Tailored Programming: The Right Support At The Right Time

There are two points in time when hardware companies are best equipped to fundraise and scale successfully:

  1.  When they have identified their first target market and proven that customers will pay to use their product, and
  2.  When they’re ready to manufacture at scale.

AlphaLab Gear helps companies reach these points faster through investment, deep one-on-one engagement, network building, office space, and a la carte resources on topics such as sales, digital marketing, customer acquisition, business operations, human resources, fundraising, and manufacturing. We help companies build their products reliably, at scale, and at a price their customers are willing to pay.


AlphaLab Gear invests up to $50,000 in the form of a convertible note and receives up to 2% common stock equity from participating companies.

AlphaLab Gear is a program of Innovation Works, which regularly ranks as one of the top seed-stage investors in the U.S. Qualifying AlphaLab Gear companies are eligible for additional funding from the Innovation Works Seed Fund.


Our mentor network is one of the most valuable aspects of AlphaLab Gear. Companies benefit from the guidance of entrepreneurs, technologists, and investors who have developed and launched products, raised capital and negotiated manufacturing and distribution partnerships.

Companies have opportunities to meet 1-on-1 with mentors during meetup events, talks, or through personal introductions. Mentors are able to provide relevant strategic and tactical guidance to companies that is specific to each company’s industry, stage and goals. Check out our mentors here.

AlphaLab Gear, AlphaLab, AlphaLab Health, and Innovation Works collectively have an extensive alumni network of over 300 companies, many of which remain engaged with our current companies, offering expertise and guidance. Check out the AlphaLab Gear, AlphaLab, AlphaLab Health, and Innovation Works company pages to see our portfolio and alumni companies.

Investors & Customers

AlphaLab Gear has an extensive network of investors and corporate partners. Many of our companies find their first investors, customers, suppliers, advisors, and other partners through introductions from our network.

Our Team

Meet the members of the AlphaLab Gear team as well as the broader team at Innovation Works.

Mike Formica, Managing Director of Hardware & AlphaLab Gear

Mike Formica has led multiple startups to successful exits as a founder and CEO. He has over 25 years experience accelerating company growth through new product development that is driven by a customer-centric approach and anchored by a commitment to strong manufacturing.

Mike was Founder and President of 3Rivers3D, one of the largest manufacturers of high precision 3D imaging systems. Leveraging in-house manufacturing and a local supply chain, 3Rivers3D experienced explosive growth and produced thousands of units annually out of their Pittsburgh headquarters.

Prior to 3Rivers3D Mike was CEO of AssistWare Technology. There he commercialized and launched SafeTRAC, one of the industry’s first commercial lane departure systems. AssistWare produced hundreds of thousands of units to the worldwide trucking industry.

Mike’s first startup was Axsys Fiber Automation. They pioneered the use of computer vision in fiber optic assembly. In two years time the group developed and launched 5 new robotic assembly, test and inspection machines. Most recently Mike was President of Neya Systems, a developer of autonomous off-road vehicles. Initially a DoD focused provider, Mike led the expansion into commercial markets leading to large growth in the mining and construction industries.

Mike has won numerous awards, including: PA Governor’s Entrepreneur ImPAct Award, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist, Business Times Manufacturer of the Year, a Carnegie Science Entrepreneur Award, a Best Places to Work Award, and several Industry Best Product Awards.

Mike is a former US Navy Nuclear Power Officer and a graduate of the Navy Nuclear Power School. He graduated with a BSEE from the University of Pittsburgh where he was an Honors College Scholar and was 4-time All Big East in Cross-Country and Track.

Mike has been highly active in the regional startup ecosystem. He has mentored numerous startups and frequently speaks at local events. He created and currently teaches a class at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Engineering titled “Engineering a Startup” which focuses on hardware-based product companies.

Jessi Mazzoni, Program Manager of AlphaLab Gear

Prior to joining Gear, Jessi led a Pittsburgh-based medical software company, MiJourney, through growth and eventual acquisition by Smith+Nephew as the company’s Director of Operations and Product. For the past year and a half, she completed a Social Innovation Fellowship with 412 Food Rescue while earning her Master’s degree at Carnegie Mellon. From 2015-2017 Jessi lived and worked in Zambia as a Peace Corps Volunteer. In her spare time, she creates a podcast, promotes her very serious book, and enjoys rock climbing and biking.

Afshan Khan, Portfolio Executive

Afshan was CEO of Focal Point Products, an international manufacturer and distributor of polyurethane millwork building materials for home construction, commercial projects, and building renovation. Earlier in her career, Afshan held a number of key positions in Xerox Corporation, in business development, M&A, and strategic planning. Afshan holds an MBA from the Carnegie Mellon Tepper Business School, and a BS in Business Administration and English from Duquesne University.


Jeff McDaniel, Portfolio Executive

Jeff has 15 years’ experience in innovation, corporate strategy, manufacturing and energy technologies, and operations in both early stage and Fortune 500 companies. Prior to Innovation Works/AlphaLab Gear, Jeff was in charge of business development and strategy for the emerging technology R&D portfolio for Westinghouse Electric Company. Before joining Westinghouse, Jeff held marketing, strategy, and development roles at the Ex One Company, a global manufacturing technology incubator headquartered in western Pennsylvania. He led the successful commercialization of Imagen, LLC, a manufacturer of dental implant and bio-medical devices through 3D printing, becoming that startup’s General Manager and Vice President. Jeff holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Naval Academy and a JD from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

Matt Verlinich, Manufacturing Program Associate

Matt was the founding General Manager of TechShop Pittsburgh. He then went on to found Clear Ice Rocks, where he invented, prototyped, crowdfunded, mass-produced, and fulfilled orders to over 55 different companies. In his role as Manufacturing Program Associate, Matt engages with accelerator and early stage hardware companies to identify design and manufacturing needs, and provides connections to resources for design for manufacturing, prototyping, components, and supply chain partners.

Staci Offutt, Platform Manager

As Platform Manager of Innovation Works (IW), Staci Offutt supports the growth of software, hardware, and life-science startups throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania. She has a passion for creating authentic, innovative, and equitable opportunities that improve business operations, increase learning outcomes, and elevate the voices and ideas of others. Staci works closely with IW’s portfolio companies across various stages and sectors to help them leverage resources and mentors and build community to promote their growth and profitability.

Prior to overseeing the direction of IW’s Platform, Staci spearheaded Startable, IW’s youth entrepreneur program. As Program Manager of Startable, Staci leveraged strategic partnerships to quadruple program capacity and participation and quickly pivoted to a fully virtual program to continue supporting students virtually throughout the pandemic.

In addition to IW’s Platform, Staci manages IW’s AlphaLab Gear Artist Residency, and she is the Project Director for Fiberart International, a triennial exhibition that showcases global trends in contemporary art. She serves on the Board of Directors for Communitopia, a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to slow climate change and create healthier communities.

Staci has a BFA from West Virginia University and an MFA from Parsons, The New School.

Space & Perks

Collaborative Workspace

Need space? We’ve got it. Use your own private office when you need it; collaborate in our open workspace when you want.


Free and discounted access to products and services essential to any startup like Amazon Web Services, Solidworks, Stripe, ZipCar and more through our Global Accelerator Network membership.


Help with finding an intern through connections with local universities such as Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.

Legal & Accounting Support

Access to free and discounted legal services including a complimentary incorporation package through Dentons Cohen & Grigsby’s AlphaLaw program as well as complimentary filing of initial intellectual property through Fox Rothschild. Access to free and discounted accounting and tax services through Sisterson & Co.

Program Partners