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AlphaLab Gear & CMU Project Aims To Bake Ethics Into Tech Startups From The Jump

Jessica Pachuta
Ethics MVP
A photo from a June Ethics MVP workshop with participants from the AlphaLab Gear startup incubator.

Discussions about ethics in technology have made headlines this year, with large companies including Facebook andGoogle battling scandals over data protection and privacy. A joint venture between Carnegie Mellon University and AlphaLab Gear aims to bake ethics into Pittsburgh tech startups from the beginning. 

Over the past six months, the Ethics MVP group worked closely with the seven startups in AlphaLab Gear's incubator program. Each company came up with ethical guidelines and goals for their future, like how they'll handle customer data or vet vendors for fair treatment of workers. 

Jessica Pachuta, co-director of Ethics MVP, said bringing values into startups early benefits everyone.

"I think it's a way to build resilience," Pachuta said. "It's also easier to turn a small ship than it is to turn a big ship." 

Brad Factor, CEO of Ekto VR, was part of the first Ethics MVP cohort. His company makes accessories for virtual reality video games that aim to keep the users safe and prevent motion sickness. He said committing to certain ethics from the beginning of the startup process would appeal to customers and investors who want to make sure they're working with companies that share their values.

Credit Brad Factor / Ekto VR
Ekto VR
Ekto VR's motorized device for virtual reality gaming.

"But I think that it's also a focus to make sure that we stay true to what's important to us," Factor said. 

According to the Ethics MVP team, most startups don't have access to high level ethics coaching from the beginning, making the program a unique opportunity to Pittsburgh companies looking to get their feet wet. The Ethics MVP and AlphaLab Gear collaboration will continue with the next batch of companies in the spring.