AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
Without risk, there is no entrepreneur. By its very nature, the start-up enterprise takes a brazen leap of faith, hurtling itself into the unknown, facing the dark beast of financial ruin.
"It's a good thing it's difficult out there," said Russell Cersosimo, president of Collier Township-based Guardian Protection Services Inc., an alarms dealer recently named one of Western Pennsylvania's Entrepreneurs of the Year. "If it wasn't difficult, there would be nobody to work for us. They'd all be in business for themselves."
In the Pittsburgh area, entrepreneurship still faces three major problems, as documented by a host of studies.
One, an exodus of young people - the potential entrepreneurs - to other cities and other states. Two, a lack of start-up capital. And three, a culture that de-emphasizes the importance of the entrepreneur.
Business failure rates are high, and new business growth trails state and national averages.
The news, however, is not all bad. In fact, evidence suggests that for those willing to sacrifice, to work the long hours, to find the help, to develop and keep good employees, entrepreneurship can pay off.
To show how, the Pittsburgh Business Times and the Pittsburgh office of Ernst & Young L.L.P., two sponsors of this year's Entrepreneur of the Year competition, gathered seven award-winners Downtown to talk about success, failure and the state of entrepreneurship in Western Pennsylvania.
Among those participating were Robert Brandegee and Ava DeMarco, the founders of Little Earth Productions Inc., a Soho-based company that designs and manufactures belts, purses, bags and other accessories using recycled materials.
Also present: Mr. Cersosimo, president of Guardian Protection Services, one of the largest privately-owned alarm dealers in the U.S.
Participating by phone were Georgia Berner, president of New Castle-based Berner International Corp.; William Morgenstern, president and chief executive of Erie-based Rent-Way Inc.; William Polacek, president of Johnstown Welding & Fabrication Inc., in Johnstown; and Christopher Decker, president of Laurel Business Institute in Uniontown.
Berner manufactures "air curtains," metal boxes that blow a barrier of air across a door to seal a room's atmosphere. Rent-Way is a chain of stores that rents furniture, televisions, washers and other household appliances. Johnstown Welding & Fabrication is a welding business. And Laurel Business Institute offers employment training and associate degrees to adults.
For two hours, these seven entrepreneurs sounded off on successful strategies, obstacles, raising capital, government regulation, ways to grow and marketing, among other topics. At meeting's end, those who participated stepped away from the table more energized than before, with a basketful of new ideas and a greater appreciation of the struggles they all share.
Robert Brandegee: I think we focused on creating a product and a brand that had credibility very quickly. For us, we marketed our products nationally. We put together a catalog that gave people the impression that we were a company that would not only create neat, fun products but would deliver them in a timely manner and would basically hold up our end of the deal. I think you can run a business anywhere, as long as you have a fax machine, a phone and half a brain. People …