The skill of working with fused glass and keen eyes for design are critical prerequisites for the husband-and-wife team who founded Camp Copeland Studio.

But rave reviews of their minimalist home goods aren’t enough.

“Finding the right mentors was essential for my business to grow,” explained Braddock-based studio co-founder Drew Kail. “Being able to tap into the mentors’ professional experiences and knowledge helped me fine-tune areas…which have allowed Camp Copeland Studio to expand to the next level.”

In the world of entrepreneurship, knowing the right people is still a crucial part of the process. Kail and his wife, Alyssa, founded Camp Copeland in 2015 and they said they’ve encountered “a lot of twists and turns for sure.”

“This is why having a community of other entrepreneurs is so vital,” Kail said.

Talpha Harris, a Black woman wearing a black blouse and pearl necklace, sits in a grey chair with her legs crossed.
Talpha Harris, founder and CEO of Sustainible. (Photo courtesy of Chloe Capital)

Talpha Harris, founder and CEO of Pittsburgh-based business model assessment engine Sustainible, agreed that the right stakeholders are a key part of the business growth puzzle. That’s why the assessment she engineered — designed to give emerging business owners insights into their likelihood of success — includes questions that assess a founder’s access to a supportive network.

“The assessment involves a few questions about network and stakeholders because they bring so much knowledge and experience; the right ones help your business grow,” Harris said. 

“Having other people on your team in network, collaborator and stakeholder roles can help take the load off,” she said. “They can help source partnerships, employees, business partners or customers, all of which is needed to have a sustainable business.”

In a small city like Pittsburgh, it may seem easy to meet people, but until they’re connected to the right resources, some founders (particularly those who are not already a part of university-led networks) feel they are floundering. Harris suggested that emerging entrepreneurs put aside intentional time to meet people, even if it takes time to make headway.

“Integrate into circles and networks that are in your industry … go to that networking event that you were invited to. The more people who see your face frequently, the more they’ll recognize you the next time, and relationships build that way,” she said.

Ascender is a nonprofit focused on supporting Pittsburgh-area entrepreneurs from various industries by offering free community education on business topics, running a startup incubator and collaborative coworking space, and creating opportunities for connection and mentorship. 

Ascender CEO Nadyli Nuñez stands to the left of Joyce Howard and her daughter, and uses her hands while speaking. The women are talking in a room with other people.
Ascender Executive Director Nadyli Nuñez (left) networking with Joyce Howard (center) and her daughter at Ascender’s 10th anniversary celebration. (Photo courtesy of Elise Michaux)

Ascender’s executive director, Nadyli Nuñez, said many established business owners are eager to help narrow the gap between what founders have and what they need; learning to verbalize your needs is often a first step.

“If you can get people to believe in you and/or your business, they will make time to help you, “ she said. “It’s OK if you don’t have it all worked out, but you must start somewhere, even if it means first picking the friendliest face in the room.”

In an ongoing effort to convene potential collaborators, Ascender is launching a monthly networking series called Network & Grow. Entrepreneurs from varying industries — from health tech to retail — will have the opportunity to network, listen to lightning talks from established local founders and get a free coworking pass.

Network & Grow begins at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10 with a session on hardware and software. Ascender will host a total of 10 similar gatherings, which take place on the second Wednesday of each month at their coworking space in East Liberty.

Nuñez hopes the series brings to light the interconnected nature of business success. Kail agrees. “Entrepreneurship is not a solo venture. By building and growing small businesses together, the whole Pittsburgh region grows stronger,” he said.

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