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Businesses Can Get on Fast Track to Growth at Duquesne University Conference

Established business owners interested pushing in their companies beyond the $1 million-revenue mark will find special workshops targeted to their needs at the eighth annual Entrepreneur’s Growth Conference, presented by Duquesne University’s Chrysler Corporation Small Business Development Center (SBDC). The event will take place from 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 8, on the Duquesne campus.This year’s Established Company Growth Track, one of four workshop tracks available at the conference, was designed to meet the special needs of veteran business owners, according to Dr. Mary McKinney, SBDC director. “These business owners form an underserved market because so much guidance is focused on start-ups,” McKinney said. “These are owners who want to take their businesses to the next level, and these workshops can guide them toward achieving that goal.”

In addition to the Established Company Growth track, other sessions will focus on start-up operations and businesses in the planning stage. Workshop tracks include:

  • New Venture, for those building young companies or planning to launch businesses;
  • Smart Business and Special Interest, which addresses the concerns of minorities, women, nonprofits and franchise owners, as well as those involved in Internet sales;
  • And Technology Growth, geared toward technology and life sciences entrepreneurs.

The conference also will offer private, no-free mentoring with business experts and a trade show featuring more than 40 business-support organizations.

The in-depth session on business strategy will be led by Stan Sheetz, CEO of the gasoline/convenience store chain that bears his name. A separate session addresses another problem established companies might face: churning more revenue than a start-up but not translating that cash influx into higher profits. Another growth track session focuses on personnel.

Pushing beyond that landmark $1 million milestone also might mean looking at business opportunities with a different eye and venturing into overseas markets. “Today, in order for a company to succeed, it’s going to be global in some way,” McKinney said.

Keynote speakers include Raul Valdes-Perez, CEO of the local technology firm Vivisimo Inc., and the Sloan brothers, nationally renowned investment and entrepreneurship experts.

Valdes-Perez founded Vivisimo in 2002, building the company around the Internet search engine Clusty.com, which organizes Internet search results into categories. Valdes-Perez’s successful leadership has earned him local and national accolades, including a top-10 reader favorite for Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. Magazine, a CEO of the Year finalist by the Pittsburgh Technology Council, and recognition as one of the 50 most important Hispanics in business and technology by Hispanic Engineer magazine three times. At the conference, Valdes-Perez will share his insights on building a technology company as a first-time entrepreneur.

“Get really good at hiring,” Valdes-Perez recommends. “It’s a subtle skill, and there are good things written down about how to do it. But don’t despair if you make mistakes. Everybody does, and it’s not an exact science.”

While Valdes-Perez has focused his efforts on one entrepreneurial venture, the Sloan brothers have established a successful track record as “serial entrepreneurs.” Jeff and Rich Sloan bought and sold federal Housing and Urban Development homes as teenagers, then started what became one of the world’s leading Arabian horse breeding operations. They moved into a consumer products import company, then sold it to start Sloan Ventures, a financing firm focused on fast-growing technology companies. They also host the nationally syndicated radio program, StartupNation.

The Sloan brothers have launched all of their companies while based in Birmingham, Mich., a Detroit suburb. Their businesses have thrived while based in a rust-belt business environment that shares many similarities with Pittsburgh, so the brothers have many insights to offer to western Pennsylvania’s entrepreneurs.

“Network, give great customer service and use technology to enable you to conduct business across geographies,” Jeff Sloan advises Pittsburgh-area entrepreneurs.

Registration, including parking, for the entire conference is $99 before May 19 and $119 by June 2. Walk-in registration costs $139. Special rates are available for students and for half-day sessions. For more information about the conference, visit www.egc.duq.edu or call 412.396.6233.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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