WHY PITTSBURGH? There's a revolution happening at your doorstep.

We sat down with John Battelle and Stacey Foreman, Wired Magazine veterans and co-founders of San Francisco-based event/media company NewCo, to talk about why Pittsburgh is America’s new “it” innovation city, and why Thrival Innovation is experiencing major growth in 2017.

First off — who are you, and what are you doing here?

We’re John Battelle and Stacey Foreman, founders of NewCo, a new kind of events and media platform that celebrates new approaches to business. We identify and connect new kinds of companies (hence the name) large and small, with a particular focus on mission-driven organizations. We came to Pittsburgh at the invitation of several colleagues, and we were both impressed with the vision and resources of the city’s civic leaders. So much so, that we’re partnering with Thrival to bring a bit of the NewCo vibe to the city!

What attracted you to the Thrival partnership, and what do you hope to bring to this year’s experience?

Thrival is built into the fabric of Pittsburgh, and know how to connect the dots between key institutions - government, business, startups, academia, foundations. Thrival understands the NewCo narrative, and together we’re going to bring dozens of tech and corporate leaders to Pittsburgh to experience what the city is all about and to speak at the Thrival Innovation Festival. We’re also giving them a special tour, a VIP experience at the music festival, and more.

Pittsburgh isn’t lacking on hype recently, and the tech and entrepreneurship scene is consistently making national headlines. But what does Pittsburgh need to do in order sustain growth in innovation and become a indisputable hub for entrepreneurship?

Hype is one thing, but first hand experience is quite another. Before we visited Pittsburgh, we didn’t really understand what a special, deeply committed place it was. We think the story of Pittsburgh - the roots in the industrial revolution, the strength in academia and business, the closely knit sense of civic pride - needs to be told by new converts who otherwise may never experience it. That’s why we’re excited to bring these deeply networked folks from outside the city inside, to get a firsthand view.

Thrival Innovation’s 2017 theme is “Intelligence: Humans X Tech,” which focuses on the relationship between people and technology, and how that is changing society. Where does Pittsburgh fit in this puzzle?

Beyond its role as a center for one of the most important technologies in the shift from industrial to informational economics (automation), Pittsburgh is a case study in how a complex social institution can evolve from one economic model to another. It takes committed leadership, a business community that views its responsibility to society as greater than just profit making, and a willingness to try new approaches. We see all of those things in the Pittsburgh community. The next few decades are going to bring extraordinary change to our society once again. Where better to understand that, than a city that’s already made that transition once?

Asking you to look around corners, what are the some of the key trends you see when it comes to artificial intelligence, automation, and the future of cities like Pittsburgh?

As a society, we’ll have to have intelligent, facts-driven, rational discussions about how best to manage these technologies and their impact on our citizens. We can’t afford to ignore their impact, and we can’t shy away from our duty to understand what society might look like in an age of abundant intellectual labor driven by AI and automation. These are deep, difficult questions - should we embrace some kind of universal basic income? What gives us meaning if traditional “jobs” become scarce? How do we apportion value when massive companies control most of the means of production? No matter what, cities like Pittsburgh will be where these questions are asked and answered. By convening leaders from across business, tech, government, and beyond, Pittsburgh is poised to be the leading example of how to tackle these issues head on.

If five questions aren’t enough for you (and they shouldn’t be), attend Thrival Innovation this September 27-28 in Pittsburgh, PA, as we explore “Intelligence: Humans X Tech.” Learn more at thrivalfestival.com and follow us on social media @thrivalfestival.

Thrival Innovation passes are on sale now at thrivalfestival.com.

Why Festivals Fail. A Lesson from Karoondinha, and others. HINT: It's not just about the lineup.

The festival market is taking a hit. Signature events, as well as promising up-and-comers have fallen victim to what many term the music festival “bubble.”

Pemberton. Mysteryland. And now, Karoondinha, our neighbors in Central Pennsylvania. At risk of reopening fresh wounds, a discussion about the festival space is necessary.

Karoondinha checked off a lot of boxes — lineup, mainly — and left some important ones blank. Just ask their team, or read a very thorough and revealing Billboard piece about the festival here.

The Karoondinha scenario (and many others like it) is a stark reminder that people — many of whom may not even have the slightest clue about a festival or what it does — will celebrate around the bonfires of failure.

Such is life. Such is the festival world. For all of the good feelings and experiences festivals create, the industry can be a cruel, unforgiving space. But it’s also great and emblematic of some of the best qualities we exhibit as human beings.

So why do festivals fail? The answer is both complicated and simple — but it whittles down to one crucial element.

Contrary to popular belief, festivals don’t fail only because of their lineups. If they did, Karoondinha would be thriving, and not out of business. Chance the Rapper, John Legend, the Roots, Paramore, Odezsa, Porter Robinson, and Leon Bridges were all playing Karoondinha.

Festivals also don’t fail only because of poor customer experience. Virtually every festival in the U.S., at some point, has failed its customers in this realm. Thrival is included on this list. If this were the case — we’d all have been out of business long ago.

Price points rarely seem to be a deciding factor, either, as evidenced by the doomed-by-incompetence Fyre Festival — accessible to only rich, privileged Millennials with active Instagram accounts. An over-hyped and cartoonishly planned festival on a deserted Bahamian island can still command outrageous ticket prices from thousands of buyers willing to travel thousands of miles.

Instead, festivals fail for one reason — or perhaps a lack thereof: COMMUNITY.

I should say this first — there are thousands of ways a festival can fail, ranging from the realistic (bad weather) to the absurd (a plague of locusts yielding foghorns).

However, without a community, without a support base that is committed to the festival’s success, without dedicated stakeholders who take ownership over the initiative year in and year out, a festival will fail.

Community cannot be manufactured. It is organic, and slow to develop. But it is, by far, the most valuable asset of any festival. Community gives a festival its life.

Four years ago we started the Thrival Innovation + Music Festival in a dirt lot in the East End of Pittsburgh, with three weeks of planning. We begged agents to bring national talent to Pittsburgh (and still do). We implored sponsors and community power-brokers to offer support. For every success we had in this regard, there were a dozen or more failures.

From a combination of forces both within and outside of our control, we grew over the years — with many stumbles along the way.

Looking back, we’ve grown 800% since our founding. We’ve started something unique. In 2015, we hosted Panic! At the Disco, Wale, Manchester Orchestra, and the Wu Tang Clan’s Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, at a former industrial brownfield.

In 2016, the Chainsmokers performed right next to a retired blast furnace that has been out of commission for four decades. But the Carrie Furnaces are alive once again. The site once produced liquid iron, and now produces art and culture.

None of this would have been possible if it wasn't for the support of our community.

Still, we have so much work to do. We’re improving parking, free water access, line queues, box office operations, shuttle services, rideshare programs, concessions (No tokens! — inside joke), and more.

Nonetheless, all of this is for not if our community doesn’t support us.

“Build it and they will come” is a fantasy. Instead, an invested community ensures a festival’s success — not the other way around.

So while we’re so excited to host a bigger and better Thrival this September, our community will determine its success. And rightfully so.

It’s about the power of the people.

And for those of you who missed out on Karoondinha, we can extend a helping hand. No questions asked, if you were a ticket holder or planned to go, we’re offering our blind faith two-day pass rate ($59) to you from now until July 21. Use the code “FESTLOVE” to get your pass. It’s not free tickets, but hopefully it helps.

In the meantime, take care and keep supporting creativity and new ideas, wherever you are. 

See you in September.

Dan Law

Director, Thrival Innovation + Music Festival

Thrival Innovation to have major growth year; featuring new regional and national partnerships

Contact: Dan Law, Director - Thrival; dan@ascenderpgh.com

Date: May 11, 2017


Pittsburgh, PA — The Thrival Innovation + Music Festival has announced the theme, dates, host sites, and a new national partnership for the innovation conference element of the annual, Pittsburgh-based festival.

A two-day innovation conference (preceding Thrival Music), Thrival Innovation “addresses key challenges and opportunities relevant to our local, national, and international ecosystems,” according to Ascender, the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that presents and produces Thrival each year.

Festival organizers have announced Intelligence: Humans X Tech as the theme for this year, with programs hosted at a variety of locations through Pittsburgh’s East End — including Google Pittsburgh, UPMC Enterprises, the historic Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, and a marquee event at Carnegie Museum of Art — from September 27-28.

Inspired by Pittsburgh’s fast-growing reputation for artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and robotics — bolstered by the presence of Google, Uber, Facebook, Amazon, Carnegie Mellon University, and others — Thrival Innovation will explore the relationship between humans and technology, and how it is rapidly changing the world around us at an unprecedented pace.

“Thrival has grown significantly over the years. In 2017, we have a great opportunity to bring Thrival Innovation to a much broader audience, demonstrating why Pittsburgh’s innovation story is so important to share with a global community,” says Bobby Zappala, Founder of Thrival and CEO of Ascender.

Thrival’s new partnership with NewCo — a San Francisco-based media and event company that “identifies, celebrates, and connects engines of positive change in society” — will draw in an array of national and international thought leaders to the Steel City.

“There is no better place than Pittsburgh to be exploring these topics,” says John Battelle, NewCo CEO and founding editor of Wired magazine.“NewCo works with partners around the world in dozens of cities, and we’re excited to partner with Thrival and our global network to examine a subject with such far reaching impact.”

Through Thrival Innovation, festival organizers intend to present an interdisciplinary and dynamic model to approaching AI challenges and opportunities, while keeping the Pittsburgh experience at the programming core.

“We’re at the frontier of this revolution. AI isn’t just science fiction to us, it is part our daily lives,” says Dan Law, Director of Thrival and Vice President of Business Development for Ascender. “Pittsburghers are catching driverless cars to go to work to in the morning. Everyday, we deal with the opportunities presented by this new technology, but also the consequences.”

A full schedule of Thrival Innovation programs will be released later this spring and early summer, as well as ticket sales and registration information. Thrival Music, a two-day outdoor live music experience, will conclude the festival on September 29-30 at the Carrie Furnaces.

For more information on the festival, visit thrivalfestival.com, and follow Thrival on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. For more information on NewCo, visit newco.co.



Thrival Innovation + Music Festival Announces Return to Carrie Furnaces

September 29-30 for Live Outdoor Music Experience


Pittsburgh, PA – Celebrating its fifth year, Pittsburgh’s Thrival Innovation + Music Festival has announced its outdoor live music experience will take place September 29-30 at the Carrie Furnaces, a former blast furnace facility turned national historic site.

Retired in late 1970s and operated by the nonprofit, Rivers of Steel, the Carrie Furnaces are part and parcel to Pittsburgh’s industrial past; a narrative that Thrival is keen to preserve.

“We’ve turned the mill back on. It just functions differently,” says Dan Law, director of Thrival. “Instead of hearing shift whistles, you hear a bass line. It’s one way of telling Pittsburgh’s comeback story, but this demonstrates what is possible with imagination and creativity.”

Founded in 2013, Thrival is produced by Ascender, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that has grown the festival from community block party to a flagship regional event celebrating Pittsburgh’s resurgence as a fast-evolving tech and creative hub.

The entire festival runs September 27-30, with two days of immersive, innovation-focused programming preceding the music. More details on Thrival Innovation — including host sites, themes, and a new national partnership — will be released soon.

While Grammy Award-winning duo, The Chainsmokers, drew huge crowds to last year’s music portion, Law gives equal weight to both innovation and music, crediting both areas of the festival that broke attendance and sales records in 2016.

“Thrival crosses a lot of genres and disciplines. It’s part innovation conference, part concert. In all, the festival is a holistic experience,” says Law.

To help manage this growth in 2017, Thrival has partnered with Live Nation Entertainment for venue operations, talent buying , and marketing efforts.

“Ascender's partnership with Live Nation to deliver Thrival Music allows our core team to both invest more energy in scaling Thrival Innovation and more effectively engage our dynamic local audience, with Live Nation adding significantly to the festival's expanding national reach. We’re very excited for the opportunities this presents,” says Bobby Zappala, founder of Thrival and CEO of Ascender.

Live Nation Entertainment (NYSE: LYV) is the world’s leading live entertainment company comprised of global market leaders: Ticketmaster, Live Nation Concerts, Live Nation Advertising & Sponsorship and Artist Nation Management.

For more information, visit www.thrivalfestival.com. Follow Thrival on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To learn more about Ascender and its mission, visit ascenderpgh.com. For additional information on Live Nation, visit www.livenationentertainment.com. Full artist full line up to be announced soon.

Meet Thrival Keynote Speaker Ann Makosinski

While still in high school, Ann Makosinski created the “Hollow Flashlight,” which was recognized with several awards at the 2013 Canade-Wide Science Fair, won the 2013 Google Science Fair, and won several awards at the 2014 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

Makosinki appeared on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon twice on the GE “Fallonventions" segment to demonstrate her inventions. In 2014, she was named one of TIME Magazine’s "30 Under 30." As of October 2015, Makosinski has been featured as the global ambassador for the Uniqlo Fleece product line that highlights the similar harvesting of thermal energy in the Uniqlo product and the “Hollow Flashlight.” She is currently a second year student at the University of British Columbia. Read on to learn more about Ann and register for her keynote at Thrival.

You can also buy tickets for two days of Thrival Music featuring The Chainsmokers, CHVRCHES, Thievery Corporation, Ty Dolla $ign, Hudson Mohawke, and more.

You’ve won prestigious awards at the Google Science Fair, Intel Science and Engineering Fair, were featured in TIME Magazine, and appeared on the Tonight Show — twice. When do you first recall having a deep interest in creating and inventing?

Ann Makosinski: I think I've always had an interest in creating things, just by taking the resources around me and trying to piece together something "better" or that could solve a problem. Because my parents didn't give me many toys when I was a kid, my first problem I really remember having was finding a way to entertain myself, so instead I made my own toys. While the physical act of making something is quite satisfying, I have also found an outlet for creativity in areas like writing and film to be quite enjoyable.

You’ve called yourself a “differentist”. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Ann Makosinski: "Differentist" is a term I made up while I was a kid, meaning that I wanted to be different and also do things differently than everyone else. While this is obviously not completely possible (and I do admit to falling into the trend of skinny jeans), I still try to follow this philosophy. Why do and look the same like everyone? Be creative!!! Follow your passions, and be PROUD of their and your individuality. If people don't like what you do and love, so what? 

You’re one of four keynote speakers at the Thrival Innovation + Music Festival this year, and you’re already a veteran public speaker. What are some common themes that you share with each of your audiences that speak to the work you do?

Ann Makosinski: When I speak, I usually tell a summarized story of all the awkward stages of me growing up (including the time I resembled Harry Potter and got literal bowl cuts), and then depending on what struggles I'm going through in life, I give five pieces of advice at the end to the audience (and myself). I also always try to think about what advice I'd like to tell my younger self (because 18 years old is really old folks!!!), and then present it in a way that relates to things the audience may be going through. My speeches are casual, and I try to make the audience feel like they're listening to a close friend talk. While the style of more formal speeches is a wonderful medium to employ, as per my rebellious teenaged spirit/devil child style, I like giving my talks a twist. 

What artists are you most excited to check out during Thrival Music?

Ann Makosinski: Probablyyyy Wild Child, as well as CHVRCHES and Chainsmokers! I listen to a lot of dead people, so the ones that are alive and at the festival I'll be doubly excited to listen to and see!

Any projects you are working on now that you want to tell us about?  

Well the most major project I'm working on right now is Gilmore Girls, I'm on the last season and on the edge of my seat. Just kidding (not really), I'm also writing an autobiography/self-deprecating memoir, as well as attempting to write a series of STEAM related graphic novel books for teens that I hope to be turned into a TV show. I also am working on a bunch of legal stuff that is not entertaining to write about for the flashlight, and once that is done I will hopefully be signing a deal to finally get them out in production. Also in September I'll have started second year university at UBC, so that's fun (other than the frantic all nighters studying part)!

Thievery Corporation's Rob Garza Talks New ALBUM, Touring with a 20-PERSON Band+

Thievery Corporation's Rob Garza Talks New ALBUM, Touring with a 20-PERSON Band+

Thievery Corporation are about to come to Pittsburgh as a full 20 piece band for the first time and Rob Garza is very excited. The band has had a busy summer, touring at festivals across the US and traveling with a 20 person ensemble isn't always simple. In addition to touring, Thievery Corporation is about to release a brand new album in February 2017 and in between shows, are working on finishing the production process. Read on to hear what they have been up to and buy tickets to see their debut full band show at Thrival, where they just might debut some material from the new record.

Chris Messina Talks Inventing the Hashtag and The Future of Tech

Chris Messina is a designer, writer, avid Twitterer, and speaker who’s known for inventing the hashtag. He works with developers, product designers, entrepreneurs, and communities to bring to life projects that should exist but don’t. Ahead of his speaking engagement at Thrival, we took a moment to speak with Chris Messina, one of our esteemed guest speakers about inventing the hashtag, the future of technology and what it's like being a "Developer Experience Lead' at Uber. This talk at Thrival is free to attend, however if you would like to experience 2 days of music featuring The Chainsmokers, Ty Dolla $ign, CHVRCHES, Hudson Mohawke and many others, you can buy tickets here.

There was a time when people just called it the “number sign” or the “pound sign.” Now, the hashtag has become its own digital phenomena. So to begin, how does one actually invent the hashtag? What went into that idea? What was the process?

I was an early Twitter user (#1186, to be precise) and many of us back then (as now) were looking for ways to make Twitter more topical and relevant to our interests. Lots of folks suggested that Twitter add conventional group functionality (with all the typical management overhead) but I felt that wouldn’t really work in the on-the-go, mobile context. But a lot of people were using Twitter on the desktop and weren’t thinking about that. Keep in mind that I proposed the hashtag on Aug 23, 2007; the iPhone had just been announced in January. 

It seemed to me that IRC (Internet Relay Chat, a protocol for Internet text messaging) had a useful convention for different “channels”, so I cribbed that but suggested you could have as many “tags” per tweet as you wanted. So to add a tweet to a “tag channel”, you could just prefix a word with the “#”, and it’d get added. Simple, clear, and concise — and it worked over SMS (which was the primary way I used Twitter back then). Best of all, there was no group management — and you could add a tag wherever you could type text, so you couldn’t prevent people from using them either.

From global movements to revolutionary ideas, and perhaps to just random thoughts — the hashtag demonstrates that people can find common ground. What is the most valuable role the hashtag serves? Has it evolved in its meaning and application since its creation?

The widespread adoption of social media wasn’t a sure thing. There’s always been a lot of skepticism that people would ever get past sharing updates about what they had for breakfast, or what the latest celebrity gossip is — but the reality is, we’re all looking to connect and have thoughts and opinions that we want to share. We’re also pretty lazy — we want the most impact with the least amount of effort. 

The hashtag works because it’s universal (i.e. works anywhere you can type text, just like emoji), it doesn’t take much effort and is easy to learn (just imitate other people who use them), and the rewards are significant (relative to not using them). Social publishing platforms have also responded to their users’ use of hashtags by improving the signal-to-noise ratio, and adding layers of meaning and context on top of trending topics.

As a result, social media has become the dominant way for people to make sense of the world around them, and to connect with other people who are interested in the same topics, or have similar views. The challenge, now, is to make sure that we don’t get trapped in our own echolalic filter bubbles, only seeing and hearing from people that believe the same things we do, and tricking us into adopting a view of reality that is inaccurate.

To the question specifically: no, I think the original intention I had when I proposed the hashtag still applies. I never anticipated that it’d become as ubiquitous as it has, but I’ve seen many, many things come out of Silicon Valley that have affected and changed culture, and I’m humbled by their success as well. 

Your day job is “Developer Experience Lead” at Uber. Can you offer us some insight on what the day-to-day looks like at your job?

Other folks might call this role a “developer advocate”, but I focus more on design and product issues as well as marketing duties that relate to our developer platform to take that mantle. I also don’t code on a day to day basis, but I do understand technical systems, APIs, authentication, and other aspects of integrating software systems. So, my work is broad: I work with partners and companies that want to build on the Uber API, I speak at conferences about our work and the future of technology, I work with internal teams to encourage them to open up APIs or do integrations that I think will mutually serve each other’s companies, and so on. I’ve only been on the job about eight months — but it easily feels like it’s been two years given the pace at which we operate!

Pittsburgh has increasingly become a hub for technology and innovation. What excites you most about the city of Pittsburgh and what do you see it achieving in the next five to ten years?

I like the size and intimacy of Pittsburgh. I like its history and its resolve to modernize and create a truly liveable environment, given its industrial heritage. The student population keeps things fresh and flowing, and its world class universities are incredibly valuable as well. There’s also a great presence and appreciation for art, and that helps keep things in balance. It’s been several years since I’ve been back to Pittsburgh so I’m not fully aware of everything that’s changed, but from my friends who are there, I’ve heard that things have really improved. Of course, Uber has a presence there as well, and while I can’t say much about that, I am bullish on how that will work out. 😄

We’re going to ask you to see around corners for a minute and be clairvoyant. If you are to forecast out, what are one or two major developments within the global economy that will revolutionize the way we do business, or perhaps live our daily lives in the not so distant future?

Wow, that’s a tough one. I find that predicting the future never works out so well, but I do tend to live five years in the future anyway, so if I were to just describe what I see happening in my life or around me, I’d point to the rise of conversational software (bots, AI, voice) and ubiquitous computing finally becoming, y’know, ubiquitous. 

Young people drive a lot of future technology trends because they’re not nearly as precious about the stuff, whereas people in my generation grew up without it, and so have more reverence for it. That’s why apps like Snapchat and Kik are so worth watching — teens gravitate to spaces without adult supervision that allow them to experiment and explore. Snapchat is teaching people to interact with augmented reality (as is Pokemon Go), and that trend creates a new kind of dynamic between people and their environments. Then you have Kik with its bot store, and that’s teaching young people to interact with software agents as though they’re just like their friends, and to use digital currencies like real money, which is something the west hasn’t fully adopted yet. 

On the ubiquitous computing side of things — the technology that surrounds us and pervades our daily experience is getting smarter and more cognizant of our habits and behaviors, and is offering up ways for developers to take advantage of this new information. Uber, for example, launched the Trip Experiences API in January of this year to allow you to share details about Uber trips you take with third party apps. They can then use that information to predict where you’re going to be and when you’re going to be there to serve you better and more personalized information. It’s a tiny example, but with this kind of contextual information, entirely new classes of apps and experiences will be able to built, and that’s just one example.

So, these examples may not be about revolutionizing business or the way we live, but they certain spell vectors for evolving our relationship with technology!

Ty Dolla $ign (Taylor Gang): New Album, Touring, Thrival Festival+


With a brand new album and a nonstop  tour schedule at festivals and sold out shows across the US. Ty Dolla $sign has been busy this summer. His album 'Free TC' features a great cohesiveness with an impressive list of collaborator friends including Wiz Khalifa, Kanye West, Rae Sremmurd, Future, Fetty Wap and several other huge names in hip hop.

Ahead of his debut at Thrival Festival, we spoke with Ty Dolla $sign to hear what he's been working on, how he creates on the road and what to expect in Sept. You can buy tickets to see him live at Thrival Festival and read on to hear more about what Ty Dolla $sign has been working on (below).

Thrival Innovation + Music Festival is all about connecting people with music, technology, new ideas and shared experiences while elevating the profile of its home city, Pittsburgh. When you think of Pittsburgh, what is the first thing that actually comes to mind?

Ty Dolla $ign: Taylor Gang

How do you make time to “be creative” and write music on the road amidst a busy summer tour schedule? Is there a method to the madness?

Ty Dolla $ign: There's no method to the madness. It's what I love doing. I wake up every morning and head to the lab  to record and if I'm on the road there's a studio on the bus.

What new projects are you working on?

Ty Dolla $ign: I just finished "Campaign" and I'm about to start working on 'Beach House 3'. I'm also working with all my homies and have a few projects in the works, Taylor Gang and my artist TeeCee4800 are up next!

Planning on debuting anything new at Thrival Innovation + Music Festival this year or during your summer schedule?

Ty Dolla $ign: Definitely a few records off of "Campaign".

Many, many musicians are entrepreneurs who experience the ups and downs of starting something new. Looking back, what was it like first starting out, and what advice would you give to aspiring startups, musicians, or entrepreneurs looking to go out on their own?

Never give up keep going - stay in your lane!