Michele Beener

Michele Beener, president of Aspire Grant & Development LLC, in Somerset, is shown in her office on July 21, 2017.

Building a legacy is something that Seven Springs-area native Michele Beener works toward daily in her Somerset office.

Beener, a Rockwood Area High School graduate, spent many years working for Somerset Hospital as the senior manager for government relations, marketing, strategic planning and community/diabetic education.

While Beener was happy in her role at the hospital, she liked the idea of leading her own organization.

Three years ago Beener opened the doors of Aspire Grant & Development Partners, a full-service federal, state and private grant research, submission and management agency.

“One of the things I loved while at Somerset Hospital was my ability to get grants,” Beener said. “I had done that for a long time, and I was increasingly being approached in the community by folks who had projects that I knew I could find funds for.

“When you have a very stable job that you would like to retire from, but yet you have that entrepreneurial side, it becomes an internal struggle,” Beener said.

“I started to worry about how much money I could continue to bring to Somerset Hospital if I were just working on Somerset Hospital,” she said. “I knew at that time that there were enough things out there that I could go get and make them happen – so I just jumped out and started my business in like a day.

“I left the hospital, and in two weeks I never looked back,” she said.

Located at 118 W. Main St. in Somerset, Aspire Grant & Development Partners has made an impact not only on that community but across the region. In three years Beener has secured more than $36 million in grant money for her clients. 

‘Specialized’ business

Beener, who earned a master’s degree in business ethics from Duquesne University, credits her business’ early success to her staff – made up entirely of women.

She currently employs five people and has an additional 19 consultants with whom she works. Beener said that each of her employees brings a specialized focus to the operation.

“I wanted to offer a consulting team where everybody had a unique skill set,” Beener said. 

“So when we go bid a city or a township, we’ve got an edge, because we have a diverse skill set.

“Grant writing has become increasingly specialized,” she said. “There was this perception that if you were a small facility – in, let’s say, rural Pennsylvania – you shouldn’t even apply for grants because nationally your chances were very limited. So folks stopped applying. You either hire a grant writer that can’t possibly understand all of these agencies or you hire a firm that has a lot resources in the mix.”

Being able to offer a one-stop-shop to her clients and prospects gives Beener an advantage, she said. So she fully understands the importance of surrounding herself with a strong team.

Empowering women is important to Beener. Aspire Grant & Development Partners will be sponsoring a networking mixer, BizWomen Connect, from 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 20 at Industrious Pittsburgh.

Beener, a mother of four, was recently nominated for the Greater Pittsburgh ATHENA Award. 

The award recognizes exceptional women who demonstrate excellence in their professions, contribute to their communities and help other women to succeed through mentorship. The ATHENA Award luncheon will be held Oct. 2 at the Westin Convention Center in Pittsburgh.

Beener said all members of her women-powered consulting team are active in the National Grants Management Association, assuring compliance with grant agency guidelines post-award.

“There’s no similar model,” Beener said. “You’re not going to have audit risks, and you’re going to get your money.”

‘Created a niche’

What also separates Aspire from some grant-writing firms is that Beener does not take on every potential client.

“I want to work with people who want to make a difference in the community,” Beener said. “I don’t feel that everyone is the right candidate for state and federal money. I take that very personal – and it’s created a niche for us.”

While she can’t disclose all of the names of her nonprofit and for-profit clients, she takes pride in her company’s 86 percent success rate, which includes big wins for Twin Lakes, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center; Corsa Coal, a mine developer that recently opened the Acosta mine in Somerset County; and Gautier Steel, a hot-rolled carbon and alloy bar manufacturer in Johnstown.

“We don’t give up,” Beener said. “In Harrisburg or D.C., I am told ‘no’ all the time, but we continue to fight for our clients.”

Beener believes her team’s persistence has taken Aspire to unexpected heights.

“Business is going really well,” she said. “I get to do something different every day. If I had stayed at Somerset Hospital I would have been happy. But now I get to work with them and all of these other cool people and make a difference all over the state.”

Conducting business outside of the office is where Beener comes alive.

“I’m a farm girl,” she said, “I live on a farm. Being in an office all of the time is not for me.”

Beener is the proprietor of Chippewa Farms, located in Seven Springs. The farm is known in the area as a black Angus beef producer as well as the perfect venue for couples to wed.

Family ties, values

When Beener is not securing funds for organizations or tending to her farm, she is restoring steam engines with her father. 

This is something Beener said she has done her entire life, a hobby that stems from her father’s passion for steam engines.

“He tries to restore two new steam traction engines a year,” Beener said. “We’ve got at least 15 of them.”

Aside from sharing an interesting hobby, Beener praises her father for providing a sturdy foundation.

“He’s the most genuine, honest, giving, hardworking man you would ever want to meet,” she said.

Beener said she is mindful of family values instilled in her, and which she is establishing in her own children.

Beener’s oldest daughter, Ashley, currently works at Aspire and will attend law school in the fall.

“I’m extremely excited for her,” Beener said. “I have an increasing need for legal services because of all of the cooperative agreements that we do with different municipalities for grants, so I’m hoping I can keep her here local.”

Michele, Ashley and the rest of the team at Aspire are now looking for their next big win.

Beener recently took some steps to connect the region with Pittsburgh as part of her current project for the Allegheny Park System and Pittsburgh Penguins. The project involves restoring the South Park Cascades.

“If you are in Cambria or Somerset County, you value that relationship with Pittsburgh,” she said.

Expanding beyond Pittsburgh is now on Beener’s to-do-list. She said that her goal is to be able to provide more services as she grows her business into new territories.

“Our client base and our travels have taken us into West Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina,” Beener said, “so I would like to keep expanding.”

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

Trending Video

Recommended for you