The path to entrepreneurship can be a strange one for some business builders, but Eugene Ritters journey may rank among the most unusual.
Ritters path has included alcoholism, divorce, unemployment and an ongoing spiritual search a quest that once had him considering the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church.
Ritter, a man with a self-acknowledged gift of gab, nonetheless has managed to build a business virtually from scratch over the past five years. And he gives his wife of five years, Faye, and God the credit for his success.
I think the key is the relationship with God, says Ritter.
Ritter realized early financial success as an encyclopedia salesman, and later, as a district manager for the same company. But drinking cost him his job, and he sank deeper into alcoholism. Eventually, he sought help from Alcoholics Anonymous and has remained sober since 1972. He continues to work with recovering alcoholics.
Ritter worked as a group home counselor after he gained sobriety but entered another extended period of unemployment from 1982 to 1992. He spent most of that time surviving on public assistance and help from friends and family.
Still, Ritter is anything but bitter about the 10 years he spent on welfare. That period, he is convinced, was a necessary part of his journey.
It showed me how insignificant I am, he says. It showed me how much I needed God.
In 1992, Ritter met his wife in church. Faye, says Ritter, is the one who encouraged him to start his own business.
I laughed, because here I was, on welfare, Ritter says.
Despite his lack of capital, no credit and a checkered work history, Ritter scraped together about $7,000 to buy a computer company in 1992. The company, DMR Inc., now distributes industrial and medical supplies to hospitals, including a major university hospital, nursing homes and local government agencies. And he has four full-time and several casual employees.
Although they are all 30-somethings, combined, they have more than a lifetime of coveted professional experience. Their expertise runs the gamut, from software to hardware to switching systems and routing technology, as well as the organizational and strategic savvy to get and keep a company on the move.
All worked for Pittsburgh’s most successful high-tech company to date, Fore Systems (now Marconi plc), most holding key positions in the development of major products and systems. Two are Carnegie Mellon alumni, and all have attended prestigious institutions of higher learning. Four of the six hold advanced degrees. Two worked for Transarc Corp., another successful Pittsburgh technology company.
Here are the founders of Laurel Networks at a glance:
Atul Bansal, president and CEO, has more than 14 years of experience in the data communications industry. His most recent position was product group director of Fore Systems’ multilayer ethernet switching product division, a unit with $100 million-plus in annual revenue. He’s also held numerous positions with Digital Equipment Corp.
Jeffrey Prem, director of system services hardware, has more than 12 years of experience as a software architect and developer. At Fore, he was principal software development engineer, leading the company’s software development for its entire line of asynchronous transfer mode switches.
Robert Rennison, director of signaling and routing software, has more than 14 years of experience in the data communications and networking industries. A six-year veteran at Fore Systems, Rennison led a team of engineers in the development of several key projects there.
Dimitris Varotsis, chief technology officer, is a Carnegie Mellon graduate and a former principle engineer with Fore Systems. With more than a decade of experience in data communications, including a stint with Transarc Corp., Varotsis is responsible for the overall software architecture of all Laurel Networks products.
Steve Vogelsang, vice president of marketing, was senior director of strategic and technical marketing at Fore Systems. As its senior director of strategic and technical marketing, he was responsible for defining and communicating Fore’s technology and solution strategy.
Robert Warden, director of hardware engineering, has eight years of experience in the design of high-speed switching systems. He was Fore Systems’ manager of ATM switching systems before breaking out as a co-founder of Laurel Networks.
If this all sounds a little indefinite, well, it is. Were doing a little experimenting and were asking you to help us out. At most, youll hear from us two or three times a month. But we vow not to bombard you with worthless junk e-mail or sell or otherwise share your address with pestering salespeople.
And we absolutely promise to take you off the list if we get annoying. So if youre feeling a little daring, simply send a short message to firstname.lastname@example.org and well put you on the list.
Thanks for your help.
Linda Stevenson has spent most of her career in banking. Even when she took time off to raise a family, she continued working part time in banking.
But her devotion to the profession doesnt just stem from her education or devotion to her employer, National City Bank. Shes in it for the entrepreneurs.
I really love what I do because Im just fascinated with the courage entrepreneurs have and the sacrifices they make to start their businesses, says Stevenson, who has been working for National City or its predecessor banks since 1982. I get to be a part of that process and help them. Its like I have a piece of ownership in them.
Stevenson, a lifelong Erie resident, is an assistant vice president of National City and focuses entirely on the small business sector, particularly with the banks SBA lending program. She has served with its small business program for the entire 10 years of its official existence, spending as much time servicing customers in Pittsburgh as she does in Northwestern Pennsylvania. In fact, she was part of the team, led by Thomas Golonski, president and CEO of National City Bank of Pennsylvania, that created the program.
We had the foresight to recognize that small businesses are critical to the region, she says.
Now, she says, she has had the privilege of beginning to see a new element emerge and prosper in Western Pennsylvania: women-owned businesses. To feed her passion for that sector, she recently helped set up a PowerLink advisory board chapter in the Erie area, which puts together business advisory boards, at no cost, for qualified women-owned businesses interested in growing aggressively.
Says Stevenson of entrepreneurship and her role as a banker in that world: Its really fun to be part of it.
Marsh, a leading insurance broker and risk advisory service, has developed Net Secure, a program of insurance and consulting for those involved in e-business. Marsh advises companies in e-business to take the following steps to identify and address potential risks:
- Know all of your e-business applications and examine the risks.
- Focus first on the risks that pose the greatest threat to profits or reputation.
- Gauge your vulnerability.
- Examine the financial impact and valuation issues associated with your e-business activities.
- Review your insurance to determine if it addresses your e-business risk.
- Examine contracts with vendors who provide critical functions for your Web business.
- Establish a team within you company to evaluate risks and develop strategies to deal with them.
- Establish e-business security measures. How to reach: Marsh, (412) 552-5077 or www.marshweb.com/e-business
Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs, Akron, has elected four new shareholders: Kevin A. Denti, Dirk E. Riemenschneider, John P. Slagter and Terry W. Vincent.
Bruce H. Fahey has joined the Akron law firm of Kastner Westman & Wilkins.
Michael E. Markowski has become a partner in the Akron office of Bruner-Cox, an accounting firm with offices in Canton and Akron.
Anthony Manna is leaving the Akron law firm of Amer Cunningham Brennan to start a new law firm with partner David Brennan. The firm will specialize in business transactions, and will be located at the former Akron Art Museum building on East Market Street.
Mobility Works of Akron has hired Allen Grota as production manager.
CBIZ/Spector & Saulino, Akron, has hired AnaLuisa Shockey as a CPA in its Mergers & Acquisitions Group and has named Lester S. Sherman as new managing principal.
H.M. Life Opportunity Services, an Akron-based transitional housing organization that assists homeless, single-parent families, has added Francis Dick-Campbell as development director and Nancy Likens as caseworker.
Michael J. Lorenzo is the new owner of Akron Valve & Fitting Co.
Mitchell A. McCoy has been appointed president of McCoy Associates, an Akron-based engineering and consulting services firm.
Geri M. Cistone has been appointed senior sales executive at The Crawford Co., Akron.
Jack Hayes, president of Connecting Touch Therapy & Wellness Center Inc. in Cuyahoga Falls, was awarded the Sertoma Service to Mankind for his commitment to community involvement.
Steven G. Seigfrid has been named residential mortgage representative for Chippewa Valley Bank in Rittman.
RCS Management Group, an integrated database marketing and consulting services firm in Cuyahoga Falls, has hired Bryan M. Grimaldi as an account executive.
Akron General Health System has named William C. Epling president of HomeTown Health Network.
Cambridge Home Health Care has promoted Pam Bell to senior care specialist.
Bob McCann of Moore Stephens Apple, Akron, earned the Accredited in Business Valuation designation.
Baerlocher GmbH has named Nirmal S. Jain president and CEO of Baerlocher USA in Dover.
Hasenstab & McCarthy Architects Inc. has added three registered architects: Zoltan M. Balogh, Mark A. Dlekmann and Margaret M. Zezulewicz.
Jim Lenahan has been appointed executive director of the Society of the Blind, Akron Center.
Brockman, Coats, Gedelian & Co., an Akron CPA firm, has hired the following: Emily Shacklett as supervisor; Sean Buck as network engineer and programmer; Sarah Lautzenheiser as senior software engineer; Wendy DAngelo and Dana Howell as staff assistants; April Martin as administrative assistant; and Sarah Popa as receptionist.
Janet Moritz of Walker & Jocke, Medina, is president of the Ohio Association for Legal Professionals.
InfoCision Management Corp., Akron, has promoted Jerry Harris to the position of director of creative services.
Matthew W. Oby has joined the Akron law firm Oldham & Dowling.
When Demetra and Larry Smith asked Larrys parents for a loan in 1977 to buy what was then Mikes Main Entrance, they saw it as a long-term opportunity to make a living together.
Today, 23 years later, Larrys Main Entrance is a West Market Street landmark known for its handmade burgers and 3 a.m. steak and eggs breakfasts. Owner Demetra Smith spoke to SBN about longevity in an industry known as much for overnight successes as for sudden bankruptcies.
What is your key to longevity?
Stubbornness. You have to get up every day and you have to go in and do whatever has to be done. You cant just say one day you dont feel like it or you cant say, This is going to be a vacation day. Its not like working for somebody else you dont have vacation unless you plan around yourself.
All these are keys to longevity. Also, flexibility. Since Larry and I do not have children, weve had more time to spend in the business. I was able to keep the business a priority, and I think women going into business need to consider this. If you have a strong enough support system, you can cover for those things. A business like this requires a lot of hours.
Both you and Larry have masters degrees in the fine arts. How much did you know about the restaurant business when you opened Larrys?
I grew up in the restaurant business, so I had a pretty large background. Larry had some business experience. I think it [an arts background] helped us in the decor of our restaurant, and I think the more education you have, its going to help no matter what you go into or what field.
When I was a child, I used to help my parents in the restaurant, cleaning, making drinks and taking money. This is a piece of cake compared to that their place was much bigger.
Is there any advice you remember getting that has helped you run Larrys?
No. I feel I got a lot a bad advice, and luckily never listened to it. People always want to be negative. Everyone can give advice and tell you what they think your restaurant should be, but you have to do what you want.
Basically thats what we did, but we did it very slowly. We were young starting out in this and I think we were open to a lot of criticism. We took it slowly so that we could reach our vision of what we wanted this to be and even at that, its always changing.
What advice would you give someone today who wanted to open a restaurant?
They should have a clear vision of what they want it to be. They do have to search for their own market niche, which is probably deciding who their market is going to be and go after it.
While you are doing all this, you need to have lots of energy and determination.
How do you keep your customers coming back?
I think people keep coming back here because they feel good about their experience. This is not just about being a restaurant serving food and serving drinks but its also an experience for people because its a little more personal, even if Im not here.
I have people here who customers can relate to. A lot of people will come back because they like their server or they like their bartender. Also, the food is consistently good.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Im sure Ill still be here. I definitely will not be retired, living on an island. Ill always be working once its in your blood, you dont stop.
How to reach: Larrys Main Entrance, (330) 864-8162
Laurel Lake Retirement Community has received a grant from the Salmon Memorial Fund of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary. The grant will be used for health assessments of residents of Key Towers, a low-income senior housing complex in Stow.
Seagrey Recruitment & Retention Inc. has introduced The Career Minute, a forum for broadcasting area job opportunities via television, radio and the Internet.
Radix Wire Company has named Bill Brokaw Advertising as its agency of record.
Stein & Company Communications Web development company, Digital Navigation, has won an award of distinction in The International Creative 29 Competition.
American Stone Industries of Amherst has announced the receipt of contracts worth approximately $1.2 million to supply stone for a new building at Oberlin College and for restoration projects for Bethany College in West Virginia and the New York State Assembly Chamber.
Fifth Third Securities Inc. has introduced the Strategic Communications & Technology Trust, Series 2, a fixed portfolio of stocks made available to investors Feb. 18.
The chapters of Network Professionals Inc. have regular breakfast and lunch meetings, offering a speaker who outlines his or her area of expertise. Anyone interested in joining the group or learning more about NPI is welcome to attend a meeting. For information, call (216) 348-4744.
Bill Brokaw Advertising has launched Brokaw New Media, offering Web site design, development and consultation; online marketing, advertising and branding; and digital public relations.
The Practice Greens at Bobicks Golf Pro Shop has been named by Golf Range magazine as one of the Top 100 Golf Ranges in America for 1999.
The ROGERS Company, a marketing exhibitry agency, welcomes Designouveau Inc., a digital multimedia development firm, to its headquarters in Mentor.
The magazine inside PR awarded Edward Howard & Co. excellent ratings in the following categories: regional powerhouse, management, strategic thinking, investor relations, business-to-business communications and in-house training.
Media II Inc. has announced the acquisition of the following clients: TOMCO Products Inc. and KEC North America.
Applewood Centers Inc. has been named Ohios Outstanding Youth Serving Agency and has received the 1999 Ohio Governors Community Peace Award.
AARP has selected Fleishman-Hilliard as marketing communications partner for a campaign designed to promote the association.
Alvins Jewelers has announced the building of a new store at Parmatown Mall.
The Greater Cleveland Growth Association, the North Coast Tech Prep Consortium and Region 8 School-to-Work have announced the recruitment of high school seniors as interns for local businesses. If interested in hiring interns, contact Sue Thompson at (216) 592-2369.
Everstream announced the addition of The McClatchy Co. to its media network.
Four Points Hotels by Sheraton has announced an addition to its family, the Four Points Hotel Cleveland South.
Flight Options Inc. has been named to the Weatherhead 100 for exceptional sales performance.
MultiWeb Communications has introduced a suite of electronic tools designed to edit and format corporate Web pages.
John E. Bollman of State Farm Insurance Cos. has relocated his offices to Tyler Boulevard in Mentor.
Milbourn Pressworks Co. Inc. has been placed on the Weatherhead 100 and the Lake-Geauga Fast Track 50.
Smythe, Cramer Co. has announced a record high for closed sales volume in 1999, increasing 3 percent over 1998.
Auburn Career Centers Vocational Rehabilitation Case Management Services has celebrated its first anniversary.
The Independence Chamber of Commerce and the Cuyahoga Valley Business Association announced a merger into one organization, named the Independence/Cuyahoga Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Cleveland State Universitys Advanced Manufacturing Center has teamed with East Technical High School to develop a robot to enter in this years FIRST Robotic Competition.
Background Information Services Inc. has been founded by Jason B. Morris. The company offers pre-employment background screening to corporations and organizations.
WCPN 90.3 FM announced the addition of Public NewsRoom to its Internet news and information service at www.wcpn.org.
The Home Builders Association of Greater Cleveland has formed a partnership with the Cleveland Schools to sponsor a job program to recruit trainees and offer job placement assistance.
Budzar Industries Inc. has expanded the size of its headquarters in Willoughby, mirrored by a steady sales growth of 15 to 20 percent annually.
EDR Media has prepared a videotape of Scott Hamilton and other professional figure skaters to help promote cancer awareness and raise funds to support cancer research, education and patient care programs at the Cleveland Clinic.
Rand Worldwide, a provider of knowledge-based solutions to engineering and information technology companies, has acquired Technical Software Inc.
Cleveland State University and WVIZ/PBS have announced plans for the creation of an Applied Digital Technology Center.
Relief finally has arrived for those besieged by so-called cybersquatters or cyberpirates who seek to make a quick profit by registering and selling Internet domain names that are the same as or similar to famous trademarks or individual names.
On Nov. 29, 1999, President Clinton signed into law the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act as part of the Omnibus Appropriations Act. The Act amends the Trademark Act of 1946 and contains cyberpiracy protections for businesses and individuals. Although the act has been criticized as heavy-handed and providing undue emphasis (and power) to trademark rights, most welcome it as a development in promoting online business.
Under the act, a person is liable if he or she, with bad-faith intent to profit from anothers mark, registers, traffics or uses a domain name that is:
- Identical to or confusingly similar to a distinctive mark at the time of registration of the domain name;
- Confusingly similar to or dilutive of a famous mark at the time of registration of the domain name; or
- A protected trademark, word or name under the United States Code.
Traffics includes sales, purchases, loans, pledges, licenses, exchanges of currency and any other transfer or receipt in exchange for consideration. A key change to prior trademark law is that mere registration (including parking or warehousing) of a domain name without use on a Web site can be actionable.
While bad faith is not defined in the act, it provides that, in determining bad faith, a court may consider other intellectual properties in the domain name, including trademark or other intellectual property rights, using another persons legal name, intent to divert consumers, transferring the domain name for financial gain without having used it in the bona fide offering of goods or services, using false information to obtain the registration, and registering multiple domain names identical or confusingly similar to others.
However, bad faith should not be determined to exist where it was reasonably believed by the alleged cybersquatter that using the domain name was a fair use or was otherwise legal.
Remedies for businesses
Trademark holders can force cybersquatters to relinquish, forfeit, cancel or transfer domain names and can collect civil penalties ranging from $1,000 to $100,000 per domain name. Domain name registries are immune from such penalties. Alleged cybersquatters defenses are preserved if using the domain name was a fair use or was protected by the First Amendment.
The act applies to all future and existing domain name registrations, but cybersquatting victims may not recover monetary damages for wrongful acts that occurred prior to enactment.
Anyone will be liable who registers, without consent and with the intent of financial gain, a domain name that consists of or is substantially or confusingly similar to another living persons name. There is an exclusion, however. The registrant, except as otherwise prohibited by law, isnt liable if the name is registered in good faith and related to a work of authorship under the United States Code and if the registrant is the works copyright owner or licensee and intends to sell the name in conjunction with the work.
Individual cyberpiracy protections apply to domain names registered on or after Nov. 29, 1999.
As for remedies for individuals, they may include forfeiting, canceling or transferring the domain name to the individual, in addition to costs and attorneys fees.
While the full extent of the effectiveness of the act remains to be seen, several lawsuits have been filed since its passage. One of the main benefits for businesses is the ability to take legal action against a domain name instead of only against individuals or parties who may have limited assets or may be judgment-proof. Lawsuits by the National Football League, Lucent Technologies and Teen magazine were filed shortly after passage of the act.
Individual cyberpiracy protections have had a significant impact. Pirated names for numerous celebrities, including Sharon Stone and Brad Pitt, ceased functioning shortly after the act was passed, and John Tesh and Kenny Rogers each recently filed suit against online firms that had registered their names as domain names. James R. Carlisle, II, is an attorney with Pittsburgh law firm Cohen & Grigsby. Reach him at email@example.com.
Desbrow & Associates has been selected to provide public relations and promotional services for Covenant at South Hills, a nonprofit life care retirement community planned for construction in Mount Lebanon.
Nauticom Interactive has completed a Web site for Seniors Living, a source of information about retirement, assisted living and nursing care facilities.
Dick Corp. has been awarded a $42 million contract by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for construction of a bridge over the Lehigh River in Allentown. The bridge is the final link of a $105 million project to create a three-mile link from Route 22 to Interstate 78.
Scozios Market Place has acquired Valley Brook Market in McMurray and the former Food Gallery in Mount Lebanon.
Labwerks Interactive has been chosen to design and develop Web sites for the Art Institutes Internationals 21 schools in the United States.
Sheetz Inc. has opened a new convenience store on Perry Highway in Pine Township. The location employs approximately 40 people and offers brand-name grocery products, as well as made-to-order products and gasoline.
The Western Pennsylvania Adventure Capital Fund has closed its second round of fund-raising at $3 million, and doubled its number of shareholders to 175.
Adonix has acquired Computron France, a producer of accounting software.
Hefren-Tillotson Inc. has formed H-T Capital Markets, a wholly owned public finance division with headquarters in Pittsburgh and with an additional office in Philadelphia. H-T Capital Markets provides complete structuring and underwriting services for tax-exempt and taxable debt, as well as comprehensive financial advisory services for government and 501(c) (3) entities.
In addition to its specialization in educational and municipal authority finance, HT Capital Markets will work with Hefren-Tillotson Inc. to provide asset management services to a wide range of clients, including municipalities.
Carlow Hill College has re-established the Carlow Hill College Entrepreneurial Center. The program offers participants classroom training by experienced instructors, hands-on business plan development assistance from experts and seminars conducted by financial and marketing professionals.
Temporary Employees Most Preferred Inc. has changed its name to Preferred Staffing Inc. Additionally, the company is offering human resources seminars at client sites. The training targets those with little formal human resources training, small organizations with no human resources departments and those with limited resources which are unable to afford the investment in time or resources required of more lengthy programs.
Compuvisions Inc. has been selected by STORM LLC to increase content and introduce e-commerce functionality to its Web site. STORM will gain the capability to sell its performance management software directly from its site.
Coyne Advertising has added three clients, the Fragasso Group, a registered investment adviser, the Observer-Reporter, a Washington County daily newspaper, and Cobweb Internet Service Provider, a division of Observer Publishing.
The board of directors of GA Financial Inc., the parent of Great American Federal Savings & Loan, has approved a stock repurchase plan authorizing the acquisition of 5 percent of the companys outstanding shares.
Respironics Inc. has been awarded a two-year contract to provide positive airway pressure, bi-level and noninvasive ventilation products to American Homepatient. Respironics also was awarded dual vendor status for oximetry, infant apnea monitors, ventilators, nebulizers and related accessories.