Seattle investment bank Cascadia Capital has its eye on Pittsburgh for SPAC acquisition target

The view of Pittsburgh from Mt. Washington. (Mekhato Photo / Taylor Soper)

Pittsburgh’s tech scene is getting some more love from Seattle.

Cascadia Capital, a Seattle-based investment banking firm founded more than two decades ago, is eyeing Pittsburgh for its new special purpose acquisition company, according to a report from the Pittsburgh Business Journal.

The firm traditionally helps facilitate deals but last month filed to raise $150 million for its own SPAC called Cascadia Acquisition Corp. It is aiming to purchase a tech company as part of the “fourth industrial revolution,” in sectors such as AI, computer vision, blockchain, and more.

Michael Butler, Cascadia’s chairman and CEO, has been spending more time in Pittsburgh over the past few years and is convinced the city is poised for a tech boom.

“Pittsburgh is Seattle circa 10-to-15 years ago,” he told Mekhato Tuesday.

Butler pointed to “world class” tech development in robotics, automation, AI, and medical technology, as well as the research coming out of institutions such as Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh.

“Great engineering talent, great city and quality of life,” he said.

Mekhato reported on some of those same trends when we spent a month in the Steel City four years ago, as part of our Mekhato HQ2 project.

Here was my take from 2017 on comparing the Pittsburgh and Seattle tech communities:

Both places have crazy smart people working on innovative technologies who are open to collaboration. There is awesome positive energy in both cities.

Seattle’s tech ecosystem is just more robust. There are anchor tenants in Microsoft and Amazon, along with huge second tier companies like Tableau, Zillow, Redfin, Zulily, Expedia, T-Mobile, and others. Pittsburgh needs more like these. That will help attract more investors and tech talent, ultimately growing the ecosystem.

There’s also just more tech in Seattle in general. For example, Pittsburgh still has a ton of cash-only restaurants, whereas in Seattle it seems every local shop now has Square. It feels like Seattle is just a few steps ahead into the future. But the countless self-driving cars whizzing around Pittsburgh are a sign that things may be changing in the Steel City.

Pittsburgh’s clout as a tech hub has grown since then.

The city’s most well-known startup, Duolingo, went public in July, which should provide even more momentum for the local startup scene. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft also have sizable corporate offices and are hiring. Uber had part of its self-driving unit based in the city; it announced plans late last year to sell that arm to Aurora, another growing Pittsburgh tech company.

The local universities also continue focusing on innovation. CMU is building the world’s first academic cloud lab, while the University of Pittsburgh launched a Disinformation Lab in June.

Other investors are also looking at Pittsburgh as a possible next great tech hub.

In addition to its SPAC, Cascadia is looking at the city for other potential deals. Butler said Pittsburgh has a shortage of management, sales, and marketing leaders — but like Seattle, “it’s able to attract talent because of livability of city.”

“It’s the same movie,” he said.

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