Startup Accelerator Spotlight: Idea Foundry

Idea Foundry

Idea Foundry is supported by 15 years of experience working with entrepreneurs, universities, economic development agencies, students and researchers. They focus on entrepreneurs who want to use innovation to bring societal impact to the world.


Nicole Muise-Kielkucki

Name of Accelerator:  Idea Foundry

LocationPittsburgh, PA


Director, Impact Innovations:  Nicole Muise-Kielkucki

This article is part of our Startup Accelerator Spotlight featuring accelerators from around the world.  We hope these spotlights will assist the entrepreneur should they consider attending an accelerator program.

In two sentences or less, tell us about your accelerator and its objectives.

Idea Foundry is a Pittsburgh-based, non-profit economic development organization dedicated to creating living-wage, high-opportunity jobs. Among our services is our Accelerator, through which our team invests in and works alongside entrepreneurs to transform business ideas that generate a social or environmental impact into viable commercial activities.

Why is your accelerator program unique?  Please describe the benefits of your program.

Idea Foundry is supported by 15 years of experience working with entrepreneurs, universities, economic development agencies, students and researchers. We were also the first in the region to develop a program and accelerator specifically for Social Enterprise entrepreneurs. This focus on social impact has continued to occupy a major part of Idea Foundry’s mission. We now have fully integrated the social impact factor into our accelerator criteria. We offer services to entrepreneurs with ideas that use innovation to bring societal impact to our region and beyond. This call towards “Business for Good” is what sets Idea Foundry apart from other accelerators.

As a participant of our Accelerator, you will receive hands-on, individualized attention, business model development assistance, incubation services, and investment to bring your business to the next level. With our 15 years of experience, we provide expert assistance to each company. Our investment is much more than financial, it also helps companies avoid setbacks before they reach them.

What is the most difficult part of working with startups?

The most difficult part about working with startups is keeping teams on track! As a young company, there are a million possibilities and opportunities before you. Part of our job at Idea Foundry is helping the entrepreneur assess those opportunities and determine which are best for achieving long term success. Keeping companies on track is difficult when there’s a short-term payout available. You’re telling them to forgo that because ultimately, it’s a distraction that will drift the company further and further from their goals.

The Value of Vision and Mission, Or Lack Thereof

What do you find most appealing about working with entrepreneurial startups?

Because we are working with entrepreneurs who drive a social impact, the passion that they have is not just about their idea but also about providing solutions with social or environmental benefit. It’s very rewarding to see our portfolio companies make a connection with our network that can use their innovation in a positive way. Seeing companies become financially successful and sustainable while making an impact in the local or global community is what makes this work worthwhile.

Tell us about your success stories; which are the most interesting companies to have participated in your program?

Idea Foundry has worked with over 200 portfolio companies over the last 15 years, with many interesting success stories. Two of our successes with strong social impact include Thread International and Marinus Analytics.

Idea FoundryThread’s concept was to use recycled plastic from discarded water bottles from aid packages to Haiti to create useable thread for clothing and accessories.  Through their efforts, Thread has supported over 3,800 employment opportunities in Haiti and Honduras, helping these nations bolster their economies and become more self-sufficient.  They have also removed 1.8 million pounds of waste from these countries since 2012. This year, Timberland also partnered with Thread to create a line of products using Thread’s fabric, which sold out shortly after release.

Another success story is Marinus Analytics, a spinout from the Auton Lab inside Carnegie Mellon University’s computer science department. Marinus is a data analytics company that uses machine learning to fight injustices and deliver positive social benefits to the world around us. Their first application, Traffic Jam, mines publicly available data to help law enforcement fight human trafficking. The tool’s algorithms allow agents to search millions of dark web records in seconds, detecting patterns to apprehend traffickers as they move to evade capture. Their technology is used by agencies across the U.S. and has been instrumental in rescuing hundreds of victims.

What are the three most important factors startup entrepreneurs should consider when contemplating attending an accelerator?

  1. Being passionate about your idea.
    Idea Foundry can offer advice, strategy, and funding, but the grit must come from you.  Start-ups often have initial setbacks and obstacles, so without drive and passion behind the idea, it won’t make it off the ground.  It’s certainly easier to pursue a “day job”, so you need that internal motivation and belief in yourself and your idea to persevere.
    Are you prepared for the Entrepreneurial Journey?
  2. Assessing your impact.
    Because Idea Foundry focuses on innovations that drive impact, knowing how your idea will benefit the community is paramount.  At the same time, financial sustainability is also essential.  Even a business doing good must be profitable, because you cannot sustain your mission without the resources to push forward.
  3. Your market.
    With the goal of solving problems across the globe, many start-ups want to tackle a lot of things at once.  Knowing when to start small and develop a track record and when to build on that success and expand your market is something Idea Foundry can help you with.

What else would you like to share?

Idea Foundry is working to connect different sectors by adapting our Accelerator to best meet these needs.  In the past, our efforts were focused on helping entrepreneurs in two distinct sectors; science and social enterprise innovation.  From our experience, we think that drawing distinctions between science and social enterprise can limit the scope of ideas.  The present and future of Idea Foundry lies in creating a bridge between scientific and technological innovation and positive impact, using our Accelerator to support innovations across a wide variety of sectors that solve social or environmental challenges.

Find The Right Accelerator For Your Startup

In that same spirit, a lot of start-up success is not just in addressing the initial need, but being open to new avenues that could give your idea even more impact.  One of the most rewarding parts of Idea Foundry’s job is helping make connections that bring the positive impact of ideas to new and often unimagined spaces.

Are you familiar with other accelerators you believe should be highlighted?  If so, we would like to hear from you.  Tell us about them in the comments below!

Pam Goforth

Pam Goforth is Research Manager for FundingSage, which provides valuable information, tools and resources to entrepreneurs seeking to start, grow and fund a business.