The Corner’s Opportunity Accelerator helps small business owners in the Alle-Kiski Valley

When Nicole Porterfield-Miller opens her breakfast restaurant, Cafe Nikki P, in New Kensington, it will be a dream come true.

It started as a hobby making fruit and vegetable trays, which she turned into a side business.

“I never thought I could open a restaurant. I didn’t think this was possible,” she said. “I didn’t think my dream was achievable. I had no idea how to get into the business.”

The Corner, Penn State’s entrepreneurial training center in New Kensington, is among the things that helped Porterfield-Miller learn how to do it. She plans to open her cafe in September on Victoria Ave. 1006 where there was a convenience store before.

“These are relationships. The corner is big for relationships,” said Porterfield-Miller, who moved to Arnold from Pittsburgh’s Stanton Heights neighborhood. “Having been in New Kensington for three years, I don’t know much about Westmoreland County. All I know is Allegheny County.

The Corner is “a space where we can all go, where there is someone we can talk to about our business. They can help us with the basics. They have connections. If you don’t understand something, they can put you in touch with someone else,” she said. “I feel like every neighborhood, every small town needs this. It takes away from the intimidation.

Porterfield-Miller was among several small business owners who recently completed an eight-week opportunity accelerator program, a signature offering at The Corner. It was the first course they had held in person in more than two years because of the pandemic, said Alisa Pistininci, community operations manager.

The free program, which will be held again in January, is open to anyone in the community with a long-standing business, a new business or even just an idea for one.

“It’s a deep dive into the best practices for your business and putting your business on a really solid foundation,” Pistininzi said.

Joanna Sutton, program co-ordinator, said the two main topics they covered were marketing and understanding costs so entrepreneurs could have a profitable business.

“For community members, it’s a great opportunity to get to know each other and have a network and peer group they can rely on to encourage them,” Sutton said. “They give each other a lot of encouragement. When they have a bad day, they get angry. Being a solo business owner is a pretty lonely place.”

Ahmed “Rax” Jefferson of New Kensington started his auto detailing business, 100 Details, in Arnold about a year ago.

A friend referred him to The Corner.

“I didn’t go to business school, but I’m starting a business,” he said. “The program is great. The information in these books will remain forever.

Jefferson said participants in the Opportunity Accelerator course came together as a family and pushed each other.

“I support my family from the business I started almost a year ago,” he said. “I wished it existed. I came up with the name, paid for a logo and printed t-shirts six months before I got to the garage.”

Erin Pruitt and Amy Mitchell, both of Lower Burrell, are working on buying a house for their new business, The Craft Escape, which they hope to open in a few months. It will be a place that crafters, quilters, scrapbookers and knitters can rent to work on their hobby.

Pruitt said she had never heard of such places until she went to one with Mitchell, who Pruitt said has wanted to have her own for some time. They decided to combine their skill sets and start a business together.

Pruitt said her husband told her about the Opportunity Accelerator at The Corner. The course was her first experience there.

“I did go to college for business, but that was a long time ago,” she said. “I wanted to get a refresher course.”

Pruitt said she’s learned a lot and gained a network of people she can call if she has questions.

“It was really nice to meet different business owners,” she said.

Derrick Carter of Arnold left what he called an unsatisfying job in a manufacturing plant to start his own mobile auto business, Steel City Detailing, about two years ago.

“I like a clean car and I’ve found a lot of other people do,” he said. “Is life better in pure riding or what?”

Before the Opportunity Accelerator, Carter said he went to The Corner for an accounting program.

“They were giving out a lot of valuable advice if you listened,” he said.

The crash course took participants from the beginning to the end of their business, Carter said.

“There was so much information there,” he said. “Every week I would go in there and take notes. No doubt, you will pay a lot of money for most of these things. And it was free.

Carter said being able to talk to other business owners is a huge part of the program.

“You’re in a group with other people who are in pretty much the same situation as you, trying to start a business,” he said. “There was a lot of interaction that was available. You may have a problem and you can discuss it with other people who are like “I had the same thing”. We were able to help each other a lot.”

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Brian can be reached by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Leave a Comment