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!!!”