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

Jul 23, 2014

Pittsburgh in 2020: What Will Change?

Flying cars and giant glass buildings. Hover boards and talking houses. Scenes of unimaginable 2000s technology invaded the big screen in the twentieth century. Although we have not yet entered such an advanced society and it is not likely we will do so by the year 2020, the Pittsburgh Business Times has some theories about what may happen to the Steel City in the next six years.
            It’s no secret that retail has collapsed within the golden triangle. In an area that once housed multiple department stores, only Macy’s still exists and it is slipping through the cracks. With the increasing difficulty of traveling from the suburbs to downtown, retailers have suffered the loss in customers. As more retailers close up shop, the less incentive there is for city workers to stay downtown. The solution according to the article is to increase the amount of rentable space and bring more residents into the city. Retailers will then see the market potential and take advantage of it. Considering there is such a small number of retailers downtown, this could offer numerous opportunities for small businesses. There are a significant number of residential projects taking place around the city and they can all be viewed on the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s website:
With the rapid redevelopment of the Golden Triangle, some are saying the city’s growth will eventually spill into surrounding areas, most notably the Strip District. Since it is flat and boasts a large amount of open land, it will most likely be developed into an extension of the Pittsburgh skyline. Instead of the Golden Triangle, the potential new skyline has been coined the “Golden Ladle.” The area that once held the Mellon Arena is also set to be redeveloped into residential buildings. There are also numerous residential development projects taking place in the South Side. Some are worried that redevelopment will lead to a significant rise in the cost of living in downtown Pittsburgh. The average cost of rent for an apartment downtown is now over $900 per month. However, even at this price, many people, especially young, are moving into the city.
There is also the issue of transportation. The Port Authority bus routes have been reduced in the past few years and the Light Rail Transit only travels through the South Hills. However, now that the Port Authority is stabilized, there will most likely be no more route cuts. According to the Pittsburgh Business Times article, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald expects a more efficient transportation system for bike riders as well preliminary work on expanding the Light Rail Transit service. The most likely advancement will be the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system currently under consideration. It offers limited stops and faster transportation between downtown and Oakland. The easier it is to travel in and around the city, the more likely retailers are to open and experience success.
Although we can only hope for the revitalization of residential and retail downtown, the future looks promising. Flying cars or not, exploring the heart of Pittsburgh with its green space, waterfronts and rich history will continue to delight Pittsburghers for years to come.