Opportunity Accelerator The Corner 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 that she turned into a side business.

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

The Corner, Penn State’s entrepreneurial training center in New Kensington, has been among the things that have helped Porterfield-Miller learn how to do just that. She plans to open her cafe in September at 1006 Victoria Ave., where she previously had a convenience store.

“They are connections. The corner is big on connections,” said Porterfield-Miller, who moved to Arnold from Pittsburgh’s Stanton Heights neighborhood. “Being in New Kensington 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 there to talk about our business. They can help us with the basics. They are related. “If you don’t understand something, they can connect you to someone else,” she said. “I feel like every neighborhood, every small town needs this. It removes the fear.”

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 class they’ve held in person in more than two years because of the pandemic, said Alyssa Pistininzi, 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 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 that entrepreneurs can run a profitable business.

“For community members, it’s a great opportunity for them to get to know each other and have a network and peer group they can lean on for encouragement,” Sutton said. “They give each other a lot of encouragement. When they are having a bad day, they pick each other up. Being a sole 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 her to The Corner.

“I didn’t go to business school, but I’m starting a business,” he said. “The program is wonderful. The information in those books, they will last forever.”

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

“I have been feeding my family for almost a year with the business I started,” he said. “I wanted this to exist. I came up with the name, paid for a logo and printed the t-shirts six months before going to the garage.”

Erin Pruitt and Amy Mitchell, both of Lower Burrell, are working on buying a home 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 hobbies.

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

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

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

Pruitt said he learned a lot and gained a network of people he can call on if he has questions.

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

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

“I like a clean car and I found a lot of other people did,” he said. “Is life best on a clean ride or what?”

Before the Opportunity Accelerator, Carter said she went to The Corner for a program on accounting.

“They were giving very valuable advice if you’re listening,” he said.

The accelerator course took participants from start to finish with their businesses, Carter said.

“There was a lot of information out there,” he said. “Every week I went in there and took notes. Admittedly, you will pay a lot of money for most of these things. And that was free.”

Carter said being able to talk to other business owners was a big 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 can have a problem and you can discuss it with other people who are, for example, ‘I had the same thing’. We were able to help each other a lot.”

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

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