Vision 2018 | Entrepreneurs join club to share ideas

 In Business, Cambria County, entrepreneur, News

Published by Ronald Fisher at Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, PA – February 25, 2018

[Original Article from Tribune-Democrat]

Rachel Shaffer understands the important role that entrepreneurs play – they identify a need and fill it – so when Shaffer was introduced to the Entrepreneur Club at Pitt-Johns-town, she felt right at home.

Shaffer, a Pitt-Johnstown junior, is the leader and current president of the college’s Entrepreneur Club.

The Pitt-Johnstown group has been around for a few years, but is starting to gain momentum, Shaffer said. The club, which is open to all students regardless of major, has a roster of 15 students. Shaffer is proud that this year’s group is the largest since the club’s inception.

“From where we began with this club – not really having any ideas or plans for the semesters and not having anything to look forward to – to now we have plenty of members to get things started. We have conventions, we have meetings and guest speakers,” Shaffer said.

“We have a lot planned now and a lot to look forward to.”

Junior Gabrielle Craighead said the club “just keeps building and building.”

Members agreed that word-of-mouth publicity has helped to create awareness. They also noted that the university created an entrepreneurship minor last year that is now available to interested students.

“That kind of drew the fire for kids to join the club,” junior Kate Tuite said.

Tuite said the club, which meets weekly, has several goals in mind. Providing awareness about entrepreneurship is on the top of the list, she said.

Shaffer said: “We just want to give these students more of an idea of what it is really about and what the process of entrepreneurship really is.”

Networking was another important goal. The club’s leadership believes that it is important to learn from experience. The club features guest speakers so students can hear from local entrepreneurs who can share their perspectives.

“The speakers have been a huge help,” Shaffer said.

She said the club gets many of its guest speakers from the Entrepreneur Meetup, also held at Pitt-Johnstown.

‘Doers help doers’

The Entrepreneur Meetup, which is co-hosted by Entrepreneurial Alchemy, is held at 6 p.m. on the first Monday of each month in the Idea Lab in Biddle Hall.

Meetup co-organizer Mike Hruska said the gatherings have been beneficial to not only those in town, but also to burgeoning entrepreneurs throughout the region.

“We’re pulling people from all over the place,” said Hruska, who is also the founder of Problem Solutions in Richland Township.

“We had some people who have driven three hours before to attend the meetups,” he said.

The Entrepreneur Meetup recently achieved a milestone, adding its 300th member. Hruska said, of those 300 members, only 139 of them live in Johnstown.

Hruska said the meetup’s large pool of participants helps with reaching the organization’s goal, which is to connect people to an energetic and forward-thinking group with a shared vision of creating a better place to live, work and play together.

Hruska said, “We have a low barrier and an easy way to engage people in the area, people who want to come back to the area, people who have come back to the area, to work together to start businesses, grow their business, and to create social programs.

“It’s a place where doers help doers.”

The tech guru said that Johnstown tends to get painted as a troubled place, but he believes a new wave of positive change for the city is on the horizon.

“Some people here and outside have a negative opinion about who we are,” he said. “There’s a strong growing group of game-changing change-makers forming in this community, and this is one way to get involved.

“There’s something magic going on here,” Hruska said. “I never would have imagined that we would have beyond 50 members when we started this.”

The group of Pitt-Johnstown entrepreneur club members said Hruska and the team behind the meetups have provided important support for the student group.

“They have been very helpful with the success of our club,” Tuite said.

Shaffer said, “They are definitely a part of why we are doing so much better.”

‘Startup to finish’

The Pitt-Johnstown students said they found Startup Alleghenies, a regional entrepreneur support agency, to be very encouraging and another great local resource.

With ties to Cambria, Somerset and Blair counties, Startup Alleghenies provides work spaces, coaches, financing options and a network of assistance programs in all facets of business development.

Each of the three counties has more than 40 members – which equates to a total of 135 participants.

“There’s momentum building, and there’s reasons to celebrate and push forward,” said Linda Thomson, CEO of Johnstown Area Regional Industries. JARI plays the role of facilitator between Startup Alleghenies and Cambria County.

“We’ve been doing a lot of entrepreneurial work over the years,” Thomson said. “But what’s different today is there’s a whole lot of entrepreneurs out there, and what we’re trying to say to people is there is a whole ecosystem here that can support your efforts and we want to be behind you.”

Thomson said that JARI’s leadership decided about five years ago to become a small business financing hub, which now opens the doors to being a small business micro-lender as well as a certified community development financial institution.

“Right now, we have funding for Cambria County small businesses, but we also are just now getting money for a diverse business fund for a six-county Alleghenies region,” Thomson said.

“We are now becoming a regional hub for small business financing.”

Planning a summit

Jose Otero, who was hired last year by JARI to be the Startup Alleghenies’ Cambria County entrepreneur coach/procurement specialist, said the true value is really in the technical support that goes along with the financing.

“If you need help with your marketing, if you need help with your business plan – it’s the technical assistance that allows the borrower to make that payment,” Otero said.

Thomson said: “And that’s really the difference with our programs.

“We’re going to give you hands-on assistance.”

Otero noted that Startup Alleghenies will hold an Entrepreneur Summit in May at Seven Springs Mountain Resort.

“This will be a big event,” said Otero, who is working to secure a high-level national speaker for the summit.

The meeting will also showcase many of the entrepreneurs that the organization has worked with through the entrepreneur program.

For more information on entrepreneurial development visit www.jari.com/entrepreneurial-development/.