Students: Skip the party, start a business

As a millennial entrepreneur, I often hear how my generation is the least engaged in the workplace and how we lack the same work ethic as previous generations. Are these preconceived notions about the new generation true? Or could it be that the new generation has implemented a new method of conducting business that is much more advanced than the norm?

According to the Kauffman Foundation, 54 percent of millennials either want to start a business or have already started one. At the age of 17, I became part of that statistic when I started a full-time business career. I was young, ambitious and had a burning passion for being successful, but I knew I needed guidance and quality advice from seasoned entrepreneurs to help keep me on track and stay focused in my career.

The following are the four best pieces of business advice I’ve received that have helped me to be successful in business today.

College is more than just a degree

While attending college, I remember my father sitting me down and telling me that college was much more than just a degree. College was a networking goldmine full of students, teachers and faculty walking all over campus. The thing is, you never know what your fellow classmate will do or invent in the future. I took my father’s advice and started to make connections. I met with professors in my college and attended student entrepreneur fairs where I met successful, driven-minded individuals. Now that I have graduated my network has grown into a list of friends who have successful careers creating amazing apps and programs, and some that proudly run their own business.

If you’re in college take advantage of the campus meetups for entrepreneurs. Always make time to meet with your professors and advisers and network with other students who share the same ambitions and dreams as you do. Having a good network is key to thriving business.

Use social media to boost business

For many millennials, interacting on social media is second nature. It’s where we live and network with others. At a young age, I learned how powerful social media can be to boost business. My generation knows how to use it best, so I urge millennials to take advantage of this knowledge and create ads to post on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, etc. Use these communication platforms as a product portfolio to show off your goods or services through creative video content. When used the right way, social media is a money-saving tool to building a successful and internationally known brand.

Age ain’t nothing but a number

It can be tough to convince people that you are serious about your brand when you are young. Age has been something I have had to overcome. There were plenty of deals that never went through simply because individuals in my industry didn’t think I was fit to handle the job. Although I had the experience, expertise, and inventory to handle it all, I was still turned down because of my age. I knew the only way I was going to be taken seriously is if I knew the ins and outs of my industry. I did my research and brought my A game to every professional meeting I encountered. It was only a matter of time before skepticism soon turned to admiration of such a young individual with passion and determination to succeed.

Get the ideas out of your head and onto paper

Are you a person who likes to keep all your ideas in your head? I was one of those people, but I soon learned that I would forget ideas and business to-dos because I didn’t write things down. I would see my mom, Dr. Stacia Pierce, write things down all the time in her journal and she would see amazing results in her life and business. One day, we were talking about our businesses and how things were going, and she gave me the best piece of advice that I have kept with me until this day. She said, “What’s written is real.” This is such a powerful statement because there were goals and dreams that I wanted to meet in my business, but they just weren’t working out until I began to write things down. I wrote out my goals and made a business plan on how to make it happen. Once I penned it, this goal became so easy for me to accomplish and soon my products began to get into stores.

At the age of 25, Ariana Pierce has 6 businesses in her line up and is a motivational speaker, fashion designer, and business coach. With her new book, Skip The Party Start A Business, she hopes to encourage millennial entrepreneurs to overcome obstacles and unapologetically shut down the naysayers.

Don’t overthink it; follow your gut instinct

For me and many others, the American Dream was to run my own business and be my own boss, which became a reality for me after working 20 years within my industry.

My company, Marine Services International, is fast-paced, time critical, dynamic and a heavily government-regulated industry with substantial competition. We are just one of 6,220 licensed Ocean Transportation Intermediate (OTI) freight forwarder’s, Non Vessel Operated Common Carrier (NVOCC) currently operating in the United States. Other services we offer categorize as Custom House Broker (CHB) and Indirect Air Carrier (IAC).

What is a freight forwarder? We are a travel agent for freight. As an international freight forwarder, we arrange the transportation of shipments going in and out of the country, whether it is by land, air, or sea. Without us you wouldn’t have the majority of the goods in your household today.

In 2006, we started with a pen, a piece of paper, and a dream. Initially, I was hands-on doing all operations. As we grew, I realized I was no longer working the day-to-day operations, instead, I was running a company.

As an entrepreneur, you are accountable for everything. Wearing all hats, you are the mind, body, and soul of your company. What you do and say matter and it is crucial to lead by example in your company. The success of your company is a reflection of how you run it.

Everyone must overcome obstacles, but being a woman operating a business in a male-dominated industry creates some unique issues. In certain cultures around the world find it arduous to conduct business with a woman. It is imperative you do not allow this to hinder your ambitions. You must be assertive, confident, and give that firm handshake.

Regardless of gender, if you are interested in opening your own business, I encourage you to go for it. There are an abundance of resources, like the Small Business Association (SBA) that can assist you with start up. The success depends heavily on your dedication, persistence and commitment to making your business thrive.

Five important lessons I have learned during my career:

Don’t over think it — Whatever the situation may be, follow your gut and intuition. It’s right more times than not.

Have good business vendors and employees — Reliable, resourceful vendors that will work with you and for you are invaluable. Employees that are loyal, committed and fit within your company core values are invaluable. Don’t be afraid to change if the relationship doesn’t fit.

Take risk — Research and qualify your decisions but don’t be afraid to make a decision outside of your comfort zone. Sometimes taking a step back can move you two steps forward.

Don’t be afraid to say no — It’s a tough word and one that I don’t like to say often. “Yes” can cost you unnecessary time and money.

Always give more — In life and business, give more and do more than is expected.

Michelle Panik started her career at a Japanese steamship Line. Enjoying the dynamics of trade and the business, she later forged her way in the freight forwarding industry where she learned and encompassed all facets of trade and logistics. Her passion continues today through operating her own business Marine Services International Inc. Visit

How to set your goals as an entrepreneur

Deciding to take the leap of becoming an entrepreneur is no simple task. As a rule of thumb in business, whether it is a first business or the opening of a multiple location, getting organized and setting a to-do list is top priority. Before getting started, set a list of short and long term goals for the business and never be afraid to follow the path to business ownership. As a first time business owner, here are suggestions of how to get started.

When it comes to setting a goal list, do not expect to come up with a great, organized list in an hour. It may take a week, a month or even longer to create a good list of obtainable and reasonable goals. Once the list of goals is set, it will be easier to break down those goals.

After the main goals are set, go back and break them down into short and long term. Long term should be anywhere from five-years to retirement and short term should be up to one year. It is important to be flexible and do not compare one business to another. Goals are set for each individual business for a reason, not to try and match what another company does.

A good way to start setting goals, long and short term goals is to remember the acronym SMART, it is easy to remember and understand.

S: Shared — Show someone the goals that have been set and ask them to keep you accountable

M: Measured — Use your measurable goals to keep track of progress and help you set higher goals for the next month, business quarter or year.

A: Attainable — Know personal and staff capabilities within the time allotted to achieve your goals and set them accordingly.

R: Realistic — Be honest with yourself, set goals that are reasonable to achieve. Be sure to push yourself but do not set a goal that is beyond the scope of accomplishment.

T: Time Phased — Know what has to be done each month to attain all the goals that have been set.

As the business progresses, write down notes as the days go by to help track what can be ticked off the to-do list that has been set. With the help of smart phones and portable technologies, tracking the business progress is easier than ever. Also, keep notes that will help generate new goals as the business grows, tweak existing ones and take away what may now seem unreasonable. The most important thing is to be honest about what is possible.

Many people aspire to be a business owner but are too afraid to follow that path. Do not be afraid, just do it! As cliché as it may sound, it is a good rule of thumb. Be sure to do as much research, data collection, interviewing, etc. as possible before taking the plunge to ensure that all the facts are there. Overload the brain until it may explode, if it feels like too much information it is probably just enough. This is a highly important process every business owner must go through. If opening a business is something you wish to pursue and the gut feeling says that it is right, just take the leap of faith.

Mike Rothschiller has been the owner of Pillar To Post of Cleveland since 1998. Prior to owning his own business, Rothschiller served in the U.S Air Force as an air traffic controller for 20 years. For information visit

Five things studying Jack Ma taught us about entrepreneurship

Jack Ma has been characterized as the symbol of China’s rise to No. 1 in Internet and mobile phone users. He is founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, whose IPO in New York in 2014 set a record as the world’s biggest public stock offering.

NGU Cover_webOver the past two years, my co-editor Bob Song and I have been working on our book Never Give Up: Jack Ma In His Own Words, a collection of inspiring quotations from Jack Ma that is forthcoming from Agate B2 in July.

Both of us live in different cities and countries — Bob is in Beijing and I am in New York.

When we first came up with the idea for this book, we did not realize how challenging the time difference and distance would make the writing process.

As it turned out, Bob and I often had to collaborate as we crisscrossed the globe. Somehow we found a way to work out the time difference and distance between us through emails, Skype, and WeChat (Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp). The combination of all these communications could be a book by itself.

Throughout the experience we learned several points about entrepreneurship while working on the book.

  1. Have a sense of humor while surviving on five hours of sleep.

We would not recommend that you survive on only five hours of sleep, but sometimes you do what you must. Bob and I got the idea for this book when we met at the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair. Somehow the conversation drifted to books and how there is so little literature on Chinese entrepreneurs. I suggested to Bob that we write one together. Both of us have been in the publishing business for a long time, so I guess it’s not surprising that we would eventually work on a book ourselves.

Bob has been an independent publisher in China since 2014, a unique and challenging enterprise. Between our day time jobs and this wonderful project from which we have learned so much, some days we survived on five hours of sleep or less.

It was a good thing both Bob and I have a good sense of humor. Although I have to say Bob has much more patience than me, since I always wanted everything done yesterday (that’s the New Yorker in me).

  1. Do your homework, but allow your imagination to soar.

During the first couple of months, Bob and I spent many hours discussing how to shape the book and tell the story of Jack Ma, even though our publisher gave us some strict guidelines.

We did not want the book to simply be a collection of quotes — we wanted Jack Ma’s words to tell his story, from the beginning to the present day. Moreover, we wanted to show a three-dimensional character, one who has inspired so many small- and medium-business owners both in China and across the globe.

We both spent hundreds of hours reading and watching interviews with Jack Ma, and it didn’t take use long to realize that Jack Ma is not your ordinary CEO. As an American, I had little idea who Jack Ma was — other than a successful Chinese entrepreneur — before I started this book.

We decided to organize the chapters in such a way that allows Jack Ma to reveal himself on a deeper level. In a sense, the quotes were designed to mimic a running monologue. Here I have to mention that my background in English literature and Chinese opera was an influence. I was trained to play attention to the story, the characters and their interior world. We hope that our book has achieved this.

  1. Overcome the challenges of working in virtual time by clearly establishing each partner’s responsibilities and deadlines.

Bob and I spent many hours in virtual time together, since neither of us were in the same country or time zones. To organize our workflow, I drew on my 20-plus years of experience in managing international teams and working across many continents and cultures.

Even though we wrote to each other via email and WeChat, we recognized that at certain stages of the process, it was important to speak and listen to each other’s thoughts and comments in real time. I think this is very important for any entrepreneurs working remotely with partners.

We took care to clearly divide our responsibilities. Like Jack Ma, we made some mistakes in the beginning, but we learned from our mistakes. 

  1. Be patient and be prepared for the lonely journey as an entrepreneur.

When Suk suggested we publish an English book about Jack Ma, I was very excited. Initially, we had to overcome each other’s cultural differences and learn to be patient with each other.

Even though Suk is of Chinese descent and can read and speak Mandarin, her thought process and actions are very American, since she grew up in the United States. We learned to respect other’s values and time. When my family was sleeping, I was working on this book. So it is lonely to be an entrepreneur at times. Jack Ma’s experience has affected us. We hope more readers will learn from Jack Ma that any individual without any resources can achieve their dream.

  1. Learning from your subject matter.

After almost two years of living and breathing this book, Bob and I have learned many lessons from Jack’s quotes. For example, one has to have a dream, pursue it and never give up. Like Jack Ma, we did not have investors when we started this venture or when Bob decided to be an independent publisher in China, but we both have our dreams.

Bob visited Jack’s personal club, the Tai Chi Zen Institute in Hangzhou, where Alibaba is headquartered. He met with Jack’s assistant, James Chen. Being Bob, he couldn’t resist and touched the same hammer that Jack Ma used at the New York Stock Exchange IPO. Who knows but maybe one day we both will be striking that NYSE bell.

Bob believes the United States is a great melting pot with people of so many nationalities and tolerance for each other. He has visited the United States 10 times during the last three years and is deeply impressed by the country.

We leave readers with this quote from Jack Ma:

Have a Dream

No matter what, you must have a dream. This is the best working capital to start with.

Second, keep at it. There may be smarter people and more industrious people, but why did we succeed and make money when others didn’t? We kept at it. Others didn’t see a future for the Internet, or the value in search engines, e-commerce, or a B2B network.

While others went bankrupt, we kept at it. . . . Not thinking they’d find another job anyway, our employees stayed on and muddled through until we all became much better.

—Hangzhou Network Operators Meeting, Sept. 15, 2007

Suk Lee and Bob Song are co-editors of  Never Give Up: Jack Ma In His Own Words, a collection of the thoughts and opinions of Jack Ma, the charismatic founder of the Alibaba Group and arguably the most prominent figure in the global tech world over the past 20 years. Despite Ma’s massive influence in China and in the global tech world, his remarkable story is relatively unknown to the American public.


Olympic lessons anyone can use to help operate a business

I’ve had a job since I was 7 years old. But instead of going to an office, I spent my days at the gym.

My job was gymnastics and my return on investment was an Olympic gold medal, which I won with my U.S. teammates at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. I was 14 and became the youngest Olympic gold medalist in U.S. women’s gymnastics history.

It’s been 20 years since that victory. Now, as a wife, mother, New York Times’ best-selling author and business owner, I look back on that time and realize how much of what I learned as an elite gymnast has carried over into my jewelry business today.

The journey can be rough

The road here was bumpy, which I recount in my memoir “Off Balance.” Although I had lots of adversity growing up, my perseverance helped me succeed as the oldest daughter of immigrant parents.

I became the first in my immediate family to earn a college degree (from John Carroll University), just two months after my second child was born. Before my first child was born, I learned I had a secret sister, who was born with no legs and given up for adoption at birth.

All of these experiences have shaped who I am, both as a person and entrepreneur. With my work ethic, drive and passion, I’ve always felt I’d be good at running my own business. Plus, I wanted the flexibility it could offer to a mom striving for work/life balance.

Key characteristics

As I work to grow my business, I realize gymnastics served as a small model for life. Through the sport, I developed five key characteristics that are helping me as a business owner today:

  • Discipline: Slackers do not become Olympians. Being a champion takes great strength and determination. You don’t become the best in sports or in life without discipline. Gymnastics offered me this lesson and now I push myself on a daily basis because of this work ethic I learned growing up. I also know how to navigate the ups-and-downs of life and continue to move forward.
  • Punctuality: If I was one second late to gymnastics practice, I’d be kicked out. So punctuality became an ingrained value at a young age. So did the value of time and goal setting. I knew what I had to accomplish in a limited amount of time.
  • Do-it-Right-the-First-Time Attitude: In gymnastics, a wrong move could mean a serious injury or an Olympic dream dashed. I couldn’t perform a flip on the beam with partial effort and expect success. I always had to go full out. So I learned early not to do things halfway. I don’t cut corners. I do it right (or strive to) the first time.

But when I decide to do something, I do it, despite the naysayers and critics. I do it because I believe in it.

Dominique Moceanu at 13 was the youngest person to win a U.S. Senior Women’s National Championship and youngest U.S. female gymnast to win a gold medal at an Olympics. An author and international speaker, she lives in suburban Cleveland with her husband and two children.

E CITY offers high schoolers lessons in entrepreneurship that pay dividends

Entrepreneurship isn’t something that is learned through lectures and discussion; it’s learning by doing — and the younger it’s learned, the better. That’s the mantra of E CITY (Entrepreneurship: Connecting, Inspiring and Teaching Youth), a national program hosted here by Youth Opportunities Unlimited that is for at-risk high school students.

“E CITY not only talks about entrepreneurship but it helps teens start a business,” says Carol Rivchun, president of Y.O.U., which empowers youth to succeed in school, in the workplace and in life through several programs. E CITY and Youth Summer Employment Program are its flagship offerings and more than 5,000 students were a part of Y.O.U. last year.

“In E CITY, we are trying to have teens start their own businesses and get experience from it. We find that about 85 percent of the teens in the program complete their business plan. But what we really care about — it is wonderful if they start a business — is we want the teens to gain business skills from this.”

Financial literacy and understanding thus are key objectives of E CITY and to determine if students are reaching those goals, the students take pretests and post-tests.

“We strive for at least a 20 percent increase in knowledge and financial literacy from the pre-test to the post-test. So that means if a student starts the program already knowing a lot, the student will see a 20 percent increase. One who starts knowing very little may increase much more, but on average, there is a 20 percent increase from pretest to post-test.”

Motivation a factor

Along with the experience, the programs offer a promise. If the student stays with the program, there will be a job at the end, Rivchun says. The student is motivated to stay in the program and is also developing employability skills.

E CITY is targeting four high schools in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District — John Adams, John F. Kennedy, Lincoln-West and Glenville. In addition, the program is at Shaw High School in East Cleveland, charter school Horizon Science Academy in Cleveland and Thomas W. Harvey High School in Painesville.

“From those schools, we have at least 15 businesses that have been started last year that are still going on,” Rivchun says. “Once a student has started a business, we connect them with other resources in the community to help them to grow the business, whether it is SBA, or COSE or LaunchHouse or JumpStart.

“The purpose of E CITY is to teach entrepreneurship. But the purpose of all Y.O.U. programs is to connect youth with employment and continuing education, whether that is college, licensing, starting your own business — whatever.”

YOUhandshakeEach year in conjunction with EY, E CITY holds a Young Entrepreneur of the Year Competition. The top E CITY students present their business plans to win cash prizes for their businesses and scholarships. This year’s event will take place May 16.

Last year, Harvey High School student Ryan Hyde won the top prize for his company called Ignited Innovations. Hyde created an environmentally-safe alternative to a fire pit using burner fuel gel and a brass casing in concrete.

Support makes it happen

The success of E CITY and Y.O.U. is due to many volunteers and support from the community, Rivchun says.

“We have many entrepreneurs and other entrepreneurial type people who are very interested in volunteering for E CITY because they believe in the concept,” she says, noting that Paul Moss, CEO of Moss Corp. LLC, is a big fan of E CITY as is Sanjay Garg, chief of the Intelligent Control and Autonomy Branch at NASA Glenn Research Center.

Corporate supporters include such names as Eaton Corp., Wal-Mart, T.J. Maxx, the Cleveland Clinic and other organizations and foundations as well as individuals.

“The reason they do this is because there are very few programs that help teenagers access the world of work,” Rivchun says. “There is a huge skills gap. We need to help the teens target those areas where the future good jobs are — the ones that provide a living wage or better. So that’s why there is a need for an organization like this.

“A lot of businesses would like to help but they don’t know what they can do. What they could do is volunteer for Y.O.U. They could make a donation that would help us, help teens or they could offer a summer job.”

How to reach: E CITY and Youth Opportunities Unlimited, (216) 566-5445 or


How to improve your odds to reach business success

Entrepreneurship remains alive and well in America with thousands of people starting new businesses each year. But the success of those businesses is another matter. About half will fail in their first five years, according to Gallup.

So why do some new businesses go belly up after a short existence while others prosper?

Often it all comes down to the qualifications of the person who started the business. Anyone can start a business because no real qualifications are required to do that. But not everyone is qualified to run a business once it’s off the ground and that’s a huge factor in why so many fail.

There are five essential traits that every entrepreneur needs to improve the odds of business success:

  • Discipline. It’s important to be disciplined within yourself to help move your organization forward and to produce good leadership decisions within a managerial team. An entrepreneur who is disciplined understands that “they don’t know what they don’t know. This self-knowledge makes it clear how the entrepreneur’s shortcomings may be affecting his or her company, and so helps the entrepreneur make better decisions for the long run. This entrepreneur also understands that, for the business to succeed in the long term, a transition must occur from the business being about “me” as its entrepreneur/CEO, to being about the overall needs of the company.
  • Leadership. To help a business succeed, it’s important that the entrepreneur understands that leadership within a company entails knowing your responsibilities and role and knowing when to share or even delegate responsibility.
  • Self-awareness. In some cases, the person who created the company may not be CEO material and needs to understand that and find someone else to fill that role. You have to take into consideration your own needs and desires and the needs and desires of the company. It’s about the self-awareness journey through which you evaluate your skills and interests in each key aspect of managing a growth company.
  • Understanding issues and challenges. Within any company’s life cycle, numerous issues and challenges may arise. To lead a successful business, the entrepreneur needs to understand and acknowledge that four issues in particular may pose a challenge to his or her efforts to become the Qualified Entrepreneur necessary for success. Those issues areinsistence on autonomy; unwillingness to build structure, cultivate expertise or delegate; boredom; and failure to engage in self-examination.
  • Self-assessment. Nelson says it’s a bit ironic that entrepreneurs who are good at holding others accountable for their performances don’t take time to gauge how well they are doing themselves. It’s important for the success of your business that you be able to do self-performance reviews.

Randy H. Nelson runs Gold Dolphins LLC, a coaching and consulting firm to help entrepreneurial leaders and CEOs achieve their maximum potential. He is the author of “The Second Decision — The Qualified Entrepreneur.” Visit for information.

There are many doors to Northeast Ohio’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

If one event ever highlighted the fact that there is an ever-increasing groundswell of entrepreneurial spirit in our region it’s Startup Scaleup 2015.

JumpStart and its network partners teamed up with the Gordon Square Arts District to stage the new event. The goal of Startup Scaleup was to put our collaborative entrepreneurial services model on display by mustering as many advisers as possible, then inviting entrepreneurs and small business owners to engage with the entrepreneurial ecosystem we have all worked so hard to grow.

Sidewalk to Stage

Of the day’s many events, the Sidewalk to Stage Pitch Contest (for which I served as a judge), had another very specific goal — to reach out to entrepreneurs not currently connected to our ecosystem and offer them a chance to literally take their big idea from the sidewalk to the main stage of the Capitol Theatre in Gordon Square.

It was a noble and somewhat novel idea. That said, the contestants were not recruited or screened in advance so we had no idea who would show up, and there were no guarantees that any of their ideas would be compelling.

Fortunately, our trust in the many entrepreneurs who call Northeast Ohio home was more than warranted. In less than an hour, we received more than 80 applications for the pitch competition — a broad spectrum of ideas ranging from tech startups to established businesses looking to scale to new initiatives focused on core city social impact.

Six finalists were selected and three winners were awarded $5,000 each, but there was an even bigger winner — Northeast Ohio.

These entrepreneurs showed a ton of conviction and courage by standing in front of a packed theater for the purpose of having their idea critiqued. This reinforces a fundamental point I try to remember every day — what we do to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Northeast Ohio would not be possible without the strong drive, healthy churn and contagious energy of entrepreneurs and small business owners who are fighting to turn their big ideas into reality.

An inner spirit

Together, entrepreneurial support organizations, accelerators, incubators, resource providers, investors and advisers represent an infrastructure to help entrepreneurs succeed; but we cannot create the entrepreneurial spirit that drives them — that comes from within.

We all know this fundamentally, but the Sidewalk to Stage competition served as a refreshing reminder for everyone in attendance.

So if you are an aspiring entrepreneur, or know someone who is, keep in mind that there are many doors to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Northeast Ohio. If JumpStart or any one of our collaborators is not the best fit for a particular entrepreneur, we will do our best to refer entrepreneurs to other resources better suited to their needs. The goal, as always, is to channel the passion of the entrepreneur and provide the best advice and resources possible to help them realize success.

Jerry Frantz manages the team that provides JumpStart’s portfolio companies with guidance and resources to help them grow rapidly. [email protected] or

Grow the city garden – Moving up the entrepreneurial ladder takes innovative thinking

Not long ago my heart sank when I read that the Pittsburgh metropolitan area ranked 48th among the 50 top cities in Entrepreneur magazine’s list of the best cities for entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship is a Pittsburgh tradition and the life-blood of our future growth. So how can we move up the entrepreneurial ladder?

Water the acorns

Because venture capital firms can only invest in companies with addressable markets exceeding $500 million, they usually don’t make bets on small startups.

Seed money for these companies must come from high net-worth individuals in the private sector, sometimes called “angels.” Places like Palo Alto, Calif., Boston, Mass., Raleigh, N.C. and Austin, Texas, have become technology hotbeds.

Why? Because young tech-company founders, whose companies have grown into mighty financial oaks, showered startup capital on acorns that had fallen nearby — folks with good ideas.

In Pittsburgh, we need to create an environment where there are incentives for successful local entrepreneurs to reinvest their personal wealth in local startups. A nice complement to our state’s venture capital program would be tax breaks for angel investors who deploy capital intrastate for startups or invest in venture capital firms based within state lines.

Teach your children well

Entrepreneurial education on a high school, collegiate and executive seminar basis is a must. Every major university in our region has entrepreneurial education programs. Many are taught on a graduate and undergraduate level. Organizations such as the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship help high schools, often in low-income districts, to provide classes in business, finance and technology.

Why couldn’t the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania create a program such as the Job Training Partnership Act to provide tuition dollars for this type of education for adult entrepreneurs? Why can’t an introduction to entrepreneurship be part of a life skills curriculum that is mandated for high schools across the state? 

Our gang of several

The Group of Eight (G8) is an international association that represents 65 percent of the world’s economy and includes the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United Kingdom. The leaders of these countries get together every year to find ways that they can work together to better our global economy.

Could we bring together the leaders of local economic development agencies to form a group that functions in a regional way, much the same as the international version?

What if the state gave this local group of leaders a chunk of its venture capital program dollars, with the proviso that the group hires a staff of experienced venture capitalists to administer the fund? After all, members do have day jobs running their own organizations. The profits of this venture fund would then be redeployed regionally in the form of economic development grants. 

Green cards with diplomas

You know how we beat China and India in the world economy, technology and talent? We should take the advice of a highly successful local venture capitalist. The diploma any foreign student receives from a local college should have a green card stapled to it.

How about we create a local bureau of immigration lawyers that provides free legal service to foreign kids coming out of local schools? If we get them a green card, they must commit to living in the region for another five years.


Chris Allison is the former CEO of Tollgrade Communications Inc. where he spent 16 years taking the telecomm venture from tech startup to publicly-traded company with a market capitalization of $2 billion. Allison now devotes his time to shaping future business leaders as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Allegheny College, where he teaches entrepreneurship and managerial economics. He is the author of “You’ll Manage: Lessons Learned from a Former CEO.” For more information, visit 





How Brandon Cruz and Clint Jones wanted to make GoHealth an innovation in the health care industry

Brandon Cruz, president, CTO

Brandon Cruz, president and CTO, GoHealth

Clint Jones, CEO, GoHealth

Clint Jones, CEO, GoHealth

Private Equity/Venture Capital Backed


When they first got into the health insurance business, neither Brandon Cruz nor Clint Jones had much knowledge about the industry, except that there had to be a better way to utilize the Internet to help both the health insurance companies and the individual consumer.

This lack of familiarity allowed them to “think outside the box” and be innovators in the industry. Cruz, the president and chief technology officer, and Jones, CEO, founded GoHealth in 2001.

With their energy and skills to understand, challenge and help reshape a complex market for health insurance, these entrepreneurs stood apart from others.

While Cruz and Jones were establishing ways to compare insurance coverage over the Internet, adding sophistication such as an online quoting and customer relationship management solutions for agents, a dramatic event occurred — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was approved. The disruption and uncertainty the PPACA brought caused upheaval among many insurance businesses, but not GoHealth.

Recognizing the potential arising, Cruz and Jones moved their business into an online/technology health insurance distribution platform for consumers, agents and carriers.

They believe the last five years has clearly validated their strategy, and even though this will continue to change over time, the key is execution — and they are focused on doing that.

While they have become more “corporate” in the last 18 months, Cruz and Jones have not lost their entrepreneurial drive. The pair has not shied away from moving forward amid uncertainty; they know what they do well and have leveraged the right people to make strategic moves.

Almost all the major health insurance carriers and numerous large corporations have recognized GoHealth’s value proposition.

Always leaders in innovation with technology, they continue to work hard to position themselves to be on the forefront in terms of technology when it comes to assisting their clients. Few companies can offer customers end-to-end service as GoHealth can.

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