Makers Premier

Participants at Makers Premier show off their products at the Pitt-Johns­town Wellness Center on Thursday, May 28, 2015. The event was designed to highlight and connect regional entrepreneurs with a knack for hands-on innovation.

Williamsport artisan Raffaele Colone has taken his 600-pound black walnut slab tables to New York City for shows, such as the International Contemporary Furniture Fair.

He’s shown at an Architectural Digest exhibition and been featured on HGTV.

Thursday was his first day to display his handiwork in Johns­town, and within minutes of his arrival to the first Makers Premier, he was networking.

“There are connections every minute,” he said. “I see myself in the younger people here who are trying to start their own businesses, trying to not give up on their dreams. Do what you love.”

While many local business representatives were checking out Showcase for Commerce in downtown Johnstown, makers were sharing ideas and demonstrating their talents at the Makers Premier event at Pitt-Johnstown.

The event, organized through UPJ’s grant-funded Inc. U program, aimed to highlight and connect the work of regional makers – entrepreneurs with a knack for hands-on innovation.

While makers were busy making – or explaining what they make – entrepreneurs were pitching their ideas to sharks for a qualifying round of PITTch Fest, the second-year evolution of Pitch Fest, a “Shark Tank”-style event where local entrepreneurs compete for startup funding and consulting services for their business concepts.

More than 20 makers set up shop for the day, and Paul Rosenblatt, architect and principal at SpringBoard Design in Pittsburgh, said the gathering builds on a maker culture and demonstrated the talent in Johnstown.

“It’s so exciting to see makers of different generations – high-tech and low-tech, handmade and manufactured – if you think about products and materials, there are so many different skills on display,” he said. “The interesting thing is there’s not a common thread. Making things today requires both high- and low-tech. That’s what’s different about this time – different from any other time in history.”

Nanty Glo artist Andrew Jacobs, owner of Jacobs Ornamental Iron, said he didn’t quite grasp the reasoning behind combining artists and entrepreneurs, but it made sense after he set up a display of his ornamental iron, created through a combination of welding and blacksmithing at his studio.

“I came here with no idea what to expect,” he said. “But it’s really nice to see all the creativity. And it’s good to see efforts like PITTch Fest. The way the economy is, we need to approach all the different avenues that promote business.”

Not far from Jacobs’ household items decorated with organic forms such as his trademark leafs, the co-founders of PieceMaker, a touchscreen, 3-D printing kiosk, were showing how toys can be designed and printed on the spot. Officials who were in town for Showcase visited in the afternoon and mingled with local creative and tech enthusiasts.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., Showcase’s congressional sponsor, and U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, 12th district, each spoke.

“As I look across this room and what’s happening here, it’s really an insight into the future,” Casey said. “And Cambria County and southwestern Pennsylvania has never waited for the future. You invented the future, and you’re doing that here today.”

The event achieved the goal to integrate creatives – both high- and low-tech – and business opportunities, according to Tammy Barbin, entrepreneurship program coordinator at Pitt-Johnstown.

“I think everybody really took something away from it,” she said. “We accomplished connections, exposure, awareness, letting people know the talent we have in our area.”

Kecia Bal is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at @KeciaBKay