Don Charlton was ahead of the game when he went into AlphaLab five months ago and started his Web site -- TheResumator.com.
Generally, the Innovation Works incubator program for Internet entrepreneurs deals with companies that haven't gotten off the ground. But the 31-year-old McCandless resident had been tinkering for a while with a plan for a site to do the work typically handled by clerks in human resources departments and was ready to plunge in.
On Jan. 6, the first day of his session at AlphaLab, he put the site on the Web. Then he sent e-mails to bloggers who, in turn, mentioned his new idea online.
"Suddenly I had this influx of traffic to my Web site, and it held up. I started getting sign-ups," he said.
Mr. Charlton's hunger for success as an entrepreneur stems in part from when he was a teenager and could not buy a Little Debbie Snack Cake because he was short a dime.
He grew up in the projects of Masontown, Fayette County. He graduated with a degree in design from Rochester Institute of Technology, where he worked cleaning the same classrooms in the morning that he was a student in later in the day.
He also has done the cold calculation that even if he goes out on his own and fails, he will never be as far behind as he was when he arrived at Rochester with just $75 in his pocket.
The Resumator was his second attempt to get into AlphaLab. His first try had been rejected, so six months later he applied again. This time, though, he not only had an idea, but he also had stayed up nights sitting at his computer writing software and designing Web pages.
AlphaLab is a part of Innovation Works, the Hazelwood nonprofit venture capital firm funded by the state. There are two 20-week sessions a year for newly minted entrepreneurs.
Six new companies are chosen for each session, each gets an office and the use of the space, which includes conference rooms and the ability to pick the brains of their fellow AlphaLab attendees, the staff and experts who are brought in for weekly discussions.
The new CEOs are mentored in those crucial starting weeks of the business. Innovation Works also invests $25,000 in each company.
Mr. Charlton said he used his funds to buy time on a computer server, to buy a personal computer to check his programming compatibility with the Apple computer on which he designed the site, and to pay for additional computer programs and legal fees.
Basically, TheResumator.com is meant to simplify the process of finding and tracking job candidates.
When a job is posted, most companies wind up with an in-box full of resumes, which means someone has to download them, print them, copy them and distribute them.
With The Resumator people who want to hire can search for key terms in resumes, the people reviewing the resumes can comment and rate the applicants, and the resumes can be viewed by more than one person at a time, all without printing them out.
After the launch started to draw customers, Mr. Charlton had to figure out where to go from there. "What's great about AlphaLab is they give you guidance and resources to help you either create or grow your business," he said.
While he expected to be told what to do next, that was not what happened. Instead, mentors who had started their own firms gave him the positives and negatives of taking money from investors or joining his company with another. They also introduced him to investors.
"They give you the options, and they stop right there" he said.
Mr. Charlton likened starting a business to being a laboratory rat inside a maze. "At the end of the maze is some type of exit. In the middle are dead ends, wastes of time and getting lost."
Jim Jen, the director of Alpha Lab, said a lot of entrepreneurs try to get their companies started while maxing out their credit cards and borrowing from friends and family members.
The money from AlphaLab, which gives Innovation Works a stake in the company, replaces that cash from friends and family.
"The $25,000 goes a long way in this particular kind of company at this stage," said Terri Glueck, the spokeswoman for Innovation Works.
With The Resumator, Mr. Jen said AlphaLab helped Mr. Charlton work through what to charge for the use of the site and how to market his new products.
He also thought through when to quit his day job working for a design firm. That moment came Feb. 6 when, after giving one-month free trials to his first customers, some decided to sign up for a fee.
"If you build something that people really need, it scales quickly," Mr. Charlton said.
He "graduates" from AlphaLab later this month. He said he will have figured out what to do when that day comes.
Ann Belser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1699.