Woman excited to begin Startup Alleghenies leadership role
HUNTINGDON — Debra Clark’s original plan was to become an attorney.
That didn’t happen.
Instead, Clark has a rewarding job as an entrepreneurial coach for Startup Alleghenies, a free program that helps aspiring entrepreneurs locate the information, tools and connections that will move their idea from vision to market.
As Startup Alleghenies’ first woman entrepreneurial coach, Clark has been serving Huntingdon and Fulton counties since October 2018. At the same time, she was holding a full-time job with Huntingdon County Business and Industry.
On Feb. 24, Clark, who had been serving as interim executive director of HCB&I, was named permanent executive director.
Clark had been serving as the interim director after Darwin Kysor’s departure in mid-February. Kysor had resigned after only two months as executive director to accept a position at the University of Pikeville in Kentucky.
With the board officially naming her to the executive director’s post, Clark said she is excited to start a new chapter.
“I am excited to officially take on the role and I’m grateful to the board for their support,” she said.
Clark, 36, grew up in Snake Spring Valley, Bedford County, and graduated from Bedford High School in 2001.
“I wanted to go to law school; I had every desire to be an attorney,” she said. “I had a summer internship in the office of Magisterial District Judge Kathy Calhoun in the summer between 11th and 12th grade. I was busy every day. That is where the passion grew from.”
Clark said she moved to Huntingdon in 2002, started a family in 2003 and worked at various jobs in the State College and Tyrone areas.
She went back to school in 2008 and graduated in 2010 with a specialized business degree in computer applications and business management from DuBois Business College.
She wanted a job closer to her Huntingdon home and, in 2017, accepted a job as operations manager at HCB&I.
In October 2018, she became an entrepreneurial coach for Huntingdon and Fulton counties.
“I deal with people who have an idea and a desire to start their own business, people of many different levels. They have an idea. I help them do business plan writing, offer financial guidance, ask them if this is viable within the community, and who will be your customers,” Clark said.
“A lot of people don’t realize what it takes to get started. Money is important — from beginning to end, I help look for grants, I research funding for them,” she added.
Clark asks potential business owners tough questions.
“I teach them how to market the business,” she said. “Do they have enough knowledge to run their own accounting or should we outsource it? Do they have an attorney to deal with taxes? I get them information on how to manage employees. I use CareerLink to get them employees.”
Being a coach has been fulfilling for Clark — HCB&I will be advertising for a new coach as she assumes her role as executive director.
“You feel you are part of that person’s dream. You are helping them succeed with something they are passionate about, helping them realize their dream. It is a minor victory for yourself when you get them started,” she said.
“When you get a business started, it helps the whole community. If they have a successful business, my family will benefit in the long run,” Clark said.
Clark said she had 46 actual clients and had worked with many more than that.
Among her clients are Joey DiGangi, who launched AssureTech LLC, a software and technology startup while an undergrad at Juniata College, and Anthea DiSalvo, co-owner of Garden Harvest, an eatery which focuses on fresh food and healthy dining.
“She finds the best possible way to connect with the people and organizations in the area,” DiGangi said. “She connected us with the people to help us with the hardware prototype and other coaches in other areas other than her area of expertise,” he said.
“She has a lot of ideas of how to look at ways we can get money we didn’t think about ourselves. She helped us get a Startup Alleghenies grant, which enabled us to have more money to help with things like marketing and log design,” DiSalvo said.
Clark enjoys being part of HCB&I.
“It is exciting when we get a company like Joey’s with an idea, we have the same excitement they do about the potential of the business. It gives you hope when there are people who may become a large employer. I leave at the end of the day and feel I accomplished something good,” Clark said.
Cory Sisto, HCB&I board president, said Clark has meant a lot to the organization in the short time she has been there.
“HCB&I has endured a lot of change in the past year. Our organization’s endurance has been a result of Debra’s experience and commitment,” Sisto said. “She has seen HCB&I through several periods of transition in the past year and proven to be an invaluable resource.”
“Debra’s various roles over the years have positioned her well to help fill the void when transitioning between leadership. She has provided insight into policies and practices to both current board members and new staff in order to keep the wheels turning. She assumed various additional duties that were mission critical for our organization and got things done — including various committee-level roles,” Sisto said.
“Frankly, without Debra stepping up during these times, I’m not sure where the organization would be and the potential negative impact on our customers. I’m thankful that Debra was our partner through the process, and we don’t have to dwell too heavily on the what-ifs.”