By Eric Seiverling
Small business owners ranging from seasoned veterans to young upstarts gathered at Alloy 26 on Pittsburgh’s North Shore on Tues., May 2 to network, exchange ideas, and to get the chance to appear on national television in hopes of seeing their business dreams become a reality.
The event celebrated Small Business Week, a multi-city program that highlights the contributions, challenges, and influences of small businesses.
The program included a networking and panel discussion moderated by Bill Flanagan, host of “Our Region’s Business” on WPXI-TV and a casting booth where entrepreneurs could apply to be on the hit CNBC reality program The Profit, which features host Marcus Lemonis who puts his own money on the line to help save and grow struggling small businesses across the country.
Participants were able to apply for the program thanks to free Wi-Fi available in Alloy 26’s lobby provided by Comcast Business.
This was the first year for the event, and other cities participating included Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago, Nashville, Hartford, and Seattle.
“There are 100,000 small businesses right here in Pennsylvania,” Paul Merritt, regional vice president of business services for Comcast Business, said while meeting attendees before the panel discussion. “We always look for opportunities to highlight small businesses. We realized we have a great show in ‘The Profit’ so we decided to do this event.”
To those in attendance, the morning’s activities were a way to meet like-minded individuals and learn from others.
“Events like this are a really good way to find out what’s going on and get the chance to talk to people,” said Ian Magazine, a Greensburg-based entrepreneur who left Wall Street eight years ago to focus on helping start up companies like PNA Innovations, a bio-tech firm specializing in correcting mutations in human genes. “My finance background translates to any industry. I’m looking for a common ground with someone, and a team to latch on with that could use the experience that I have.”
While Magazine may be a veteran at networking with other entrepreneurs, the event also attracted young hopefuls looking to see their small business dreams come to fruition.
“I’m here to meet everybody because I’m always looking to learn and listen,” said Tyler Coulverson, 27, who hopes his idea for True Body, a spa that inspires people to find spiritual motivation through yoga, massages and facial treatments, will soon come to life. “Just being here is great exposure because I’m still working on securing financing and finding a location for a physical store.”
The hour-long panel discussion featured Flanagan and attendees asking questions to small business owners who have witnessed the impact small businesses have on this region.
The panel included Adam Paulisick, chief customer officer at MAYA Design; Juan Garrett, executive director of Riverside Center for Innovation; Ilana Diamond, managing director of Alphalab Gear and Mona Pappafava-Ray, president and CEO of General Carbide Corporation.
“Since 1970, Pittsburgh’s population has lost 400,000 people, but it’s gained 200,000 jobs,” Flanagan told the crowd. “It’s the kind of opportunities we’re talking about today that allows businesses to grab people at the grass roots.”
Topics of the panel included money and cash management, education, doing social good, and being based in a location such as Pittsburgh.
“The people in our area are all about family,” Pappafava-Ray, who’s Westmoreland County-based company employees more than 200 people, said. “They’ve got great work ethic and they’re willing to roll up their sleeves. Forget about the tools and forget about the machines because it always comes down to the people.”
After the panel discussion, entrepreneurs lined up at the casting booth for The Profit.
The hit CNBC program has been on the air since 2013, and has seen host Lemonis invest more than $50 million to help struggling small businesses.
“Obviously, the funding would be great, but I’m also interested in how it would give my business exposure to a broader audience,” Coulverson said while practicing his company pitch before going in front of the casting cameras. “I was going to do something flamboyant, but I think I’m just going to stick to my story. I have a unique story and I just have to let them see the passion behind the story.”