Alum Dan Law Brings Music, Innovation to Pittsburgh Region

Created: July 26, 2016
Last Updated: August 20, 2020

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WASHINGTON, PA (July 27, 2016) – Pittsburgh’s largest music festival opens in less than 10 weeks, but if Dan Law ’08 is nervous, he isn’t showing it.

The Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) alumnus has played a major role in organizing the Thrival Innovation + Music Festival since it began in 2013. He wants to continue the festival’s mission to provide great music while exposing the work of local entrepreneurs to the public.

It’s a challenging concept, but it’s working.

“When you say you want to put music and innovation together in a festival and you’re in Austin, TX people say, ‘That totally makes sense.’ You do that in Los Angeles, or Seattle or New York, and people say, ‘Yes, we can do that here.’ In Pittsburgh, people said, ‘That doesn’t make sense. You should pick one or the other,” Law said. “I think people are starting to change their minds about that now. It’s one of the signs of success.”

Thrival began as what Law describes as a “parking lot get-together.” A handful of programs focused on innovation centered around a concert as the main event. There were two distinct groups of attendees in the early years: the innovators, and the concert goers.

Law was a volunteer festival organizer in 2013. When Thrill Mill, Thrival’s parent organization, hired him the following year as the vice president of business development and the executive producer of Thrival, the full weight of the project fell on his shoulders.

The English and history major who shied away from college economics courses suddenly found himself running a business. But Law said he didn’t feel underprepared. He embraced the opportunity to bridge the gap between music and innovation by telling stories – a good use of the writing skills he picked up at W&J, he said. He found that many of his coworkers don’t have business backgrounds either, and he credits the success of their workplace to their dynamic academic backgrounds.

Now both Thrill Mill and Thrival are expanding, and he’s starting to see Pittsburgh innovators grow with it. In 2013, Thrill Mill was working with about a dozen startup companies. Approximately 2,000 people attended the first one-day Thrival Festival featuring morning innovation programs and an evening of four music acts. Thrill Mill has expanded its portfolio to 30 startups, and in 2015 more than 11,000 people attended Thrival’s 40 music acts and 36 innovation program lineups over the course of five days.

From Sept. 20-24, the 2016 Thrival Innovation + Music Festival will feature 30 programs in various locations around Pittsburgh, plus a new keynote speakers series. More than 20 music acts will perform at Carrie Furnaces.

“There will always be a challenge in trying to marry two concepts that people generally keep mutually exclusive,” Law said. “But in reality, musicians and artists are innovators themselves. Their story, and the story of a start-up company, are the same. We’ve transitioned from trying to tell innovation stories by saying, ‘I’ll bet you didn’t know this was happening in Pittsburgh,’ to being part of substantial conversations about public policy challenges, concepts of national culture and identity, and who we are in Pittsburgh as a people.”

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.

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