Innovators of the EIC is an interview series featuring innovators who work in or on the Energy Innovation Center building. These interviews ask our innovators to share what they do, how they innovate and what they’re excited to be working on. This month, we interviewed Jonah Cooper, Jr., CEO and founder of Jonah Cooper, Jr. LLC.


What is the focus of your organization?
Jonah Cooper, Jr. LLC, focuses on creating strategic alliances toward private public partnerships and addressing workforce development, entrepreneurship and small business development, throughout multiple industry areas.


What is your role within your organization? What is a typical workday look like for you in that role?
As the CEO of Jonah Cooper, Jr. LLC, every day begins with looking at yesterday, today and tomorrow. I’m looking at existing projects we’re involved with and touching bases with the different project leaders. I’m looking at ongoing projects and potential projects to figure out new ways to create efficiency and effectiveness. Our goal is to always improve our capacity to serve.


What do you enjoy about being at the Energy Innovation Center?
Working with Pittsburgh Gateways Corporation (PGC) at its Energy Innovation Center (EIC) is an opportunity to be part of a family, part of a village. I enjoy looking at ways in which the EIC can continue its work of becoming a hub for different thought leaders and tenants who can benefit from each other’s presence. The word ‘innovation’ attracted me, particularly when coupled with ‘energy’, because energy happens to touch all industries.

Innovation is in continuous demand. We can always be looking at new ways to be efficient and effective and new ways to explore the application of innovation. From a PGC and EIC standpoint, they’re willing to build a strong foundation to be able to harvest new fruits for tomorrow. That’s what innovation is to me. New processes, vision and procedures to help us harvest the new fruits of tomorrow.


What role does innovation play in your work?
The first thing I do is look at ways to stay as current with new technologies as possible. I look at where we can give focus to things we don’t know and learn about them, rather than focusing only on what we do know. I’m looking at how students can be teachers and teachers can be students. Sometimes untried ideas can be a benefit to our today and our tomorrow.

Something that I see a great need for is an increase in the way we focus on data, data warehousing and data mining as it relates to monitoring impact, especially when it comes to tracking the success of entrepreneurship and workforce development programs. In order to accurately measure impact, we need to come up with innovative ways of tracking and monitoring information, which is an important aspect of working to move projects forward.


What’s an accomplishment you’re extremely proud of?
What I consider to be my greatest accomplishment is having positioned myself with great thought leaders and subject matter experts in a way that allows me to learn as much as I teach. For example, being part of the PGC family gives me the opportunity to meet and learn from thought leaders in this area. In all the work that I’m doing now, I have placed myself on advisories where I can learn, in addition to providing ideas and direction.


What are you most excited about that you are doing right now, personally or professionally?
Professionally, it’s creating a vehicle for succession planning, where succession planning begins to be a daily activity in my professional life. It allows me to share what I’ve learned and help others to learn, and it introduces the benefit of new ideas and new relationships. On the personal side, I’m excited to be looking at how some of the personal interests that I have can be supported by my professional life. I am an accomplished pianist, and I’ve always kept that separate from my professional life. Now I’m looking at how the two can complement each other. They’re no longer two separate things, both get the same attention from me daily.


What do you like to do in your free time?
I enjoy listening to the ways that other people see life. What I do for fun is find new ways to bring laughter, joy and hope to people and environments that I’m part of. That’s probably what I’m known most for. We need to have more joy and humor in our lives, so I enjoy having that with anyone I’m around. Things can be so serious, but things are not as bad as they might seem. The sun is always shining on the earth, even at night, when we can’t see it. We don’t look for the sunshine enough. Looking for that sunshine and finding it makes me feel better.