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Panopto CEO Eric Burns. Photo via Panopto.

PITTSBURGH — The team at Panopto might be more excited than anyone else about the upcoming aerial connection from Seattle to Pittsburgh.

The enterprise video company, which raised a $42.8 million round in August 2016, got its start in Pittsburgh more than a decade ago and relocated its headquarters to Seattle in 2015. It has offices in both cities, with a majority of its 130 employees now in the Pacific Northwest.

Panopto CEO Eric Burns said Alaska Airline’s new cross-country route, which goes into effect this fall and will be the only nonstop flight offered from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Pittsburgh International Airport, could help bring the two cities together in new ways.

“This is the beginning of hopefully a beautiful Seattle-Pittsburgh relationship, with the two cities deepening their ties in ways that would have seemed improbable a while ago,” he said.

Burns helped develop Panopto’s original technology as a senior research programmer at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, but the technology hadn’t yet been commercialized when he took a job at Microsoft in 2005. When Panopto launched in 2007, he ran its engineering operations out of Seattle. In 2015, Panopto officially moved its HQ to Seattle as Burns shifted from CTO to CEO.

Even with the headquarters relocation, Panopto has kept roots in Pittsburgh. A large part of the company’s finance, sales, and technical support staff remains in Pittsburgh, where they recently moved to a new, bigger office.

“We are a bicoastal company,” Burns noted.

 

Pittsburgh skyline from the Mount Washington overlook. (GeekWire photo via Elan Mizrahi)

Burns brings a unique perspective about the similarities and differences between Seattle and Pittsburgh, having been both a student and senior researcher at CMU before living in Seattle for the past 12 years.

Seattle has a larger tech ecosystem given longstanding giants like Amazon and Microsoft, along with a more robust startup scene. But Burns said Pittsburgh might be a better place to start a company.

“It’s a lot less risky than starting in Seattle or Silicon Valley in terms of cost exposure, competition in the market, and other external factors that can threaten an early-stage company,” he said.

Pittsburgh, which is transitioning from a steel town to a modern innovation factory, may not have the same density of software engineers and big tech companies as other cities. But it does have a key differentiator: CMU, the University of Pittsburgh, and other universities that produce top talent every year.

“If the schools in the area can manage to retain the early stage of innovation and technologies without it going to a startup hub, then Pittsburgh has an incredibly bright future,” Burns said.

Burns has also noticed that investors in Seattle tend to look for “more guaranteed winners.”

“If that mentality persists, it opens up a place like Pittsburgh to be an early-stage center,” he said.

Seattle
The Seattle skyline from Kerry Park. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Burns said that while he was at CMU, most of his colleagues and classmates would move away after finishing their studies. That has changed as companies like Google and Uber open engineering offices in Pittsburgh. Affordable housing and a growing food scene also help.

“The quality of life in both places is high in different ways — Pittsburgh doesn’t have the metropolitan density that Seattle has, but people tend to live in larger spaces,” Burns said. “If someone wants to raise a family and have a bigger house, it’s very accessible in Pittsburgh.”

Pittsburgh’s culture is a “bit more blue collar” than Seattle, he said. There’s also something special about the “Pittsburgh charm” and interactions between citizens.

“It’s a place of incredible civic pride,” Burns explained. “Part of that is because it’s not a city of transplants like Seattle or Silicon Valley appear to be some days. The bonds in Pittsburgh are deeper than just a shared personality.”

Panopto, which hosts more than 2 million videos in its cloud, is far from the only company or institution with ties to both Seattle and Pittsburgh. There is an increasing level of collaboration between researchers and faculty from CMU and the University of Washington; for example, Professor Siddhartha Srinivasa recently joined the UW faculty from Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute.

The connection could strengthen if Seattle-based Amazon decides to put its second headquarters in Pittsburgh, which is among the 20 finalists vying for the $5 billion economic prize.

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