Centre County small-business owners preach passion, risk-taking

CDT photo

There is inherent risk in starting every business.

David Price, who owns Callao Cafe and Market in Ferguson Township, took that chance when he opened the gourmet coffee shop on West Aaron Drive in 2011.

“I’ve been entrepreneurial since I was a teenager, and to me everything has worked out well,” Price said. “You always learn something taking a risk, especially as an entrepreneur.”

It’s the right mindset to have for National Small Business Week — May 4 to 8 — or any week for that matter if you run a small business.

Critical to a small business’ success is the owner’s passion for it, but Sam Kerns, Mission Critical Partners vice president and chief financial officer, said the love for your business also has to be shared by employees. He spoke at a Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County breakfast about entrepreneurship Thursday at Toftrees. Lasers 4 Innovative Solutions co-founder Ben Hall and Indigo Biosciences President and CEO Fred Marroni also spoke.

Mission Critical Partners, based in Patton Township, started with four people in 2009 and grew to 81 employees.

It wasn’t easy getting there.

Every employee, including Kerns who was hired in 2011 when the company had about 30 people, was hired through a “rigorous” interview process.

“When you’re hiring someone you’re eliminating the risk that they won’t be the right person for that job both from the company standpoint and their standpoint,” Kerns said. “We want to ask enough questions and have you give enough examples that we know you’ll be comfortable in your job, will do very well in that job and make sure you’ll be happy doing it.”

The environment created by a staff also influences productivity.

“It’s really difficult to put it together, so I’m fortunate to have a phenomenal staff,” Price said. “It’s a rare thing, but I can count on anyone to handle any situation. Everyone here is going to carry the ball at some point, and it’s amazing to have that kind of staff that self manages and respects each other.”

Marroni emphasized having the right personnel to run a business, but also the facilities and capital to invest in the business.

“It makes no difference what the business is,” he said. “You need those three things — facilities, capital and personal — because if any of those things are missing you’ll fail. You can’t survive and grow without those.”

As with every successful business, however, growth starts with the owner.

“My job is to put my staff in the best position to succeed, so I’m like a player-coach,” Price said. “I think that’s what a small business owner does or should do — prepare the business and staff to succeed — and we succeed by providing a great service and product. Even if you don’t make sales one day you can’t think of it as losing, because you can learn from it.”