Stuart Custer

Stuart Custer, owner of Custer’s Market, in Lilly, utilized local resources through Johnstown Area Regional Industries and Startup Alleghenies.

Entrepreneurship is a blend of passion, confidence, empathy, insecurity and the drive to overcome it.

For many entrepreneurs, taking the leap of faith into their own business comes along with the stress and fears of the unknown, but according to Debbi Prosser, there are plenty of local resources available to assist small business owners – and now is the perfect time to launch a new business.

“We want people who have an idea for a new business or entrepreneurs who want to expand or change their business to know we have a support system for them right here and right now,” said Prosser, director of business development for the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission. “The ‘Right Here. Right Now’ initiative, created by the Startup Alleghenies program, is a movement to create a culture that supports and encourages entrepreneurial activity in the region, to grow home-grown businesses.

“We have coaches located at each of the economic development agencies, such as JARI, throughout the region and they assist entrepreneurs to explore their ideas and navigate the resources offered by a number of partners,” she said. “We are right here so we want entrepreneurs to get started right now.”

Since launching nearly three years ago, Startup Alleghenies has expanded from three to six counties, and provides free coaching to 451 entrepreneurs in the region – nearly 170 of these entrepreneurs are from Cambria County – helping them navigate SUA’s network of partners at economic development groups, private and community organizations, colleges and universities.

“We started this movement just 2 1/2 years ago and we have had the most wonderful experience engaging with hundreds of entrepreneurs and a network of agencies and people who want to support them,” Prosser said. “We helped local people develop their ideas into businesses, and they are now hiring other people in the community.

“I guess the best word to describe it all is passion,” she said. “I see so much passion from the entrepreneurs pursuing their dreams and I see a like amount of passion in the coaches and the resource providers who want to help them succeed, and everyone wants to make this a better place to live.”

Lilly business owner Stuart Custer can attest to having benefited from utilizing local resources and organizations such as Johnstown Area Regional Industries and Startup Alleghenies.

Custer is the sole owner of Custer’s Market, a one-stop shop for food, lottery, tobacco and more.

“Having Blake and the Startup Alleghenies was huge for me. Specifically leading up to my opening,” Custer said. “There were a few things that I was kind of freaking out about, and he was able to help me out a lot.

Custer said having the needed information, tools and connections locally to transition his business from an idea to a brick-and-mortar in his hometown was a dream come true for him.

“I knew I wanted to have my own business,” Custer said. “So this was kind of like a no-brainer for me to have the opportunity to not only have what I thought would be a good business, but have it be in a town that I care about, helping people I care about.

“It’s awesome.”

According to information obtained by the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are currently more than

1.1 million small businesses throughout the state of Pennsylvania. These businesses employed 2.5 million people, or 46.6% of the private workforce, in 2016.

In 2012, President Barack Obama declared November as National Entrepreneurship Month, a time when “we celebrate the remarkable and everyday successes of our entrepreneurs and innovators, and we reaffirm our commitment to ensuring our economy remains the engine and the envy of the world.”

The month-long, country-wide celebration is highlighted with National Entrepreneurs’ Day, to be held Tuesday.

“As Debbie will agree, entrepreneurship is crazy and messy and never follows a straight line,” said Blake Fleegle, entrepreneurial coach for JARI/Startup Alleghenies. “As coaches, we aren’t trying to force our ideas or our plans onto entrepreneurs. We’re just along for the ride, providing guidance and assistance wherever possible.

“Most times, it’s just about being there for the inevitable ups and downs in any entrepreneurs journey,” he said.

“As a coach, I feel like I’m doing a great job when I’m the person an entrepreneur calls to share good news – they got financing, grand opening date, hired their first employee, made their first sale, etc. On the flip side, I also feel like I’m doing a great job when they call with bad news – denied a loan, setback in opening date, fired their first employee, etc.”

Johnstown native Jennifer Galiote is co-owner of the recently opened Classic Elements in downtown Johnstown, which offers a variety of items, including new books, jewelry and clothing.

Similar to Custer, Galiote takes pride in being able to offer goods and services to the familiar faces of her hometown – something that may have not happened without the proper assistance and support from within the area.

“I never thought that I would be able to do something like this here,” Galiote said. “I’ve always wanted my own book store, but it wasn’t something I thought I could make happen. The resources and the network of people here willing to help out are great.

“I love the downtown area and I’m fortunate to be able to do something like this in my own backyard.”

For more information on Startup Alleghenies, visit or search “Startup Alleghenies” on Facebook.

Ronald Fisher is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @FisherSince_82.

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