Startup helps others start up: Nonprofit organization has registered 211 entrepreneurs since June 2017

 In Blair County, entrepreneur, News

(Published in the Altoona Mirror, Sunday, August 19th)

Startup Alleghenies’ first year has been a huge success.

The nonprofit organization is on a mission to create the next great startup zone in the Alleghenies.

Since launching in June 2017, Startup Alleghenies has registered 211 entrepreneurs, with 142 of them taking the next step of enrolling with a Startup Alleghenies coach to bring their big ideas to market.

“We’ve just completed a report at the close of our first year to see how well we achieved our primary goal of identifying, recruiting and supporting entrepreneurs in the three counties we serve, and World Entrepreneurs’ Day (Aug. 21) seemed like a great time to share our results with our network of partners, entrepreneurs and generous funders,” Debbi Prosser, Director-Business Development, Southern Alle­ghenies Planning and Develop­ment Commission, said in a statement.

Photo by Gary M. Baranec. Anthony Biddle, owner of SiteRite, located in Catalyst Space, Altoona, works with some of the early prototypes of his sight alignment training products for firearms. Catalyst Space is one of the working spaces for the Startup Alleghenies program.

According to Prosser, the breakout of entrepreneurs by county from June 2017-June 2018 include: Blair County — 74 registered and 52 enrolled; Cambria County — 77 registered and 53 enrolled; and Somerset County — 60 registered and 37 enrolled.

“And we’re off to a great start for this year, having just registered five more entrepreneurs,” she said.

In addition, the nonprofit organization has played a key role in the creation of nine co-working spaces in the Alle­ghenies (Altoona, Johns­town and Somerset) designed specifically for entrepreneurs to provide the physical resources needed to launch their businesses.

“These spaces also provide an excellent environment for collaboration and networking,” Prosser said.

In Johnstown, entrepreneur spaces that are part of the Startup Alleghenies ecosystem include: the JARI Center for Business Development, 814 Worx, Bottle Works, Center for Metal Arts, Field to Fork Agricultural Incubator and, scheduled to open soon, Creator Square.

Catalyst Space and the Hite Family Launchbox for Innovation are located in Altoona, with the newest addition, Uptown Works, located in Somerset.

The report also provides information about areas in which the enrolled entrepreneurs have chosen to launch their businesses. The top three areas include the service industry (41.58 percent), retail (18.81 percent), and manufacturing, including small-batch manufacturing (14.85 percent).

Others are starting businesses in construction, finance, insurance, real estate, family entertainment, therapy, hospitality, IT/eCommerce and cleaning service.

While many of the entrepreneurs chose not to disclose their current “life stage,” of those who did share this information, the largest group self-reporting are mid-career professionals (38.56 percent). The report revealed that high school and college age students in the region (3.27 percent) also are engaging in entrepreneurial activity.

Startup Alleghenies, an initiative of the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission, is a free program that connects existing and potential entrepreneurs with the nonprofit’s experienced coaches in order to help them navigate a vast network of partners at economic development groups, private organizations, colleges and universities.

It was launched with a POWER grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal-state partnership investing in the socioeconomic future of 420 counties in 13 states in the Appalachian region, and additional support from the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development.

Altoona-Blair County Develop­ment Corp. is one of Startup Alleghenies partner organizations.

“We now have 74 startups identified in Blair County. ABCD has closed an additional $110,000 in financing to two startup companies since May, supporting total investment of $504,595. We have an additional $416,000 in financing approved, but yet to close for several new startup businesses,” said Richard J. Lasek, ABCD Corp. manager of loan servicing and entrepreneurial development.

ABCD Corp. has launched a micro-loan program specifically tailored to microenterprises.

“Access to capital can be difficult for any business and is often especially difficult for startups. Often, ABCD can fill the gaps between what a bank is able to finance and what is needed to make a project a reality,” Lasek said.