Twenty years ago, when the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence came together with a $300,000 grant, there was no way of knowing it would grow to reach an average of $2 million per year in resources or that it would gain $3 million in revenue, spawn 800 businesses, create more than 1,400 management and education programs, and attract more than $300 million in funding to support entrepreneurs.
Even today, after assisting businesses ranging from environmental cleanup to yoga studios, founder Ann Dugan remains surprised by the tenacity of the program.
"We're still here," she said. "We don't have an endowment, and year in and year out we live off of an ability to bring in entrepreneurs. We're judged purely on performance."
The institute, which is run out of the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, is looking back on its anniversary with a quiet cheer for its wins and a push to spread the word about its resources. The institute features monthly workshops and seminars for emerging business owners; customized consulting with established business owners and academics; special incentives for businesses run in inner city neighborhoods; and educational programs with business leaders.
In the past year alone, there has been much to celebrate. According to the institute's 2012 Community Impact and Benefit Report, it helped 824 businesses, helped found 39 startups, created or impacted 400 jobs, and saw $14.4 million in increased revenues for clients.
While the raw data add up to a significant impact, many of the program's benefits aren't so easily measured.
Eric Sauereisen, owner of Sauereisen Industries, said his O'Hara company came in contact with the institute in 1998 through its Family Enterprise Center, which provides resources and expertise specific to family-owned businesses. As a third-generation owner of the company, which manufactures protective coatings, linings and ceramic compounds to abate corrosion, Mr. Sauereisen had general questions about succession, technology, board governance and other issues.
Years later, as an institute board member who is now the one extending the helping hand, Mr. Sauereisen said it's hard to pinpoint a specific area of help that mattered most, but the benefits of networking with other professionals may have been the most pleasant surprise.
"It instantly provided a forum where we could bounce a lot of ideas off of each other as business owners," he said.
Dawn Fuchs, CEO of Carnegie-based Weavertown Environmental Group, agrees the total package is the program's biggest draw. She and her family, who opened the environmental cleanup service 15 years ago, came to the institute about 13 years ago.
Beyond finding consultants who would discuss issues particular to family businesses, she was thrilled that the institute dove into the technology, marketing and financial aspects of running a small business.
Today, as a board member and volunteer, Ms. Fuchs said she hopes up-and-coming business owners see what she sees. "We didn't see it so much as a place for help as we saw it as an extension of our formalized education, and I think that's how people should view the institute," she said.
In 2012, it created and hosted more than 56 educational programs attended by more than 1,400 entrepreneurs.
An annual donor, Ms. Fuchs also hopes local stakeholders recognize the program's value.
The institute charges member businesses on a scale that ranges between $500 and $3,000 per year, which, along with donations, accounts for 48 percent of annual income. The remainder comes from state and federal grants, foundation grants and from the university.
"We take great pride in our established history of helping Western Pennsylvania business leaders grow their businesses, but experience is only half the equation," Ms. Dugan said in a prepared statement. "We also have to be innovators and continually reinvent ourselves and our programs to address the changing problems facing local businesses."Editor's Note
: This story was changed on March 19 to correct the number of educational programs and attendees in 2012.
Deborah M. Todd: email@example.com or 412-263-1652.