LaunchPGH website helps fledging businesses find solid ground

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The journey from great idea to successful business is frequently a long one fraught with pitfalls, challenges and -- more often than not -- failure.

Pittsburgh has a number of resources to help aspiring entrepreneurs along the way, like AlphaLab Programs, Enterprise Forum Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Development Club.

But if a would-be small business owner can't find those resources, it's a bit like a tree falling in the forest.

That's where a new website -- www.LaunchPGH.com -- comes in. The site, created by the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority, is a "one-stop shop" for entrepreneurs, with links to resources that can help them get their business off the ground, events for entrepreneurs and information about venture capitalists who might be interested in investing in their company.

Tom Link is the director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Urban Redevelopment Authority. He said the URA, which works on economic development, seemed like a natural facilitator for a site like this. And the site will prove particularly useful for newcomers.

"If you've never been to Pittsburgh, you would have to do quite a bit of legwork on your own" to find these resources, he said.

In a news release, Mayor Luke Ravensthal said the site "provides helpful information for businesses of all sizes -- whether you're a first-time entrepreneur in Pittsburgh, a local venture capitalist or investor, or looking for job opportunities with a new startup -- this site will point you in the right direction."

The site was launched Thursday and features a sleek, streamlined design. It's divided into three sections: Biz, which describes resources for entrepreneurs, Buzz, which lists events and get-togethers for the entrepreneurial community and Burgh, which highlights Pittsburgh's business community.

Kit Needham is an entrepreneur-in-residence with Project Olympus, an incubator at Carnegie Mellon University. She said start-ups are often "needy," and neophytes most often rely on peers to get advice as to how to move forward. She gave the site an "A+."

"The challenge has always been unless you're immersed or well-connected in this community, you don't know where to go, so this will get you started," she said.

John Quayle, 26, of Mt. Lebanon started his one-man graphic design and marketing business, Quayle Consulting, earlier this year. He said he spent months looking for events for entrepreneurs so he could network and find peer mentors. Had the site been launched, he might have saved a lot of time.

"I had to spend 8 to 12 months meeting people and figuring it out on my own," he said. The site offers "so [many] resources in the same place and you don't have to spend 6 to 10 to 12 months meeting people and getting that basic information."

A monthly networking event he started, Pittsburgh Geek Breakfast, is among those listed on the site.

He said he found a handful of people he leans on for advice -- from the nuts and bolts of paperwork and red tape to creating a business strategy.

And that's true for many entrepreneurs, Ms. Needham said, who find the best resources in their peers. Mr. Link said there's no linear path for entrepreneurs, and a lot of the journey can be "serendipitous." People meet other aspiring business owners at events who might end up giving them life-changing advice or even partnering with them in business. Part of the goal of LaunchPGH is to catalyze the process.

"A lot of that serendipity is the connections you make," he said. "The site is really accelerating that ... and making it a little less daunting."

Mr. Link, too, is hopeful that it will actually draw people to Pittsburgh when they see the wealth of resources available for aspiring business owners.

Jack Mason, the head of the entrepreneurial studies program at Duquesne University, said the site capitalizes on the Steel City's exceptionally collegial environment for business owners.

"The other cool thing about [Pittsburgh] is that everybody here is open, friendly and grounded," he said. "If we can somehow share experience and information, we can be a learning and start up community."

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Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.


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