs in Pittsburgh region’s tech startups, drew spotlight to emerging tech sectors, and fostered a climate of innovation to match that of the companies IW supports
PITTSBURGH – February 24, 2022 — Rich Lunak, President & CEO of Innovation Works (IW) will retire from his position leading IW, the Pittsburgh region’s most active investor in pre- and seed-stage tech companies and the only fund geographically focused and exclusively committed to funding Pittsburgh-area tech startups. Under Rich’s leadership, Innovation Works has consistently ranked as one of the nation’s most active seed-stage investors. Just as importantly, 20,000 new jobs have been reported as being created and retained at the IW portfolio companies during Rich’s tenure, a track record that has supported high-quality jobs, attracted billions of dollars in investment, and drawn global attention to the Pittsburgh region as a legitimate technology hub with a dynamic ecosystem for startups.
Rich will leave the organization he helped mold into one that consistently evolves, innovates and anticipates trends in order to meet the needs of our region’s entrepreneurs. Balancing various stakeholder groups who sometimes hold opposing goals, Rich has helped to diversify IW’s funding through state, federal and grant money over his years leading Innovation Works as well as bolstering returns from a growing portfolio. That money has been plowed back into financial and operational support for the innovative companies of the nine-county region and has augmented a decreasing – but critical – budget from state government.
Though there are many accomplishments to demonstrate Rich’s own innovative style and empathy with entrepreneurs, a few projects of note are:
1) Oversaw programming and systems that made entrepreneurship more accessible to more people in the region. Over the past 10 years, 60% of founders who received IW funding were women and/or people of color (according to anonymous, self-reported data).
2) Helped ramp up IW’s direct investment and expand the organization’s effort to connect companies to investment capital from an ever-expanding national network of investors. Portfolio companies leveraged IW’s initial investment of more than $95 million to attract more than $3 BILLION in additional follow-on funding. That’s more dollars invested in the Pittsburgh economy than the cost to build all three sports stadiums.
3) Pioneered and launched the nationally ranked accelerators AlphaLab (2008) and AlphaLab Gear (2013) and added AlphaLab Health last year in partnership with AHN to strengthen the region’s capacity to launch and successfully grow software, hardware and life sciences companies.
4) Raised and fully invested the $24-million-dollar Riverfront Ventures fund to bring more capital to high potential companies in the IW portfolio and larger regional community.
“Over that past several years, I have had the pleasure of watching Rich Lunak grow Innovation Works from a fledgling agency/regional startup investor to a powerhouse entity that stands as PA’s largest seed funder today,” said Catherine Mott, Chair of Innovation Works’ board of directors and founder of Bluetree Allied Angels. “Rich has built a powerful well-rounded team that I know will carry-on his legacy. It has also been a privilege to work alongside Rich as an investor funding regional companies, and I am most grateful for the efforts Rich and his team have accomplished to attract outside capital to our region,” Mott continued. “The growth of multiple emerging companies is a testament to this point. One only needs to read the annual investment report from IW and partner Ernst & Young to see the impact on Pittsburgh and the surrounding counties. He will be a tough act to follow, and he will be dearly missed by many in the regional ecosystem.”
Ron Bianchini, a former board chair of IW and serial entrepreneur who exited three previous companies said: “I have known Rich Lunak since 2004, when I chaired the board’s search committee for the CEO position at Innovation Works. Rich has far exceeded all expectations then and ever since. He took Innovation Works from a regional program to the powerhouse economic development organization that it is today – a sought-after model for other regions, states and countries. Under Rich’s leadership, Innovation Works has expanded to include programs in all aspects founders need to start, raise capital if necessary and successfully grow their technology companies in the region: early-stage investment, accelerators, founder education and critical networks for mentors, early customers and further investment. As a fellow technologist and entrepreneur, I look at the momentum of the local startup community and give so much of the credit to Rich, his tireless efforts, determination and empathy for founders.
Rich will remain at Innovation Works to help work with a search firm to find the next CEO and transition that person to the organization. “I am humbled and have been privileged to work with hundreds of creative innovators over the years,” Rich said. “And on top of that, the board members and teams of talented people I have worked with have made the journey so much richer, deeper and more meaningful than I could have ever imagined. The Pittsburgh region has moved from promising great things from the startup community to being a legitimate technology powerhouse – from major tech companies with hundreds of people employed here to a diverse and dynamic startup ecosystem which constantly reinvigorates the economy, entire neighborhoods, and is growing ever-wider to embrace more people,” Rich continued. “I take great satisfaction in being a part of that evolution and I look forward to seeing the organization grow into the next stage of Pittsburgh’s technology development.”
Innovation Works provides investment and assistance to the Pittsburgh region’s most promising technology startups and is the only regional investment fund focused solely on this region, investing more than $113M in more than 600 companies since formation in 1999. This activity makes Innovation Works the most active seed-stage investor in the region and one of the country’s most active overall. Part of the statewide Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Innovation Works is one of four centers in the network to help build PA’s innovative companies, diversify the state’s economic drivers and capitalize on the world-class research conducted at the renowned universities throughout the state. Innovation Works is partially funded by the Commonwealth’s Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority. Providing investment, expert guidance, and access to networks, Innovation Works helps software, hardware and life sciences companies get to their next stage of economic growth.