The University of Pittsburgh SBDC: Adapting to Change

SBDC Pittsburgh
Part of The Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, the University of Pittsburgh’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) helps start, grow, and sustain businesses in southwestern Pennsylvania. We spoke to Michael Wholihan, Manager of Training & Community Outreach, to learn how the SBDC is providing this training and meeting the needs of entrepreneurs and business owners in the region.

What is this program’s specialization, and who are your clients?

The University of Pittsburgh SBDC is one of 18 centers across the state of Pennsylvania. We provide consulting and educational training to the business and entrepreneur community in Allegheny, Greene, and Washington counties.

Our job is multifaceted. First, we offer private, confidential, one-on-one consulting services. Second, we bring educational programming to our business communities — both affluent and distressed. Small business owners wear many hats, so our training brings expertise in new subject areas to them, like social media marketing, financing, management, and more. We help businesses identify financing needs and walk them through the loan preparation process.

Because the SBDC is funded through the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) and the U.S. Small Business Association (SBA), our training is provided at no cost to Pennsylvania taxpayers, and consulting agreements are strictly confidential. At the SBDC, we serve as advocates for our small businesses. And by working with and empowering business, we are also bringing economic development to the communities in our region.

How are you meeting the needs of small businesses in southwestern Pennsylvania?

Given the changes in jobs with the coal, shale, and gas industries, we know there are displaced workers and businesses across the southwestern region of Pennsylvania. We recognized an opportunity to train employees and business owners on diversifying their talents or revenue streams to expand into new industries.

Starting March and lasting until May, the SBDC is offering “Mining Your Business,” a free seminar series designed for individuals interested in starting a new business, as well as dislocated coal-related workers or their family members. Whether it’s a truck driver looking to expand beyond the coal industry or an entrepreneur with a tech startup in mind, the class will provide a customizable curriculum for all entrepreneurial endeavors. Similarly, the SBDC is also hosting a “Planning for Profits” series, part of the SBA “Lean for Main Street Training Challenge.”

The series this spring will follow a successful pilot of the program last year in Charleroi. Twenty-three entrepreneurs participated in the series, and we saw some exciting results. Our program produced new perspectives on customer service issues, inspired new business plans, allowed businesses to open new locations and hire new team members, and ultimately, formed a community of entrepreneurs and business owners.

How does your program enable Pennsylvanians to work smart and live happy?

In Pennsylvania, we realize that you have to work together to achieve greater economic success, and that’s exactly what we intend to do.

If Pennsylvanians continue to seek out the services we provide, we can certainly equip them to work much smarter; we provide the tools and knowledge so they can make smarter business decisions. And if we can ease the common stressors small business owners face— like securing financing or managing employees — we can truly make their workday and livelihoods much easier.

Our network of expert consultants can help small business owners live happy, which will in turn boost business success and economic development. In Pennsylvania, we realize that you have to work together to achieve greater economic success, and that’s exactly what we intend to do.

If you are interested in learning more about the University of Pittsburgh SBDC or inquiring about consulting or educational programs call our office (412.648.1544) or follow us on Twitter. You can also learn more about the Small Business Development Centers across the state.