By Jim Jen, Innovation Works, COO
It is with mixed emotions that the team at Innovation Works announces that Ilana Diamond will be leaving IW at the end of October, after almost eight years of incredible contributions. Ilana will be joining 412 Venture Fund as its Managing Partner, where she will lead fund activities, including sourcing investments, supporting portfolio companies, and building “Founder First” initiatives. While we are sad that we won’t be working with Ilana on a daily basis, we are excited for her because we know the continued impact she will have on the Pittsburgh ecosystem and value the opportunity to still work closely with her and 412 Venture Fund as partners and co-investors.
I first met Ilana about eight years ago when we were developing a concept for a hardware accelerator. I was excited when Ilana agreed to not only mentor but wanted to launch and run AlphaLab Gear. And as most of you know, the resulting accomplishments speak for themselves…
As Founding Managing Director of AlphaLab Gear, Ilana with our partner, Startbot, launched one of the first hardware/physical product accelerators in the world which in seven cohorts has invested in and supported over 50 companies, working closely with 100+ entrepreneurs. Ilana took a strong vision — to build a global community for hardware and to make Pittsburgh and its manufacturing capabilities a hub — and turned that into reality. Not only has AlphaLab Gear become well-known as a nationally ranked hardware accelerator, but it also extended Pittsburgh’s reach internationally with the International Hardware Cup competition that spanned six US regions and four countries this past year.
Ilana has also had an immeasurable impact on entrepreneurs — both current and future. Through AlphaLab Gear, she helped shape how startup founders build their companies — a customer-focused approach to bringing products to market combined with an ethical, values-based framework instilled in the earliest stages. Ilana saw the opportunity to pilot an Ethics curriculum in AlphaLab Gear, partnering with CMU’s Create Lab. IW’s Startable youth entrepreneurship program was incubated at AlphaLab Gear and has provided entrepreneurial training to over 300 high school students to date from all backgrounds and communities.
Beyond these accomplishments, what makes Ilana so unique is her love for working with companies and the time and energy she pours into helping them with their unique challenges. There are numerous founders that can tell you stories of when Ilana made time for them — in the evenings, weekends, on neighborhood walks, even on Thanksgiving Day. And she has done all of this in her own, inimitable way — positive encouragement, valuable intros, and candid direct feedback all delivered with a smile.
Finally, on a personal level, I will truly miss working with Ilana on a daily basis. We have shared many fun, embarrassing moments together (remember Hamilton or Tipsy Pitches) and spent countless hours brainstorming and debating ways we could improve our programs and processes. I have learned so much from watching how Ilana embraces opportunities, engages partners, and approaches every interaction with warmth, integrity, and humility. She has helped make me better at what I do, as she does with everyone she comes across.
We want to thank Ilana and wish her the best as she joins 412 Venture Fund! We look forward to working with her and her partners on continuing to build a vibrant and inclusive Pittsburgh startup ecosystem in the years ahead.