Oct 16, 2009

State Budget Impasse Hampers Efforts to Support Struggling Small Businesses

Small Business Development Centers Program Facing Pressures to Continue Providing Services

PHILADELPHIA—Pennsylvania’s budget impasse isn’t doing much to help improve small businesses’ record declining sales or overall dim outlook. Among items held up during the dickering is funding for the Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) program, a statewide support system for new and existing businesses.

“Without this service, I would not have been able to afford to pay private consultants and my business concept may have failed for this reason,” said Henry Sauers, owner of McKean Tire and Lube in Elk County, who is among scores of small business owners who voiced their concerns for the future of the SBDC program in letters to Governor Edward G. Rendell and legislative leaders.

The network of 18 university- and college-based centers, hosted at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, annually assists 30,000 entrepreneurs whose companies employ roughly 100,000 Pennsylvanians.

Funding support from the Commonwealth enables the SBDCs to provide one-on-one confidential consulting services at no charge to clients. The network is seeking $8 million for fiscal 2009-10 to sustain its efforts. The state funding is leveraged one-for-one and provides match needed to obtain federal and other financial resources.

The lack of commitment of state funding, however, is causing the SBDC network to contract. Centers are cutting services and staff.

“Any reduction in state funding has a negative impact much greater than just the amount of the decrease,” noted Christian Conroy, state director of the Pennsylvania SBDC network. “Quite simply, less investment from the state will mean a lot less impact. Having fewer consultants means spending fewer hours providing individualized and targeted services.”

Conroy explained the reduction in funding will also result in fewer educational programs and increased wait times. “This will significantly hinder our efforts to help small firms survive, grow and create jobs which are essential to the economic recovery,” he said.

As the recession has dragged on, demand for SBDC services has increased. Many companies are turning to the SBDC to find capital—including emergency loans. So far this year, the SBDCs have helped entrepreneurs raise over $75 million in start-up and expansion capital. Small firms are also seeking SBDC help in identifying new markets, both domestically and abroad, for their products and services. Meanwhile, with limited employment options, increasing numbers of individuals are working with the SBDC to turn their ideas into profitable new businesses.

Historically, the program has been a critical factor in small business success. While statistics show that two thirds of small businesses fail within their first five years, independent analysis confirms that 80 percent of companies started with SBDC assistance remain in business eight years later.

Help during a rough patch is especially important in that it can prevent failure and position the business for later success. For instance, Solar Power Industries Inc. of Rostraver, Pa., leaned on the Saint Vincent College SBDC nearly eight years ago when its Japanese parent company pulled its investment. The company worked extensively with the SBDC to take over ownership and keep jobs in the region. Last month, the manufacturer announced plans to expand production and create about 375 jobs over the next three years.

Such results are not unusual. Each year, approximately 2,500 new businesses are opened, and 8,000 new jobs are created as business owners utilize the knowledge they have gained from the SBDC to start and grow their companies.

For more stories of small businesses helped by the SBDC, visit www.pasbdc.org/success.

From: http://www.pasbdc.org/index/news/press/budgetimpasse.asp

Aug 7, 2009

Australia is reachable

Medical Equipment Source, LLC was founded in January 2002. They are in our eighth year of business. They purchased their own facility in 2007 and are planning a physical expansion. They are currently located at 364 Mars-Valencia Rd., Mars, PA 16046.

Medical Equipment Source, LLC specializes in selling of new and refurbished histology, pathology, and cytology equipment to laboratories of all types and sizes. They also offer equipment and consultation for entire laboratory set ups.

With over 30 years of industry experience, the owner is a Board Certified Histotechnologist which enables the company to be astutely aware of their technologists needs. They can also guarantee that clients will receive the proper equipment for their specific lab applications.

The company has over 10 major categories of products and several manufacturers within each of those categories and is starting to become active in international markets.

The problem(s) the client faced:

The export activities were minimal and they were starting to develop according to inquiries they received on their website and from attending different conferences. The company was a reactive exporter. They needed clear information as of how to export and the steps to do that in compliance with U.S. export regulations. They also needed a smooth, international logistical operation that will minimize their time so they can focus on developing new customers and projects.

The assistance and help the SBDC provided:

Luigi and Wendy Mascio, owners of the business, approached the Global Business Program at the Duquesne University SBDC and wanted to become more active in exporting. Specifically they asked for information on Australia and on all aspects of exporting, such as incoterms, distribution strategies, and a referral into a freight forwarding and custom broker company. They also attended some training seminars at the SBDC and received SBDC consulting time to move in the right direction.

Outcome and impact of the assistance:

As a result of the information and contacts given to the company, lists of freight forwarder companies, and market research on Australia, exports to Australia started to pick up from zero to $25,000. The company projects export sales will grow around 5% in 2009.

Jul 30, 2009

Turning Green Into Gold


Lillian and Adam Cannon are a happy family of five. They’ve spent years looking for the best products for their children. Like many other parents, going with green choices for their children was a priority for the Cannons. They’ve tried all cloth diapers available on the market to make their best selection. And when you have learned so much, why not share it with other parents and help them choose the perfect products for their children?

Lillian and Adam decided to open their own baby product store. An online version seemed the most appealing for them: less start-up costs and the flexibility so needed for a family with three small children. Today people buy more and more online, but deciding to make the switch to cloth diapering can be intimidating, so the couple also does in-person consultations.

Assistance Provided

Starting a business can be overwhelming. The Cannons decided to seek assistance at the Duquesne University Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Their consultant provided an overview of the start-up process and guided them through online resources available for small business owners. Furthermore, the Cannons were advised on starting an e-commerce business and how to market it.

The Cannons rushed to get going and as early as in January of 2009, three months after the initial meeting the website was up. Their consultant was at their side to provide ongoing advice: how to improve the website, how to develop financial projections, what software to choose for bookkeeping, what’s new on the regulatory side. Lillian was full of questions and very appreciative that her consultant was always ready to address her concerns, and direct and support her on her way to success. It was also important that Lillian could receive assistance via e-mail correspondence and telephone conversations. Their consultant’s moral support and cheerleading was instrumental in helping them push through the many difficulties facing a new business.

The Cannons were able to start the business with their own money, investing $10,000.00 to cover their start-up and inventory expenses. As the business grows the family is looking for other financing options. The client and consultant are currently working to identify potential funding sources to finance the company’s expansion.


Business picked up fast - maybe too fast - and created some growth challenges: how to finance, how to select inventory, how to find enough time to learn and run a business and still be a loving mom and wife. March 2009 sales were well over $3000, doubled in May, and are now on track to hit $10,000. With their consultant’s advice, the family coped with the challenge and the further growth became less intimidating: with bookkeeping software in place, Adam is able to take care of the orders, the website is being constantly updated and product line continues to grow.

The online store is up and running, Lillian provides free in-person consultations and the family is thinking about expanding into manufacturing. They are exploring an opportunity to bring their own cloth diapers to the market. They have already identified an overseas manufacturer and are looking forward to continuing their work with the SBDC on this project.

Though Pittsburgh Cloth Diapers is only a few months old, they are already working on building their name in the community. They donate to local parenting organizations such as the La Leche League and The Midwife Center, and are producing a Pittsburgh diaper and donating part of the sale proceeds to The Midwife Center.

“As a busy mom of three and small business owner, I don’t have time to research every problem and issue. Svitlana has been there helping me every step of the way. Thank you! ”
- Lillian Cannon

Jul 16, 2009

For 3C’s Vinyl, All Signs Point to Success


Like many others, for Cathey Sirna, the third time’s a charm. Originally starting her company, 3 C’s Vinyl, in Pittsburgh in 2005, with startup costs totaling approximately $25,000 funded by a term loan, Cathey’s major capital purchase was a wide format printer/plotter. Cathey then moved operations to Sarasota, Florida, to start anew. After an informal “apprenticeship” in Florida, Cathey decided to return to Pittsburgh, armed with much greater working knowledge of the sign industry. Utilizing this knowledge, and an overwhelming ambition to succeed, Cathey started her company for the third and final time in June of 2007. She became certified as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise by the state’s Department of General Services in June of 2008.

Located in the Hays area of Pittsburgh, Cathey operates a full service sign shop out of her home. As Cathey explains, this has its advantages and disadvantages. Because of the reduced overhead, it allows her to be very price competitive. On the other hand, she admits she doesn’t benefit from walk-in traffic that a retail location would offer. To combat this disadvantage, Cathey spends a significant amount of her time cold calling and networking, both of which benefit from her friendly demeanor.

“What we offer to our customers, in addition to fair pricing, is fresh ideas for graphic design”, says Cathey. “It’s amazing the difference that a new eye-catching sign outside even the smallest retail shop can have on their business. The return on investment for new signage is typically quite obvious.”

3C’s Vinyl offers a wide variety of sign solutions including traditional cut vinyl and full color printed vinyl signs, window and fleet vehicle lettering, custom logos and decals and view-thru vinyl. They have also found success with full vehicle wraps and provide race car graphics to a number of area racing outfits.

Assistance Provided

Cathey came to the SBDC initially for assistance with completing her business plan. Upon completion, she worked with her consultant to complete her application to the Department of General Services for WBE certification. Since then, she has worked with her consultant in a variety of areas including updating her website to ensure that it is search engine friendly.


In April of 2009, Cathey was able to quit her full-time job to concentrate on growing her sign business. Her current clients have been very supportive of her decision to become a full-time owner and have been diligent in referring new business to her. Her customer base continues to grow and a profit and loss comparison shows her sales are up 61% from 2008 to 2009. In the meantime, Cathey says she is enjoying the benefits of being self-employed and focuses on creating a better quality of life for herself and her family.

“Duquesne SBDC has been with me since the beginning. My first workshop was the 'First Step' workshop in 2005. The help that I have received has been invaluable, and I am grateful that I got to work with such great people. Melissa Aird is wonderful!"
– Cathey Sirna, Owner

Client Name: 3C’s Vinyl
5137 Doerrville Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15207

Website: www.3csvinyl.com

Industry: Vinyl Graphics & Signs

Year Founded: 2005

SBDC Assistance: Provided assistance with business plan and financials preparation, preparation of materials for WBE certification, marketing materials

Jul 6, 2009

SBA unveils new economic stimulus program – America’s Recovery Capital (ARC) Loan Program

June 29, 2009

SBA unveils new economic stimulus program – America’s Recovery Capital (ARC) Loan Program

If you own a business that’s at least two years old and are having difficulty making debt payments because of the economy, you may be eligible to apply for the new ARC Loan program announced by the SBA on June 15, 2009. Under this program, a borrower can obtain a loan from a participating lender up to $35,000 which will be disbursed in installments to make up to 6 months of principal and interest payments on qualified debt. The loan can be used for payments on traditional debt such as mortgages and lines of credit, but can also be used for payments on capital leases, notes to vendors, home equity loans used for business-related expenses, and for business credit cards. Note, however, that SBA 7(a), 504 or disaster loans made or guaranteed on or before February 17, 2009 are ineligible.

Besides temporary relief to the business’ cash flow, the loan is interest free to the borrower since the federal government is subsidizing the loan interest. The loan has a 100% SBA guarantee and there are no loan fees. Repayment of the principal is deferred until 12 months after the last installment is disbursed and can then be repaid over five years. The expectation is that the business climate will improve by that time so the business can easily handle the debt payments.

To qualify, the business must pass two tests – (1) be viable and (2) demonstrate a hardship. With respect to viability, annual financial statements provided as part of the application must show positive cash flow in at least one of the past two years, and that the establishment is and will continue to be a going concern.

Hardship can be demonstrated by showing declining sales and/or revenues, increasing expenses, cash shortages due to frozen inventory or receivables, accelerated debt or reduced or frozen
credit lines, difficulty in paying employees or operating expenses.

The borrower will also need to have "an acceptable credit score as determined by the SBA."

At this time, many lenders are only offering the program to their current customers. Some analysts predict that the $255 million set aside for the program will be used before the September 30, 2010 program deadline.

For more information contact the Pittsburgh District Office of the SBA (412.395.6560) or the SBA website at http://www.sba.gov/recovery/arcloanprogram/index.html.

Jun 29, 2009

2009 EGC Reviews


See what others had to say about this year's EGC. Click on the link above and download the MP3 to hear for yourself.

Jun 3, 2009

Working as an Entrepreneur, Solopreneur or Stay-at-Home Mom can be an awesome experience -- but only if you are prepared.

Below are just a few suggestions to help you get ready for such a career:

1. Have enough money tucked away to pay your personal and business bills for six months. You will need it in a case of illness, slow paying customers or equipment breakage.

2. Have a clear understanding of who your clients are and what they want; research your market thoroughly.

3. Understand that your friends and family will not be your ideal clients.

4. Only purchase what’s necessary; allow yourself enough time to become profitable before purchasing that expensive new office furniture.

5. Join an online social network that is filled with individuals who are already in the same line of business you want to be in. Pick their brains!

6. You must love what you are doing…make sure you go into a line of business that is going to make you happy -- and will keep you happy.

7. Don’t rush into anything!

Kirsten A. Womack
Virtual Assistant & Tech Diva

May 27, 2009

“When deciding on an advertising strategy, what are some of the factors a business should consider?”

There are 3 initial factors to consider when deciding on an advertising strategy:

1. The first thing you should do when creating your advertising strategy is to decide “what am I really selling?” – what are the BENEFITS of my product? It’s really not about selling cars, vacations, consulting services or make-up. The product is not what you are selling. You are selling the BENEFITS of that product. For example, if you are selling vacations/travel – you may be selling FUN or you may be selling HAPPINESS. If you are selling cars – you might be actually selling SAFETY or LUXURY. Make sure that your advertising message revolves around the BENEFITS of your products and services – not the FEATURES.

2. You also want to be clear on who would be interested in your product or service – what is your TARGET MARKET? You will want to identify your IDEAL CUSTOMER. If you could choose to have someone walk through your door – who would it be? How can you reach them? What product, service, message or offer would they respond to? Your definition of your TARGET MARKET will define your offerings and your advertising message. It will also define the media that you select for your message. If the “wrong” customers are coming through your doors or telephone, you have to look at how you are positioning yourself to attract those unqualified or undesirable clients. Tweak your offerings, your message and your distribution of that message – and you will attract that ideal customer.

3. Finally, you want to look at your value proposition and how it should impact your branding. Are you competing on price or quality? Do you have the best selection or location? Is your service better than your competitors? What sets you apart from your competition? You want to be sure to communicate this value proposition in the wording of your advertising message. You also want to communicate it via the branding elements you choose – ex. colors, fonts. Brightly colored logos in a casual font will usually indicate a low-cost, cheap product offering. You want to use “richer” colors and more formal fonts for the more expensive, quality items or services. Your value proposition must be reflected in the branding elements you choose or you will not be communicating the right message. You must also reflect this in the media you choose to distribute your message. The coupon clipper will not necessarily have the high-quality image for you as the Pittsburgh Business Times or putting a commercial on CNN or Fox News. You want to be sure you take your branding to the market in the appropriate fashion.

Taking these initial 3 factors into account, will synergize to create better results from your advertising.

Rebecca Lamperski,
Tri-State Senior Director of Sales
Comcast Spotlight

May 11, 2009

Franchise Q&A

1. What are a few of the advantages to opening a franchise?

The advantage of opening a franchise is to minimize your risk and maximize your earning and equity building. The success rate of franchises is in the high 90 percents. The franchise has a formula for success so you use your talents and finances to make it happen! When you own a franchise you have something to sell when you decide to move on. Owning Jeff's Super Duper Non Franchise Business is limiting because the buyer is never quite sure what will happen when Jeff is no longer part of the business. With a franchise the support is always there regardless of the ownership!

2. Do I need to have experience working in the industry before opening a franchise?

You do not need any special skills to operate a franchise. As the Director of Franchise Training at GNC, I trained people of all different backgrounds and experiences. (that's what led to me quitting my job at GNC to open my own GNC store.....I trained people and they were VERY successful....I wanted some of that action!)

Jeff Young

“to learn more, come to the Entrepreneur’s Growth Conference on June 4 and meet Jeff in person”

May 4, 2009

Small Businesses and Lending Today

To Learn about Small Businesses and Lending Today – listen to our podcast with Bob Vernick from Dollar Bank

Sponsored by : Microsoft

Here is the link:


May 1, 2009

Jim Rudolph’s Hot For a Cool Idea:

Jim Rudolph’s Hot For a Cool Idea:

How His Passion for Rita’s Turned Him from

Franchisee to Leading Franchisor

Jim Rudolph, CEO of McKnight Capital Partners, is a master multi-tasker.

At one point, the lifelong Pittsburgher had a franchise empire that included 47 Wendy’s, six Chuck E. Cheese and two Baskin & Robbins, plus two bowling centers and a construction business.

While Rudolph’s business portfolio no longer includes the bowling centers and the above-mentioned franchises, he is still a major player in the food service industry. Today, he is CEO of the popular Rita’s Italian Ice corporation, the largest concept of its kind in the nation.

Rudolph and company took notice in 2004 when the 310-store organization, famous for doling out its signature brand of frozen, fruity confections, went on the market.

In May of 2005, McKnight Capital Partners purchased the Bucks County-based franchisor with the plan for Rudolph to run it for three to six months, promote a president from within and oversee the company from McKnight’s downtown Pittsburgh headquarters. But things, as the saying goes, don’t always work according to plan.

“Four years later, I’m still very much a daily part of Rita’s Ice,” says Rudolph who takes a cross-state flight to Trevose, PA, each week. “I fell in love with this business. I loved the opportunity but I didn’t expect to be so passionate about it.”

His enthusiasm for the tasty warm-weather tradition shows. Since 2005, they have nearly doubled the number of stores to 560 in seventeen states, with plans to open an additional 75 this year alone.

Once at the helm of the company that was founded in a small Philadelphia-area storefront in 1984, Rudolph began to evaluate every aspect of the business, both large and small, in an effort to position the company into one of the country’s top franchise systems.

“There is not one thing that hasn’t changed with Rita’s in the four years since we took over, even down to the smallest detail; it’s always evolving. In business, you have to move fast, no matter what,” Rudolph shares.

His background as a franchisee gave Rudolph a unique advantage as a franchisor. He knew, first hand, what franchise owners were looking for in terms of support and how critical it is for the company to have a culture that supports the vision of the company.

“When we got into Wendy’s, there were only two dozen restaurants nationwide and the burgers cost four times higher than McDonald’s. We liked the burgers but we loved the people. The vision was pervasive throughout the company and that was very reassuring,” Jim says as he explains his efforts to emulate the Wendy’s franchise culture.

While Rita’s signature products like the Ritaccino and Misto have amassed legions of fans for the franchise, the company is also using progressive outreach practices to find new converts.

Recently, Rudolph hired a social media staff person who works full-time to expand the company’s reach through influential online networks. While there’s simply no substitute for experiencing a Rita’s treat from one of the nation’s nearly 600 stores, you can visit Rita’s virtually and chat with other like-minded Rita aficionados on sites like Facebook and Twitter. The campaign is working to strengthen relationships with Rita’s fervent fan base and engage new ones, including prospective franchise owners.

So how long will this ambitious Pittsburgher continue to make his cross-state commutes on Sundays to the company’s corporate headquarters, aptly named Cool Treat Support Center?

“I won’t do this indefinitely but I hope that I’ve created a culture that will live beyond my tenure. That’s the power of a good system.”

Want to meet at Rita’s?

Jim Rudolph will be the morning kick-off speaker at the 11th annual Entrepreneur’s Growth Conference on June 4th at Duquesne University. The event is the leading entrepreneurship events in western Pennsylvania and among the largest events of its kind in the state. For details, visit www.duq.edu.egc.

Mar 27, 2009

The 2009 EGC

Your Business...

Better, Faster, Stronger

JOIN US for this extraordinary one-day event that that has helped thousands of both large and small businesses, SEIZE opportunities, OVERCOME challenges, CONQUER new markets and MAXIMIZE profitability.

Achieve the full potential of your business-whether you're just starting out or striving for that next million dollar level with information on the latest business trends and growth-building strategies, inspirational keynote addresses from nationally renowned entrepreneurs and one of largest gatherings of entrepreneurial leaders and resources in Pennsylvania.

The 2009 EGC: June 4th (save the date)

Visit: www.egc.duq.edu for more info

Our services

The Duquesne University Small Business Development Center (SBDC) offers no-cost, confidential consulting services and training workshops for small businesses and those who are thinking of starting a business in southwestern Pennsylvania.