CERTIFICATION IS IMPORTANT—Entrepreneur, Lievelyn Rhone, CEO of Geneva Pipeline and moderator of the Certifications Benefit Small Businesses panel Alexander Nichols, CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Minority Supplier Development Council enlighten participants on the significance of certification. (Photos by Diane I. Daniels)


Informative, relevant and motivating is how attendees of the Pittsburgh National Small Business Week Event described the day of activities.

“I have a lot of calls to make as a follow-up to the people I met today,” said Vernard Alexander of the Minority Networking Exchange while leaving the event. Agreeing, Wadria Taylor of Style and Steel Event Planning said the information she gained has her thinking about how to position her business globally.

More than 200 entrepreneurs participated in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s National Small Business Week event held at the Pittsburgh Technical Institute in Oakdale. Sessions focused on Pittsburgh’s entrepreneurship ecosystem, exporting, crowd-sourcing and small business certification. According to Natalia Olson-Urtecho, SBA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator, the event was designed for participants to gain tips on how to stay competitive and to take their business to the next level. National Small Business Week provided opportunity for learning from business leaders across a variety of industries eager to share knowledge and wisdom they have developed throughout their careers.

Highlights of the gathering, one of four held throughout the SBA’s footprint included an armchair discussion lead by SBA Administrator Karen Mills, a discussion on the “Pittsburgh Entrepreneurial Ecosystem” moderated by Seton Hill University’s E-Magnify Director Jayne Huston and breakout sessions inclusive of the benefits of Certification for small businesses; facilitated by Alexander Nichols, CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Minority Supplier Development Council.

“Because of its manufacturing heritage, this region is well positioned,” said Mills as she, Jim Jen and Ilana Diamond discussed the significance of programs like their AlphaLab. Businesses need mentorship and the types of services provided by AlphaLab, she said. Considered a business accelerator project Alpha Lab Gear, a project of Innovation Works is a program that runs twice a year for 20-weeks providing mentorship and advisors, office space, networking opportunities and $25,000 in seed-stage funding.

Agreeing with President Obama’s statement that, “America’s small businesses reflect the best of who we are as a Nation—daring and innovative, courageous and hopeful, always working hard and looking ahead for that next great idea,” Huston kicked off the Pittsburgh Entre­pre­neurial Ecosystem panel by defining entrepreneurial ecosystems as environment networks, resources, talent and more that affects the success of the local/regional entrepreneurial economy. She said it also references a group of companies, including start-ups, and one or more coordination entities, which share similar goals, including a strong entrepreneurial drive, and decide to form a network or organization in order to leverage collective resources and explore economies of scale. Panelists for the session were Denise DeSimone of C-Leveled, Christina Gabriel, PhD; president of the University Energy Partnership and William Generett; CEO of Urban Innovation21.

“Pittsburgh and the region is the poster child as to how entrepreneurial ecosystems work,” Gabriel said. “Pittsburgh has a lot of things going on. It has Westinghouse and a strong collaborative of energy companies, manufacturing partners as well as a strong university and college system. Our region knows how to get things done. We have learned how to regroup from the demise of the steel mills. We are a region primed for growth.”

In concurrence that the region has transformed, Generett pointed out that a population of the area has been left out of the progress. “Minorities need to be a part of the ecosystem,” he indicated. He acknowledged that by the year 2030 statistics indicate that in the United States minorities will be the majority of the population. “We have to get minorities into technology. The challenge is how to include minorities.” He suggested teaching young people an entrepreneur mindset and problem solving skills and creating internship opportunities.

DeSimone and Gabriel agreed that a better job has to be done to connect the total community. “We are in the heart of the ecosystem. Pittsburgh is a great entrepreneurial city; we have to do a better job of working together,” said DeSimone.

After speakers and panelists pointed out throughout the program how the region is a hot bed for growth and development for manufacturing, entrepreneurship opportunities and the natural gas industry from Marcellus and Utica Shale, information shared during the certification panel emphasized its significance. “In my competitive field being certified separates my company from the competition,” explained Lievelyn Rhone, CEO of Geneva Pipeline. “It is a part of our business strategy.” Geneva Pipeline is a natural gas and utility contractor.

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