Ready, Set, Launch: PA's Young Web Entrepreneurs Move Fast
Lots of people have dreams of being the next Mark Zuckerberg. But not many act on those impulses--and, among those who do, there's always that small issue of having a credible idea that can gain traction and
Three young Pennsylvania entrepreneurs are tackling this challenge head-on and in innovative and exciting ways. They may be at different stages of development, but what they all have in common is a belief that even with the struggles of gaining that initial foothold in the market and facing down your run-of-the-mill skeptics, the work is well worth the effort.Joshua Dziabiak, CEO of ShowClix.com
Today, Joshua Dziabiak, CEO of Pittsburgh-based ShowClix
, can proudly lay claim to cofounding an international ticketing agent that pioneered the sale of electronic tickets, launched promotional technology, integrated social media to promote events along with offering discounts and selling merchandise. But, just four years ago, he was a mere 20-year-old starting up an event registration database with Lynsie Campbell, his then-29 year-old business partner.
"The hardest part about launching an online site is gaining the initial traction and deciding what you want to focus on--you have to learn how to say 'no' to things that aren't necessary to achieve your goal," says Dziabiak, who was already something of an industry veteran after launching and selling a Web design company when he was 18.
The partners wisely listened to promoters' and venue owners' concerns about high service fees and complicated proprietary software and retooled their site. The move served them well: ShowClix had $10 million in ticket sales in 2010, hammered out partnerships with venues in three countries, employed 32 people (and counting—they're currently on a hiring spree
, and received coverage in major media outlets like CNN
. For his part, Dziabiak was named to Inc. Magazine's Top 30 Under 30 List
Even with such explosive growth, Dziabiak continues to plan for bigger and better things. "We want to travel upstream in the market, assign larger venues, and double our tickets sales this year," he says.
Just as he sees boundless opportunities for ShowClix, Dziabiak sees just as much possibility for aspiring Web entrepreneurs. "The Internet lets people create products at half the cost as large competitors and use new technology to automate archaic business models," he says. "You have the world at your fingertips, and the opportunities are endless." Mitch Turck, Founder of KarmaFile.com
Tech-savvy people turn to the Internet to review everything from restaurants to doctors to hotels. So, thought Pittsburgh-based Web entrepreneur Mitch Turck, why not review coworkers?
The founder of KarmaFile.com
did just that last year after going through a bout of unemployment. "I couldn't get a resume through anywhere," he recalls. "I thought people needed a tool for self-improvement."
The 30-year-old New York City native, who moved to Pittsburgh three years ago, immersed himself in the city's tight-knit start-up community while also fielding work to two developers in Harrisburg.
Today, KarmaFile.com is live, allowing its members to rate coworkers on overall employability, perceived level of expertise, motivation, and professionalism. "No one else does this like we do," says Turck.
Like Dziabiak, Turck says the hardest part of his job is gaining initial market share, which is just what he is working on right now. "Once you get the first few people to adopt it, it snowballs," he says. Ollie Cooperwood, Founder of Current University Networks
As a graduate student at Shippensburg University
, Ollie Cooperwood examined the avenues students have to connect with employers and thought: There has to be a better way.
The 27-year-old Marine Corps grad, who holds down a day job as a wrestling coach at his alma mater, got busy quickly by spending his own money to see how companies seek out qualified employees on the Web. "I did research for two years before going to a Small Business Development Center
and writing a business plan for a concept networking solution for colleges that helps place students in jobs after they graduate," he says. "I know the struggles. When I was a student, I didn't have a lot of job leads. Students want a return on their college education."
His meticulous research and thoughtful plan literally paid off when he won $10,000 in seed money from TechCelerator
, a service program developed by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central Northern Pennsylvania
and the Capital Region Economic Development Corporation
, the economic development arm of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber
. In addition to the funding, the eight-week program also provides very early-stage entrepreneurs with a designated workspace and business services.
Cooperwood, the lone employee, faces the challenge of hiring employees and overcoming the skepticism some people around him have about his enterprise. Even still, he plans to go beta by the end of the year. And, rather than holding him back, his 9-to-5 is proving to be beneficial. "The students love the concept!" he enthuses.AMANDA PRISCHAK is an Erie-based freelance writer. You can read more of her work here, or send feedback here.
All Photographs by BRIAN COHEN