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Eighteen months ago, Mary Lockwood was neck-deep in the process of selecting a second U.S. location for Mindera, a San Diego-based software development company that builds full-stack solutions for clients in industries from healthcare and gambling, with more than 550 employees across offices in Portugal, India, and the United Kingdom.
As managing director, the stakes were high. She knew that her firm would need to find a location boasting three things in particular: a deep talent pool, and, therefore, a strong university presence; a manageable cost of living to ensure the company could pay out relatively handsome salaries; and, perhaps most importantly, an edge over the competition.
Mindera considered Baltimore, Austin, and Denver, but ultimately settled on Pittsburgh—not necessarily for what it offered, but for what it lacked.
“We didn’t want to go into a place that was already saturated with software companies,” she said. “We were looking for a competitive advantage…there’s not the volume of software companies in Pittsburgh that there are in Silicon Valley. You throw a rock and land on a software company, there.”
It’s true that Pittsburgh has a rich set of universities, with Carnegie Mellon being the focal point, and a few tech darlings, like the East Liberty-based language learning startup Duolingo, but there aren’t many anchor companies drawing talent to the region or helping to retain new college graduates.
The premise that local tech talent and cheap real estate alone are sufficient draws for firms to move to the city has become a bit cliché.
“What we haven’t built is a global brand. We’re not a place where thousands of startups, founders, and diverse talent are flocking; we’re not a mecca,” explained Mark Thomas, president of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to business development in the city. “For people that want to be on the ground floor, and build that, we have all of the right pieces to build a smart economy. That’s our sweet spot.”
Lockwood plans to be a part of that sweet spot. “We see a lot of potential in Pittsburgh, and we want to become a part of the tech ecosystem,” she said. “I think that what we offer is unique to the area…and we would love for people who want to become software developers to look us up.”
For now, Mindera plans to share office space with the Pittsburgh Innovation District, part of InnovatePGH’s public-private partnership, seeking to put Pittsburgh on the map as an innovation hub. But eventually, Lockwood said that Mindera would like to put down roots at a dedicated space in Oakland as its local presence grows.
By the end of 2020, she projects that Mindera will have 15 Pittsburgh employees, bringing its total U.S. employment up to 50 people across both the new office and the existing one in San Diego. She expects 2021 to be another growth year.
Currently, Mindera’s website lists nine job openings for its Pittsburgh office, representing a total of about 20 positions, Lockwood said, including roles in front-end development, quality assurance development, site reliability engineering, and technical lead, among others.
Pittsburgh isn’t known for pure software development companies, but rather specialized tech firms that hire software developers, so Mindera’s move into the region could represent a shift for local talent. Specifically, having a new anchor company could help reduce brain drain—the phenomenon of new college graduates fleeing the city for jobs elsewhere.
“Pittsburghers talk a lot to Pittsburghers, but not a lot to the broader world,” Thomas said. “The talent is leaving for companies like Mindera, so we have to make sure we’re doing aggressive work to attract more companies like that here.”