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Company in the Spotlight: A start-up helping start-ups

Tech mavens joining the local tech incubator boom

Sunday, May 07, 2000

By Bob Starzynski, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Casey Smith wants to hire his own boss because he is smart enough to know that he still has a lot to learn.

  The current crew of the new technology company Zlingshot poses in the apartment/office in Shadyside. Casey Smith, front, is the chief executive officer. From left behind him are Gordon Nelson, Frank Triggiani and Ray Ardire. (Gabor Degre, Post-Gazette)

But a little ignorance hasn't stopped the 24-year-old Carnegie Mellon University graduate from starting two businesses in a little over a year.

After two years working in private banking at PNC Financial Services Group, Smith started his first business, Scholar Smith, 16 months ago with a couple of football buddies from college. That company, a Web development and consulting business, was immediately successful with clients such as PNC and Be Free.

With some profits in pocket, it is now time for Smith and his two friends to take the earnings and launch a second business in the hugely popular technology incubator field. The new company, named Zlingshot, will officially debut this Thursday with an all-day conference at the Westin William Penn, Downtown.

As for hiring a boss, Smith and his partners, Ray Ardire and Frank Triggiani, want someone for a CEO slot with significant start-up experience to complement their operational skills and strategic thinking. "Yeah, there are times when I walk into a meeting and feel quite young," Smith said. "I'm pretty confident, but I also realize I don't have as much experience as someone who has been doing this for many years."

Technology incubators -- physical or virtual operations that bring in budding start-ups, pepper them with support and services and then set them free when they are able to survive on their own -- are sprouting up everywhere in the Pittsburgh area.

Zlingshot LLC

Business: Business incubator for technology start-ups

Headquarters: Virtual, but soon to be in the Strip District

History: With the company's launch set for this week, history is to be determined

Employees: 4

Web site:


The Wang brothers started their iventurelab incubator in Oakland last year. Tom Petzinger Jr., a former Wall Street Journal columnist, announced last month that he would start another local incubator called LaunchCyte. Venture capital firms Redleaf Group and Birchmere Ventures have each talked about starting their own incubators. One of the alternative plans for Downtown redevelopment calls for incubators to occupy the upper floors of retail shops around Market Square. Innovation Works, a state-funded organization, is considered a virtual incubator of small businesses, among other things.

"The incubator idea is relatively new to Pittsburgh and there are many players coming in around the same time," said Mary Murrin Smith, a spokeswoman for Storm LLC in the Strip District and an advisor to Zlingshot. "Casey is a go-getter and has pulled things together very quickly. That could give them an early-to-market advantage." Mary Murrin Smith is no relation to Casey Smith.

Tommy Wang of iventurelab does not view additional players in the incubator market as a problem for his operation. "This isn't competitive," he said. "We complement one another. We've worked closely with Zlingshot. They came to us to get better idea of how to put an incubator together."

Zlingshot's approach is to utilize partnerships with local marketing expert Gordon Nelson and technology consulting company Computer Enterprises of Carnegie to offer services to start-ups. In addition to marketing and technology support, Zlingshot will offer its resident businesses strategic and operational planning, recruiting, assistance in finding venture capital and a temporary home. The company is shopping for office space for the incubator in the Strip District.

Zlingshot, which will also chip in up to $200,000 to each resident business, will take between 15 percent and 40 percent of each company in return for its money and services. Casey Smith expects to sign up about three residents in the next six to eight months. The first clients are anticipated to be signed on by mid-June.

"We have a lot of venture capitalists in the market that are interested in investing $5 million or $10 million in early-stage companies," Smith said. "We want to bridge the gap between where a company first starts out and when it needs that VC investment."

In addition to the profits from Scholar Smith, the three young executives are raising $1.4 million for their company from angel investors.

As for the conference, dubbed zCamp, which will launch Zlingshot this week, Smith and his partners have brought together an impressive list of panelists and speakers to talk to budding entrepreneurs about how to grow their businesses.

Among them are: Suzanne Teele, founder of e-biz Consulting; Bill Hulley, a venture capitalist with Adams Capital; Marcus Ruscitto, CEO of Stargate Industries; and Bob Evans, editor-in-chief of Information Week magazine. Smith anticipates attendance at the event to top 300.

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