Small Business Development Center: Big Results

By Randy Wells
July 21, 2012

Appeared in the Summer 2012 Issue of IUP Magazine

About 700 companies have turned to the SBDC team for key help writing business plans, finding funding, conducting marketing research, and more.

Small Businesses, Big Results

When Cyrus Kirsch and the late Roger Barnes put their heads together in 1999 and started planning a new company to build a better floor sander, they were “a couple guys in their 40s with no computer experience,” said Kirsch’s wife, Mary.

Working in the assembly area at Cherryhill Manufacturing were Dan Ogden, left, and owner Cyrus Kirsch

Working in the assembly area at Cherryhill Manufacturing were Dan Ogden, left, and owner Cyrus Kirsch

Computer assistance was some of the first help the two entrepreneurs received from IUP students through the university’s Small Business Development Center. “They went to the SBDC at IUP and asked, ‘Who can help us? Does this product/idea exist? Can we patent it?’” said Mary Kirsch, now the office manager of Cherryhill Manufacturing Corporation, headquartered near Indiana.

Cy Kirsch and Barnes developed the U-Sand random orbital floor sander, which, according to Mary Kirsch, is a big improvement over old drum sanders that could too easily gouge wood floors.

Under the direction of the SBDC, IUP students also helped prepare Cherryhill Manufacturing’s initial business plan and a mock website and did market research for the start-up company. “It took off from there,” Kirsch said. “The students were a very big help. They had a lot of good connections and advice.”

Today, Cherryhill Manufacturing is a 14-year-old company with 23 employees who build more than 800 U-Sand floor sanders annually. They are distributed to rental firms across America and in Canada.

Cherryhill Manufacturing is one of about 700 companies assisted by the SBDC since the center was founded in the early 1990s. The SBDC provides consulting services and educational programs to entrepreneurs looking to start or grow a small business. It helps answer critical questions posed by many entrepreneurs: Is my idea for a new product or service practical? Where can I find money to start my business? Who, and where, are my customers? How much space do I need for my company? What governmental and environmental regulations will affect my new business?

And the answers, advice, and guidance from the center’s highly qualified consultants are free.

Business in Bloom

Karin Buchan Eller ’87 and her husband, Larry, own Plant-It Earth Greenhouse near Indiana

Karin Buchan Eller ’87 and her husband, Larry, own Plant-It Earth Greenhouse near Indiana

The assistance Larry and Karin Eller received from the SBDC helped their business bloom, literally.

Karin Buchan Eller graduated from IUP in 1987 with a Fine Arts degree, but she always loved flowers and had worked in a greenhouse while a student.

The Ellers started the Plant-It Earth Greenhouse in Brush Valley Township, Indiana County, as a hobby. “It kept growing and growing and growing,” she said.

Today, Plant-It Earth sells annuals, perennials, and heirloom vegetable plants from greenhouses in a quiet glen about 12 miles from the IUP main campus.

Eller said she tries to educate her customers about the plants they’re buying. In a rocky “shade garden,” samples are growing so customers can see what the plants will look like when they’re mature. Everything is grown as organically as possible, she said, and the Ellers will even sell a single vegetable plant to a customer who has only limited space in an urban garden.

Eller said SBDC Director Tony Palamone helped her draw up the business plan that she and her husband took to banks to get financing to start Plant-It Earth, and Palamone also assisted in preparing required tax documents for the business. And when the Ellers encountered business-related computer problems, the SBDC sent computer-savvy students to the rescue.

“The students up there are wonderful. They’re very helpful,” she said.

In May the Ellers hosted a customer appreciation day to mark Plant-It Earth Greenhouse’s 15th anniversary.

Eller wants to expand her clientele base into Westmoreland County and the Pittsburgh area and next plans to seek marketing advice from SBDC experts.

Specimen of Success

Mike Moyer ’04, chief operations officer at Environmental Service Laboratories

Mike Moyer ’04, chief operations officer at Environmental Service Laboratories

Environmental Service Laboratories started in 1989 as a fledgling company in the Indiana County Small Business Incubator with two employees. Today it has 70 employees and operates from three locations but still is headquartered in Indiana.

Elizabeth Gregg, ESL’s president and CEO, said in a Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations Committee hearing last fall that the incubator provided her start-up company the help that accelerated its growth. That help included adaptable space with low rent, management support, and access to IUP’s SBDC. The link to higher education resources at IUP was, and still is, a value, she said.

Originally started as a lab to provide environmental-analysis services to the natural gas well drilling industry, ESL has grown exponentially in the past few years, thanks to the boom in drilling in the Marcellus shale formation.

The company also expanded into the municipal marketplace and does substantial work testing and monitoring the quality of drinking water supplies and performing wastewater analysis.

In May, during National Small Business Week, Gregg was selected as the first recipient of the new Chairman’s Award for Pittsburgh Impact Companies. The award is presented by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance and the Allegheny Conference to a business owner who has been instrumental in ensuring growth and opportunities for Pittsburgh.

Mike Moyer, ESL’s chief operations officer, started with the company as a part-time lab tech before he graduated from IUP in 2004 with a degree in Chemistry. He said all of the company’s upper management, and 50 percent of the employees, are IUP graduates.

The SBDC’s most recent assistance, he said, has been help in developing a global marketing plan.

Something Old, Something New

Linda Alworth, owner of Lingrow Farm

Linda Alworth, owner of Lingrow Farm

“When I buy something, I jump right in and fix things up,” said Linda Alworth, owner of a wedding venue in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, that includes a barn and a new restaurant and bar in a historic hotel she is restoring.

But Alworth admits the advice she received from IUP’s SBDC—to slow down “and think about where your money is going and what income you’ll need”—was a good balance to her creative impulsiveness.

Alworth was the owner of a landscaping business in 2005 when she bought Lingrow Farm, about 14 miles southwest of Kittanning. She was born and raised on a farm, and her success in restoring the old barn on her property prompted friends to tell her, “You should be doing weddings here.”

Alworth’s daughter, Jamie McCluske, who graduated from IUP with a Management degree in 1999, put her mother in touch with Palamone, and he assisted in preparing a business plan and in finding funding sources. “The program is excellent,” Alworth said. “They can help you with just about any issue” in starting a company.

In 2007, she opened the barn at Lingrow Farm as a rental facility. Then, she saw the need to do the planning and coordinating of events like weddings herself. She bought the former National Hotel, in nearby Leechburg, and began remodeling it with a restaurant and bar on the ground floor. Later she’ll renovate the hotel’s upstairs rooms, and eventually she’ll furnish complete wedding packages, from rehearsal dinners to the ceremony at the barn to the reception and overnight accommodations at the hotel.

Alworth said the assistance she received from the SBDC likely helped her business grow faster. “And it makes you more positive in what you’re doing and more aware.”

She would—and already has—recommended the SBDC’s expertise to friends interested in starting a business.

 

Keep Reading »

More from the Summer 2012 Issue of IUP Magazine

Ready for the Challenge

Ready for the Challenge

what does IUP's future look like? IUP President Mike Driscoll arrives eager to start the discussion.

Lively Arts: Putting Stars in Students’ Eyes

Lively Arts: Putting Stars in Students’ Eyes

About 6,800 students were involved in productions last year.

 

Message from the President

Michael Driscoll sends his greetings to IUP alumni, faculty and staff members, students, and friends.

Web Exclusives

Sharing IUP's Stories

Memorable moments in the 2011-2012 academic year, in a video recap.

Unboxing the Memories

Some of the more unusual memorabilia that alumni have lovingly donated to IUP.

Namedroppers | Achievements | Mentors

Photo Gallery | In Brief

Humanities and Social Sciences to Get High-Tech New Home

Plans for new building look to the collaborative, digital future.

Tennis Slams a Winner with Change of Direction Year

A historic 29th national ranking says success in any language.

Distinguished Alumni Awards 2012

This year's recipients are movers and shakers in professions from magazine journalism to the National Guard.

< Previous  |  Next >

Getting a Good Start

Tony Palamone 280

Tony Palamone ’71, M’77, director of the Small Business Development Center at IUP

To survive and grow, businesses must provide a needed product or service. And, like the small companies it helps, the Small Business Development Center at IUP does exactly that.

“We serve the general public with intellectual resources” available at the university, said Tony Palamone, the SBDC’s director since 1997. The expertise and assistance provided are free, and it comes from the SBDC’s consultants and the university’s administrators, faculty, and students.

“We are bringing students in more and more to work with folks in start-up businesses,” Palamone said.

SBDCs in Pennsylvania are basically funded by three entities—the U.S. Small Business Administration, the state Department of Community and Economic Development, and host universities. They also receive donations from banks, community groups, and other entities that promote economic development.

There are 18 SBDCs in Pennsylvania. IUP’s started in the early 1990s and operated as a satellite of Clarion University’s until 2003.

The SBDCs furnish free advice and guidance to prospective business owners on a wide range of topics including accounting, product development, marketing, advertising, taxes, and safety issues.

Much of the aid that IUP’s center provides involves finding financial assistance for entrepreneurs. “Probably 70 to 80 percent of our work is to get companies funded,” Palamone said.

Prospective business owners are often referred to the SBDC by friends, banks, and the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development.

Palamone said it’s preferable to involve the SBDC early in the start-up process, as it starts entrepreneurs thinking about what they’re getting into. “I’ve met people who said, ‘I should have seen you for my first business,’” he said.

According to Palamone, about 6 percent of businesses close every year, but people assisted by SBDCs stay in business longer and are more successful. SBDC guidance helps entrepreneurs avoid pitfalls that doom many fledgling businesses.

In a typical year, IUP’s SBDC helps more than 100 entrepreneurs or businesses. In 2011, it had 131 clients: 56 were new, 25 started businesses, and 18 completed business plans. Also in 2011, the SBDC conducted 17 programs and seminars attended by more than 200 people and helped raise more than $3.2 million for businesses.

Before accepting the position with the SBDC, Palamone operated his own consulting practice and had experience in the development and management of business incubators. His background also includes teaching entrepreneurship and small business management, establishing and running a business loan fund, operating a redevelopment authority, and municipal planning at the city and county level. He holds a master’s degree in city and regional planning from IUP and an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh.

Palamone’s monthly seminar, “How to Start and Finance a Business,” typically attracts an audience of 4 to 20 people.

“It’s not as complicated as you think,” he tells the seminar attendees. “Here’s an introduction to what’s involved. It doesn’t all apply to you.”

According to Palamone, the SBDC is a “well-kept secret” for several reasons, one being that the business assistance it provides is confidential. Palamone doesn’t publicly discuss the help given to a particular business or a client’s success unless the client has given him permission to do so.

IUP’s SBDC is one of the smaller ones in the state. Assisting Palamone are Richard Hoover, a business consultant; Wendy Kopczyk, a management technician; two faculty members who serve on a part-time basis; and interns and student volunteers.

More from the Summer 2012 Issue of IUP Magazine

Ready for the Challenge

Ready for the Challenge

what does IUP's future look like? IUP President Mike Driscoll arrives eager to start the discussion.

Lively Arts: Putting Stars in Students’ Eyes

Lively Arts: Putting Stars in Students’ Eyes

About 6,800 students were involved in productions last year.

 

Message from the President

Michael Driscoll sends his greetings to IUP alumni, faculty and staff members, students, and friends.

Web Exclusives

Sharing IUP's Stories

Memorable moments in the 2011-2012 academic year, in a video recap.

Unboxing the Memories

Some of the more unusual memorabilia that alumni have lovingly donated to IUP.

Namedroppers | Achievements | Mentors

Photo Gallery | In Brief

Humanities and Social Sciences to Get High-Tech New Home

Plans for new building look to the collaborative, digital future.

Tennis Slams a Winner with Change of Direction Year

A historic 29th national ranking says success in any language.

Distinguished Alumni Awards 2012

This year's recipients are movers and shakers in professions from magazine journalism to the National Guard.

< Previous  |  Next >