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
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
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
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
“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.
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More from the Summer 2012 Issue of IUP Magazine
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About 6,800 students were involved in productions last year.
Michael Driscoll sends his greetings to IUP alumni, faculty and staff members, students, and friends.
Memorable moments in the 2011-2012 academic year, in a video recap.
Some of the more unusual memorabilia that alumni have lovingly donated to IUP.
Plans for new building look to the collaborative, digital future.
A historic 29th national ranking says success in any language.
This year's recipients are movers and shakers in professions from magazine journalism to the National Guard.