Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of stories derived from Rising Rust Belt: A Regional Revitalization Economic Summit, which was held Oct. 7 and presented by the Shenango Valley, Youngstown-Warren and Lawrence County chambers of commerce.
The question of what this area needs to foster entrepreneurship is a tricky one.
Entrepreneurs may require different things, depending on what their individual skills are and the stage of their business development.
Speaking generally, Bill Whittenberger, chief technical officer of BRITE Energy Incubation Center, Warren, said entrepreneurs need to be
surrounded by talented people, both inexperienced entrepreneurs like themselves to bounce ideas off of and create a supportive atmosphere, and successful entrepreneurs who can coach them and mentor them as they develop business ideas and learn the skills to run a business.
“By far, that is the biggest thing that creates success,” he said.
Speaking of the high school students she teaches at the Entrepreneurship Academy at LindenPointe in Hermitage, academy Director Lisa Evans said: “They just want to find a place to belong. They want to matter. If they feel they matter, they’ll stay.”
Aside from finding a conducive atmosphere for entrepreneurship, there are very concrete needs that are not always met in this area. Low-cost space that accommodates the irregular hours of entrepreneurs can be hard to find, panelists said.
Jim Cossler, startup coach with the Youngstown Business Incubator, said many entrepreneurs have day jobs, so they need a place they can access at all hours of the day or night.
Evans said the eCenter@LindenPointe, which runs the eAcademy, offers many free services to its tenants, including coffee and water, internet access and meeting space.
The internet offers many valuable resources for entrepreneurs, including guidance on repairing credit histories and setting up a limited liability company, said Paul Bucciarelli of the Duquesne University Small Business Development Center, Pittsburgh.
The digital world has “democratized” entrepreneurship, Cossler said, noting that Shopify provides an ecommerce platform for as little as $29.95, something that used to cost thousands of dollars to build.
Getting access to capital to fund business startup and growth efforts is always a problem, Whittenberger said, which is why credit repair is so important. He said he advises many clients to stem their growth plans until their credit improves.
Crowdfunding and microloans – loans of less than $10,000 – are popular with startups and could be ways to get around the hesitancy of banks to support new endeavors, Evans said.
But, even doing all the right things is no guarantee of success, Bucciarelli said.
The Steel City has done a great job tying the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon University into the business development sector and attracting companies such as Google and Uber and venture capitalists, Cossler said.
However, Bucciarelli said, Pittsburgh’s population continues to fall.
“We all fight that battle,” he said of retaining and attracting people.
Evans said the eAcademy has had success with that. Of the about 115 high school students who have gone through her program, about 100 are “local,” which she defined as living between Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
“Keeping them here is our goal,” she said.