Entrepreneur's conference aimed at the young and hungry

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A local conference for entrepreneurs will mark its 10th anniversary next week with keynote speakers offering presentations both historical and contemporary.

Andy Masich, president and chief executive officer of the Sen. John Heinz History Center, will give the morning keynote address at the 10th annual Entrepreneur's Growth Conference, being held Thursday at Duquesne University. In honor of Pittsburgh's ongoing 250th birthday celebration, Mr. Masich will highlight 250 years of entrepreneurial innovation in Pittsburgh through the contributions of leaders such as Andrew Carnegie, George Westinghouse and Andrew Mellon.

The afternoon keynote speaker will be one who made a bit of history of his own. Andy Litinsky, president of Trump Productions, was the youngest contestant ever on Donald Trump's NBC series, "The Apprentice," and ultimately became the only contestant to be hired by Mr. Trump after being "fired" during the show's competition.

Ron Morris, director of the Entrepreneurial Studies Program at Duquesne's Palumbo-Donahue School of Business, said that Mr. Litinsky was chosen as a keynote speaker because the show "is watched heavily by the exact type of people we want to come to the conference" -- young and hungry, both for success and for freedom.

Indeed, said Mr. Morris -- himself a serial entrepreneur with an ownership stake in a half-dozen businesses -- it is a "freedom first" mindset that compels an entrepreneur to strike out on their own. And although some 70 students are enrolled in his program, and although he will be a workshop presenter at the conference, he said that ultimately entrenpreneurship cannot be taught, it can only be nurtured.

The conference began nurturing entrepreneurs in 1998, when it was created as a revamping of Duquesne's Home Based Business Conference, which had ran for 10 years before.

"We decided to make it bigger and better," said Mary T. McKinney, director of Duquesne's Small Business Development Center, which hosts the conference. Part of what that meant was developing separate tracks of workshops for entrepreneurs whose businesses were in the start-up phase and those who were in a growth phase, as well as a track focusing on technology. Now, the conference offers more than a dozen workshops on topics ranging from "Why Entrepreneurial Thinking is the Only Way" to "All in the Family: Preserving Your Family's Business Legacy and Profitability." Attendance has doubled, to about 500.

Over the years, SBDC has received encouraging feedback from conference attendees, Ms. McKinney said.

"Many of them get branding or marketing ideas, or ways of doing their finances" that they had not considered before, she said.

The 10th anniversary is "an exciting milestone," Ms. McKinney said. Asked if the conference will mark the occasion in a special way, she said that each of the speakers was told, "make sure there's 10 things people can leave with that they can do tomorrow."

Beyond that, "I think we're having a cake."

Elwin Green can be reached at egreen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1969. First Published May 30, 2008 4:00 AM


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