Jul 23, 2015

Banish that boring lunch!

Banish that Boring Lunch!
The Success Story of Pittsburgh Po' Boy 

Client: Ben Dougherty

Company: Pittsburgh Po' Boy

County:  Allegheny

Industry: Food Service

Year Founded: 2015

SBDC Assistance: business plan, financial projections

Additional Partners: Local Lenders


Need a quick fix for every day's boring lunch? Think food truck! With Twitter and mobile feeds now telling you where your favorite food truck will be parked, the street food scene in Pittsburgh is alive and growing!

Ben Dougherty, recognizing this phenomenon, conceived his own take on street food with Pittsburgh Po' Boy specializing in Cajun/creole inspired food. Having spent some time in New Orleans, Ben wanted to bring southern inspired flavors to the Steel City. Focusing on fresh, high quality, local ingredients, together with wife, Kate, he would make traditional po' boy and muffaletta sandwiches as well as classics such as gumbo, jambalaya, and beignets. But, first he needed a truck...

Finding a truck posed a little problem; he found a used police truck. Retrofitting it as a food truck was another matter. The cost for a reputable renovation including commercial kitchen equipment, ventilation, and fire suppression system was costly. Ben realized that he needed outside financing. Intending to set up a crowd funding appeal, he knew he would need a loan and approached a local community development funder and was referred to the Duquesne University SBDC.

" You were such a fantastic resource! I tell folks all the time about your office and how much help you were." - Ben Dougherty

The SBDC really gave me the needed push to take the rish and get this studio going.”

One of the first things the counselor asked was about Ben's experience in the food industry. Having related experience is a key factor when working with any lender. Fortunately, Ben had over 15 years experience as a chef and restaurant manager. So they began discussing Ben's business plans. While reviewing Ben's draft plan, the counselor focused on two issues since Ben had not run a food truck before: convincing a lender that he had a market and developing reasonable estimates of sales and expenses.

Over the next four months and at the urging of his counselor, Ben refined his vending schedule demonstrating that he had established commitments for daily locations. He reached out to other truck vendors asking about daily sales and sales during inclement weather. He added this research to the plan and used the information to revise sales projections and to secure locations during the winter

Ben initiated his Kickstarter crowd funding campaign in May and successfully exceeded his financing goal by 6% within the next month. While this was encouraging, Ben was, unfortunately, turned down by the two lenders he approached. He also turned to a couple of investors. All of them told him that they liked his plan and projections, but wanted to see actual sales and then would reconsider his financing request. Armed with Kickstarter funds, Ben has taken the challenge and recently opened a booth at the Pittsburgh Public Market.

While he is not yet serving customer from his food truck, he's doing what many entrepreneurs do - sticking to Plan B in order to get to Plan A. Plan A - the truck - will happen next year. Was all the planning work for nothing? Not according to Ben. He told his counselor "all your help with the plan and figures. They helped me understand my business better, and know they'll come in handy at the right time."

Jan 9, 2015

The Next Chapter: Advice on How to Improve Your Small Business in 2015

Cynthia Laurash

Consulting Manager

Duquesne University SBDC

Learn Something New
Find the time to learn something new even if it's not related to your business. It's important to achieve a healthy balance between work and personal life. If you're looking to learn more about growing and succeeding in the small business world, take a look at some of our workshops coming up  in 2015

Shea Matthews
Marketing Coordinator
Duquesne University Center for Green Industries

Green Your Business

This Five Part Video Series on running a sustainable or green business from the Duquesne Center for Green Industries and Sustainable Business Growth educates entrepreneurs on the benefits of "going green" and how to start and maintain a green business. 

Autumn Edmiston

Edmiston Group
Create and Execute an Editorial Social Media Calendar
By using an editorial social media calendar, regular postings and fun days can be incorporated for overall engagement. Take a planning afternoon over the holidays and lay out your calendar for 2015. Incorporate wacky fun days, ask questions and provide relevant content. Only 20% of your efforts should be related to selling something. The other 80% should be engaging or informational. Find this step-by-step guide to setting up your calendar from Edmiston Group. 

Brent Rondon

GLOBAL Business Program Manager

Duquesne University SBDC

Engage and Participate in Travel Opportunities
In the last 35 years, U.S. exports increased from $224 billion to $2.3 trillion. The global marketplace is growing by an average of 5% per year. Take advantage of international opportunities and "Go Global." Duquesne SBDC offers resources and workshops on international business training. 

Linda D'Angelo


The Small Biz Shop

Set Yourself Apart and be a Voice of Expertise
Work on personal branding so people will easily recognize your name. In order to start, identify a LinkedIn group, an online magazine, a webinar series and/or a certification program related to your area of expertise. Commit to expanding your skills via these avenues. Share your new knowledge with a blog series and social media posts. Stand out and be daring! Learn about hands-on training for sharing your knowledge across social media platforms. 

Svitlana Mahoney


Duquesne University SBDC

Make Time For YOU
The all work and no play lifestyle is not healthy and may lead to physical and mental health problems. Make some time in your calendar to do something you like. Whether it's playing golf or knitting a scarf, you need a personal life to be successful in your work life. If you cannot seem to find free time, write it into your calendar. Have a meeting or conference call with yourself! 

Aug 21, 2014

Safely Setting the Course in the Hill District

Client: Barbara Strothers
Address: Grace Security LLC
               621 Crawford St.
               Pittsburgh, PA

County: Allegheny

Industry: Security Firm

Year Founded: 2012

SBDC Assistance: Training and consulting on start-up, legal, financial, marketing, human resources, business plan

Barbara Strothers has been in the private security business for 14 years. While working as a security guard she dreamed that one day she would have her own firm. Years passed but she could not do it. Her lack of knowledge on how to start her business, how to manage a business, and how to steer her company to success were a big deterrent to accomplish her dream.

However, in July 2012 she attended training in the Hill District provided by Duquesne University SBDC.

"Starting a business and learning too many aspects of it has been chanllenging but rewarding... I could not have done it without the training and consulting provided by my Duquesne SBDC consultant."
-Barbara Strothers, CEO


At the SBDC, she learned the legal, accounting, financial, human resources, marketing, and management aspect of owning a business. The training was an eye-opener, and was precisely what she needed to start her business. Barbara decided she needed further assistance, and with the help of Gonzalo Manchego, an SBDC consultant, discussed further her needs and completed a sound business plan, which she submitted to a business plan grant competition organized by Urban Innovation 21. Just a few of the participants were awarded seed money for their business but Barbara won $5,000 in the competition (the second largest amount of money awarded in the competition). Barbara knew that the combination of proper assistance and seed money just received were the perfect combination she needed to succeed.

Relying on the Duquesne SBDC consulting assistance, she geared her company to success. One year after she and a business partner incorporated Grace Security LLC, her security company has signed two major contracts to provide security services to companies and buildings in the Hill District. Through the year, her company has hired 9 employees, 7 of them full-time, and she is looking to hire more soon.

"Starting a business and learning too many aspects of it has been challenging but rewarding," she said. A network of support that includes Duquesne University, the Hill District Credit Union, Urban Innovation 21, Bridgeway Capital, among many other organizations and individuals helps immensely but success comes along with an owners' determination, diligence and desire to learn.

Reflecting on what has happened in this year, Barbara sees the positive impact of her business success in the Hill District. "People approach me while I am walking on the street to congratulate me. They make me know how proud they are of having one of their own leading the path to a new, brighter and safer and future in the Hill. They also notice how unusual but rewarding it is to see a woman being the CEO of a security firm."

Without a doubt, Barbara's success has broken many paradigms, and expectations are high over the future of her firm. "Don't worry," she says, "with the proper support of my network I will rise to the challenge."

Aug 14, 2014

The ART Place Studio: Success Story

Client: Vanessa Steel

Company: The ART Place Studio

Address: 100 Church Road
Wexford, PA 15090

County:  Allegheny

Industry: Art Education

Year Founded: 2014

SBDC Assistance: Startup registrations, business & strategic planning, recordkeeping, finance

Vanessa Steele has a passion for art and for her family.  How fortunate that she’s combined both in her new art studio.  According to Vanessa’ s business plan, the ART Place “strives to create a unique environment in which children and adults of all abilities and experience can feel free to imagine, create and welcome art into their lives.”  When you enter the studio, clearly, she’s created a place to express yourself through art in a dynamic environment and through constantly-evolving programs.

With a vision for the studio, Vanessa knew that she wanted a location that was easily accessible and suitable for intimate teaching.  She found that in a house-turned-business in Wexford, PA, that gives her separate rooms for different customers and classes. 


The SBDC really gave me the needed push to take the rish and get this studio going.

"The SBDC really gave me the needed push to take
the risk and get this studio going"- Vanessa Steele
The SBDC really gave me the needed push to take the rish and get this studio going.”
Looking for financing, Vanessa contacted her SBA district office in Pittsburgh, who referred her to the Duquesne University Small Business Development Center serving Butler County.  Hoping to have her business plan reviewed, Vanessa discovered that the SBDC could help her is many other ways and be part of her ongoing support network.  With the plan as the starting point, Vanessa and her consultant discussed trends and her competition and how she could differentiate herself.  The SBDC provided her with demographic data on student populations in public and private schools.  Together, they analyzed her startup costs and working capital needs.  Vanessa determined how much funding she would need to open and signed the lease.

Just before she opened, she and her consultant spent time going over the legalities of registering the company and understanding income taxes.  They also worked on hosting a grand opening which occurred in May.


Vanessa opened her studio in the Spring 2014, and filled it with colorful, art-inspiring rooms, with a welcoming, friendly atmosphere.  She offers classes and open-ended walk-in activities, birthday parties, individual workshops, classes in sewing arts and art therapy.  She also sells art supplies, in house commissioned works of art and engages in outside workshops at fairs, shows, schools and local community events.  At the grand opening, Vanessa commented, “I have a long way to go, but am so happy and pleased with how well it is doing already!  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!!!”

Jul 30, 2014

10 Fun Facts About Social Media

1.      The fastest growing demographic on Twitter is the 55-64 year age bracket. That’s a growth of 79% since 2012.
2.      93% of marketers are using social media.
3.      23% of Facebook users check their account at least 5 times a day.
4.      LinkedIn has over 3 million company pages with over 1 billion endorsements.
5.      91% of mobile Internet access is for social activities with 73% of smartphone owners accessing social networks through apps at least once per day.
6.      Around 46% of web users will look towards social media when making a purchase.
7.      Social Media is the number one activity on the web
8.      Even though 62% of marketers blogged or planned to blog in 2013, only 9% of US marketing companies employed a full-time blogger
9.      25% of Facebook users don't bother with privacy settings
10.   Every second 2 new members join LinkedIn