After years of investing in early-stage companies in the SaaS, robotics, Internet of Things, health and fin tech spaces, Ven Raju has taken his talents from New York to Pittsburgh where he now heads Innovation Works as its president and CEO, while also holding the position of managing director of Riverfront Ventures.

He says as he started digging into the Pittsburgh ecosystem, he was impressed with what he saw: in 2021, there was a 10x increase of capital inflows into regional tech companies compared to 10 years ago, and 6x of where the region was three years ago. And that was broad based, with about a third going to life sciences companies, a third going to AI robotics companies, and a third to application-centric software companies. He was also bullish on the overall ecosystem.

"If you subscribe to the notion of clusters, Pittsburgh has a lot going for it," Raju says. "We have world-class research institutions, we have fantastic tech and scientific talent, it's a capital-efficient place to start a business. All the ingredients are ripe for that trend, both in terms of capital as well as general growth for the tech ecosystem here."

Raju says that about a third of his day is spent talking with investors, some of which are in the region and some outside of it, to build relationships. They view the Pittsburgh ecosystem as having the right ingredients, he says. And the pandemic has accelerated a number of trends in the region's favor. One of those trends is that East and West Coast investors were compelled to look outside of their typical 50 or 100 mile radius, driving an influx of capital into burgeoning markets such as Pittsburgh from top-tier institutional venture investors.

Raju spoke on the Smart Business Dealmakers Podcast about his investment experiences in the two cities, the perspective of the region he's hearing from investors and his own funding approach as he works to grow Southwest PA's startup stature in the market.