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Meet Ascender

Dedicated to connecting, supporting, and investing in Pittsburgh’s entrepreneurs.

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We are a vibrant hub with educational programs for entrepreneurs, mentorship and expert coaching, incubation and a collaborative coworking space that helps drive innovation and growth.

From fledgling tech companies, healthcare innovators, and nonprofits to makers, creators, services and shops, entrepreneurship thrives here.

Our Approach to Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is a team sport. To reach your goal, you will need consistent support from those inside and outside of your organization. Ascender can play a key role in providing that support during that critical period as you acquire the resources necessary to build out your internal competencies.

Ascender's Approach to EntrepreneurshipEntrepreneurial literacy is the backbone of a successful ecosystem. A thriving community requires a deeper and deeper pool of players who have strong networks and understand the nuances of business formation, business strategy and business growth. Providing access to anyone in the community to quality content and networking opportunities allows Ascender to play a meaningful role in raising the level of entrepreneurial literacy in the greater Pittsburgh community.

Venture financing is not the only pathway to success. A vibrant and growing community requires small and mid sized businesses, non-profits as well as those striving to become the next unicorn. Our model allows us to work with any type of business regardless of desired outcome as we are not forced to focus only on those businesses that may lead to a financial return for Ascender.

Resources for Entrepreneurs

Programs. Serving our mission to raise the level of entrepreneurial literacy in the community, we provide a schedule of programming free of charge in our event space. We believe our Starters and Builders series is an effective tool for any entrepreneur to learn new content, grow their network by meeting with our speakers and other participants, and a low key way to meet the Ascender team and get high level feedback on their plans. Programs are open to any entrepreneur at any stage of business building.

Mentoring. The backbone of the Ascender approach is to really dig in with each entrepreneur we work with and mutually determine the specific needs and priorities for each business. We do not provide prescriptive answers; our mentoring is individualized and geared towards ensuring each entrepreneur is on a path towards achieving their particular goals, whatever they might be.

Space. In some situations the best path towards success requires physical space that the entrepreneur may not currently have available to them. In these instances, Ascender is able to offer membership in our coworking space which includes one or two dedicated desks and full access to the rest of our office amenities.

Incubation. For those entrepreneurs who have been given desks, we will work towards formalizing the relationship with a $5,000 investment for which Ascender receives a 1% equity stake. This investment is made when a mutually agreeable financial and operational plan has been formulated.

Connectivity. The team at Ascender is well connected to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas. We are able to leverage these relationships to pull the right folks into the conversation at the appropriate time to meaningfully support an entrepreneur on their journey.

The Team

Barrie Athol, Ascender CEO

Barrie Athol


Stephan Mueller, Ascender COO

Stephan Mueller


Beth Klebacha, Ascender Marketing Director

Beth Klebacha

Marketing Director

Kenny Chen, Ascender Innovation Director

Kenny Chen

Innovation Director

Jenny Sharpe, Ascender Program Director

Jenny Sharpe

Program Director

Nadyli Nuñez

Operations Director

Gwen Miller

Community Operations Manager

Our Board

Luke Skurman

Luke Skurman

Chairman, Ascender & Chief Executive Officer, Niche

Barrie Athol, Ascender CEO

Barrie Athol

CEO, Ascender

Mark Broadhurst

Mark Broadhurst

VP Corporate Dining & Retail Development, Eat'n Park Hospitality Group

Dave Busch, Ascender Board

Dave Busch

CEO & Founder, Nivo1

Kevin Heher

Kevin Heher

President, Liberty Insurance Agency

Hannah Johnson

Hannah Johnson

Global Communications Director, Philips

Justine Kasznica

Justine Kasznica

Shareholder, Babst Calland

Serge Smailbegovic

Serge Smailbegovic

Director, Corporate Services & Real Estate Sourcing, BNY Mellon

Bobby Zappala

Bobby Zappala

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