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September 5, 2014

Pittsburgh's Thrival Festival raises funding for startups and innovation through music, thought-leadership, and creativity

Thrival Music Festival

The day after Labor Day, Bobby Zappala stands in the open green space which will host the music and entrepreneurship festival that his non-profit will host for the second consecutive year. He surveys the stage that will be the platform for artists like Thrival headliners Moby and Portugal. The Man.

For the second consecutive year, Zappala and his partners will host the Thrival Innovation + Music Festival. Thrival will be held September 13 and 14 at Bakery Square 1.0 and 2.0 in Pittsburgh’s East End section and features many activities, including an investor pitch for several Pittsburgh startup companies competing for a top prize of $25,000, an entrepreneur showcase at Google Pittsburgh, PIT (Policy, Innovation, and Technology) Talks, and concerts featuring national recording artists. Moby will host one PIT Talk on music therapy.

“We want to show that Pittsburgh is capable of leading the charge to get more people to become entrepreneurs and we want them to have a good time doing it,” Zappala said.

The festival is hosted and produced by Thrill Mill, Inc., the non-profit that Zappala leads as CEO.

Thrival is an initiative of Thrill Mill, Inc. — a nonprofit located in East Liberty that is an incubator/accelerator for early stage startups. All proceeds from Thrival go to support Thrill Mill and its startup teams. Thrill Mill accepts startup companies and provides them with business coaching, legal counseling, initial investment funding, and rent free office space.

In 2013, the festival raised $25,000. This year, the Thrill Mill team aims to achieve higher goals. “We want to beat 2013. It’s a big challenge because this year is a larger event, but we’re confident that with our community supporting us, we can eclipse last year’s numbers,” said Dan Law, Thrill Mill’s vice president of business development.

The Thrival Innovation + Music Festival might be the most important startup festival in recent memory. For one, Thrival is hosted in East Liberty, a Pittsburgh neighborhood that houses Thrill Mill and is rebounding from urban decline with the help of Google, Thrill Mill, and AlphaLab Gear, another startup incubator that has taken up residence in the neighborhood — in addition to numerous other stakeholders who are helping the area’s revival.

Days before Thrival commences, there are several events leading up to the main event, including a youth-centered investor pitch hosted by Entrepreneuring Youth, a Pittsburgh entrepreneurship program which teaches youth the value of being a business owner.

Undoubtedly a large initiative, Thrill Mill is positive about Thrival’s long term success but acknowledges the constant need to promote awareness around the festival’s message.

“We can’t theorize, but we think people just need to be aware of the entrepreneurial efforts in the city,” Law said. Law added that ticket sales have increased since the first year of the festival. “We’ve gotten the word out,” Law said, alluding to a spread in USA Today which mentioned the festival. Thrival is also supported by large corporations, like presenting sponsor PNC Bank.

Law and Zappala both added that the aim of Thrival is to encourage Pittsburgh residents to take part in the entrepreneurial process through supporting existing efforts and by becoming entrepreneurs themselves. In an article published in thePittsburgh Post-Gazette detailing Pittsburgh’s entrepreneurial decline, Carnegie Mellon University professor Henry Miller referenced data released in 2011 by the US Census Bureau that showed that Pittsburgh had the second smallest ranking out of the 40 top regions. Pennsylvania was ranked 38 in the 2014 State Entrepreneurship Index, published by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The index tabulates data on business growth.

However, Pittsburgh is great place for entrepreneurs and new businesses, Zappala said, and Thrival hopes to prove that. Business stakeholders, and politicians, including Pittsburgh’s mayor and Allegheny County’s executive support Thrival and will be in attendance.

Pittsburgh’s biggest political supporter came in the form of President Barack Obama. In June, President Barack Obama met with Pittsburgh-area entrepreneurs at TechShop Pittsburgh to offer support for the region’s continued entrepreneurial growth and diversity.

The Thrival Innovation + Music Festival is September 13-14, 2014 in Pittsburgh. Tickets: ThrivalFestival.com

Media passes: thrival@kennedybluecommunications.com

Twitter: @ThrivalFestival