Pittsburgh Entrepreneurs Encouraged to Go Global

Entrepreneurs must think more internationally, whether it's about funding sources, manufacturing, procurement or other opportunities

March 20--Connecting with a global audience might not seem like the most obvious priority for a new small company, but two Pittsburgh organizations want entrepreneurs to prepare for the world beyond Allegheny County's borders.

"I tell startups that as soon as you put up a website, you're a global company," said Reed McManigle, who works in Carnegie Mellon University's technology transfer office.

Mr. McManigle also happens to be the program chair of the MIT Enterprise Forum's Pittsburgh chapter, which will hold an event tonight in partnership with citizen diplomacy nonprofit GlobalPittsburgh, titled: "It's a Global Economy: Can your Business Compete?"

"We want to get people out of their individual silos and bridge the gap between organizations that offer help and people who need the help," he said. "This won't be a 'how-to' but more of an eye-opening kind of a thing -- that if you're an entrepreneur, you have to at least think about international sales."

The MIT Enterprise Forum grew from a group of entrepreneurs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1978, to include chapters in 24 cities worldwide. The Pittsburgh chapter was founded in 1987 by MIT alumni in this area.

Michael Annichine, CEO of Bloomfield-based small business consulting firm C-leveled, serves on the forum's board of directors and has a background as an entrepreneur. He said while Pittsburgh lagged for a while, it has caught up with other cities in how it supports its small companies.

"We are not Silicon Valley, but we are definitely striding in the right direction," Mr. Annichine said. "We try to do the right things the right way for Pittsburgh."

He said the goal of the collaboration with GlobalPittsburgh is to get entrepreneurs to start thinking more about options internationally, whether it's about funding sources, manufacturing, procurement or other opportunities. "We need to get them to understand it's a global world now, and they can play in that space," he said. "We're well-equipped to help them do so here."

Thomas Buell of GlobalPittsburgh said it made sense for the two groups to partner, since GlobalPittsburgh's mission is to promote and improve international connections in the region.

He said tonight's panel will include examples of Pittsburgh entrepreneur success stories, like Michael Elchik, CEO of WeSpeke, a Green Tree company that brings people of different countries together online to help each learn to speak the other's language, and David Palmer, CEO of Oakland-based Rewyndr, whose technology embeds historical data in digital photographs.

"We had a delegation here a few months ago from Eastern Europe, and we were able to connect someone with that group who wanted to be able to use technology for historical purposes with Rewyndr," Mr. Buell said.

Mr. Annichine said one thing that local entrepreneurs are beginning to get more comfortable with is that failure is sometimes part of the process. "They have to be able to try and know it's OK to take a risk, sometimes it's OK to fail."

Pittsburgh small-business people share the collaborative spirit prevalent in the entrepreneurial community, he added. "Everyone is so generous with information, about what they did and what resources they used."

Mr. Buell agreed. "I often think of that Jack Kennedy quote: 'a rising tide lifts all the boats.' The more we can make improvements to our companies and connect with each other, the more we can all improve our respective economies."

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