Somerset Daily American: Economic development council hires entrepreneur and innovation coach

 In News

Originally published in Somerset Daily American on June 20th, 2017 by Michelle Ganassi


The Somerset County Economic Development Council has an entrepreneur and innovation coach as part of a regional $1.2 million grant.

Daniel Parisi, of Meyersdale, was hired in May to fill the position by way of an Appalachian Regional Commission grant that was awarded to the Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission.

The matching $1,213,868 grant is being used to develop an “entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

The grant was announced Tuesday in Altoona. The program is 30 months long.

“The ARC funded the project as a direct result of the downturn in the coal industry that affected Blair, Cambria and Somerset counties,” Steven Howsare, executive director of Southern Alleghenies, said in a press release. “The ARC POWER initiative focuses on building partnerships that create opportunities for workforce and economic revitalization. ARC funds were seed money for this initiative. We intend to keep this program going and growing.”

The initiative brings together economic, educational and workforce development organizations. Each of the counties also received funding to hire a coach. The goal is to have 25 new businesses created within three years, 123 new jobs and $3.75 million in private investments leveraged for entrepreneurs.

“What we love about this program is it is truly coaching,” council Executive Director Joshua Miller said. “They take a company and they are going to coach them and guide them through the whole process of becoming a startup company. It’s a tangible thing. It’s not just a pie in the sky.”

Miller said the program will connect individuals to specific resources to help them grow and turn their ideas into real businesses.

Parisi said what attracted him to the job is that the money is aimed at enabling entrepreneurs.

“They could have very easily taken that $2 million and said, I want you to focus on bringing new companies and helping current employers grow. That would also help us recover from the loss of coal,” he said. “But they are saying here is $2 million, facilitate the growth of new companies, new industries, new business — create jobs that don’t exist here. We’re basically setting up a better future for the children of the coal miners. It’s really making a statement that we are going to grow from within.”

Parisi will have a space at the Somerset County Education Center for the EDC Startup Accelerator. Parisi said he wants people to visit and share their ideas. He will assist with prototypes and testing the market. He said the process to go from an idea to a product can take years, but his goal is to accelerate projects.

The accelerator will have whiteboards on the walls and tables and video conference equipment. They will also have monthly training.

“We have to listen really well and try to cultivate an environment here,” he said. “It could be a young woman who has a business idea at 8 years old, to 70 years old. When she has this passion or this idea, she comes to us and wants to share that.”

Miller said it was important to him, as a Somerset County native who returned, to hire a native for the position. He said Parisi’s experience made him a perfect fit.

Parisi, 33, is a graduate of Salisbury-Elk Lick High School and Messiah College in Harrisburg with a degree in exercise science. He managed fitness centers before helping to start J2 Medical in Pittsburgh. He left to work for Snow Machines Inc., which helps design snowmaking software for snow machines. Based in Michigan, the company has a development division in Salisbury. After traveling for Snow Machines, he and his wife bought a house in Meyersdale, and he decided he wanted to work in Somerset County.

Miller said the program fits perfectly with the rebranding that the council is undergoing.

“I see this as a 60-year-old turnaround building on the foundation that has already been laid in a fresh new way, and this program is very much a part of that,” he said. “We want to effect positive change. We are very passionate and we want to use the people within the community to guide our own way forward, focusing on the resources and what we can do better than anyone else.”

Before taking the position, Parisi went through a two-week training with other partners in the system.

“I think we use the word entrepreneurial a little too often,” he said. “The word means bearer of risks. True entrepreneurs are the creators of opportunities.”

Parisi said that roughly 65 percent of the children entering kindergarten next year will enter the workforce in jobs that do not currently exist.

“The majority of those jobs are going to come from entrepreneurs,” he said. “All we have to do is get out of the way and let the entrepreneurs create opportunities and it will happen on its own. We will give them the resources and tools, and they are going to be the ones to do it.”

The program will have its official Somerset County kickoff from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Seven Springs Mountain Resort. Parisi said anyone with an entrepreneurial idea is invited to attend. To RSVP, email Parisi at dparisi@scedc.net.