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Fashionistas Roll Out Mobile Business, With Help of Duquesne Expertise

Bernie Rupcich and Kim DeMarco loved the idea of food trucks. But they loved the idea of fashion trucks even more.

They'd never operated, let alone started, a business. But the two former fashion buyers and merchandisers who met 30 years ago at Horne's dreamed of bringing fashions to time-strapped boutique-style shoppers and busy professional women.

With the help of Duquesne University's Small Business Development Center (SBDC), their Magnolia on Main fashion truck has lived up to the dream for its first month of operation, bringing styles, athletic/leisure wear, accessories and home accents, including vegan leathers and up-cycled handbags, into convenient locations.

The truck and its owners (Rupcich is a Duquesne alumna) will roll onto the University's campus Friday, April 22, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., planning a ribbon-cutting ceremony that pays tribute to where they developed their business chops.

The SBDC's Transition into Business Ownership program is designed to turn unemployed workers and transitioning professionals into small business owners. Funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration, this program provides intensive, 20-hour training over four days, said Douglas Harding, program director. Those who complete the training access additional consulting and mentoring as they work toward building a formal business plan that could be a cornerstone for funding their startup.

"That financial end is probably what I needed the most, that whole outreach of knowing who your customers are and where your customers are," said Rupcich, who got the business running in six months. "Doug really helped me a lot individually, putting together a successful business plan."

This year, several free Transition into Business Ownership classes will target Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties, Harding said. The next session is scheduled from Tuesday, May 3, to Friday, May 6, at the Pittsburgh North Regional Chamber of Commerce in Wexford, where Rupcich and DeMarco attended. As well as learning how to register a business and design marketing strategies, potential business owners learn how to leverage social media, seek funding and prepare financial projections.

In this program alone, last year 39 individuals completed the training, starting 16 new businesses that generated 22 jobs. Dr. Mary McKinney, director of Duquesne's SBDC, said that the numbers of just this one program illustrate how the program benefits the local economy. "Many of these businesses grow beyond their owners, creating multiple jobs," she noted. "Multiply that by the past 36 years that Duquesne's SBDC has been sharing technical, financial and strategic expertise to see the full effect."

In addition to startup assistance, the SBDC will offer its signature annual event, the Entrepreneur's Growth and Networking Conference, for those who are looking to further develop their businesses. This year's event, What's Your Next Chapter to Success, on Thursday, June 2, will feature Jeff Broadhurst, president and CEO of Eat'n Park Hospitality Group, as the keynote speaker.

To learn more about these and other SBDC programs, visit www.duq.edu/sbdc.

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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