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Start them off right Featured

10:02am EDT July 22, 2002

For most entrepreneurs, the initial path to building a business is smoothed by tapping a network of similarly situated peers from school, family or neighborhood networks. They might not be able to directly help locate financing or good employees, but they can at least serve as a sounding board or traffic cop, pointing in the right direction. But Marty Tarr, the son of a disabled Lakewood plumber, never had the benefit of such sylvan connections.

"The problem for me growing up was, we were all blue collar," he says. "I didn't know any business people, didn't know any white collar folks. No one in my family was white collar."

That didn't stop Tarr, 39, from establishing a computer consultancy which has thrived on the back of its giant technology partners, IBM, Oracle and Computer Associates. With more than 150 employees and independent contractors in the field across the U.S., the company, Independence-based Tiburon Technologies, has been growing at more than 30 percent annually, and expects to finish this year at about $8 million in revenues.

Still, he admits his lack of business savvy did hold him back for years. "I left a lot of mistakes and a lot of money behind," he says. "It stunted our growth, quite honestly. It impacted a lot of things."

Rather than forcing him out of business, this dearth of training merely stoked his desire for acquiring a business education by whatever means he could. This is a man, after all, who attended night school at Cleveland State University for 17 years while building a business. But that was for the technical side of his business, computer programming.

As his company grew to a size and complexity which forced him to return from the field to oversee the entire organization-and caused him to silently scream "help!"-his educational focus gradually shifted to general business issues. He formed an advisory board, to point out his managerial "blind spots." And, he says, "I started focusing on taking business seminars, as many as I could get my hands on. I went everywhere-I became a junkie on education."

Eventually, that led to his selection to participate in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's elite "Birthing of Giants" program, which convenes selected young entrepreneurs for 12 days of programs over three years with faculty from MIT and Harvard University. Thousands of companies apply, but only 60 are selected each year.

"You walk onto the MIT campus on the opening night of introductions. And people start talking about doing roll-ups and consolidations, $100 million companies doing private placements. I look around and there are four or five people I recognize from magazine covers. And you think to yourself, 'Wow, how did I get here?' It's overwhelming, because they start talking about different issues and concepts that you're hearing for the first time."

Intimidated at first, he quickly grasped that it was just more homework for him to do. And by the second year, he was more comfortable in such fast company.

With that shot of adrenaline, Tarr in recent months has turned his attention to kick-starting a Cleveland chapter of Young Entrepreneurs Organization. Open to founders, owners or controlling shareholders age 39 or younger, of businesses grossing at least $1 million a year, YEO boasts more than 2,000 members in more than 60 local chapters. But until recently, Cleveland wasn't among them.

As the founding member, Tarr kicked things off with a mass mailing to a few hundred people qualified to join, and followed up by inviting prospects to an Indians game in September in owner Dick Jacobs' box. The group now has more than a half-dozen members.

Jacklyn Nemchick, of Propaint Plus in Eastlake, got an immediate glimpse of the possibilities of YEO membership when she attended her first event, where she met a woman who invests in companies.

"I wish I had met her earlier, and maybe I wouldn't have had to sell my position," she says.

Vince Piscetello, owner of VIP Restoration, a $3 million building restoration company based in Cleveland's Collinwood neighborhood, was reluctant to join, since he was already obligated to a number of industry boards. But he was persuaded by what he heard about Tarr. "Marty himself is a big attraction. I did a little checking on him with some people who have known him for a long time, and he's always been a go-getter."

Tarr has to get the chapter off the ground against a ticking clock, however. When he turns 40 next April, under YEO rules, he must matriculate out of the organization, perhaps into Young Presidents Organization or World Entrepreneurs Organization. He plans to have leadership in place by then.

As he looks back, he says, facing his insecurities and getting started in his entrepreneurial education wasn't easy. "The more I learned, the more nervous I got," he admits. But that's really not such a bad thing, he thinks.

"I think to be entrepreneurial, you have to be a little uneasy. I think people who grow up comfortable might not make it."

For more information on Young Entrepreneurs Organization, visit the local chapter's Web site www.yeocleveland.org, or contact Martin Tarr, by phone at (216) 520-3100, or by e-mail at tarr@tiburontech.com.