Connecting the Dots on PowerLink in the last 24 months:

Today in downtown Pittsburgh the 5 women who were nominated as Athena Finalists will be featured with their credentials and impact on the community. Two of those women, Ilana Diamond (PowerLink’s co-founder) and Mary Richter, shareholder at Schneider Downs -- the firm that PowerLink honored in April for giving more Advisory Board volunteer hours to PowerLink than any other corporation on Pittsburgh -- have PowerLink connections. A huge thank you to these two women and all the finalists for the incredible ways you have helped our community to grow and prosper.
When you run an organization, it is sometimes hard to connect the dots until you look backward over your shoulder. So here is my connect-the-dots post for October 2015-2017:

      In October of 2015 we left Seton Hill University’s eMagnify program. PowerLink’s governing board decided to revert the license to it’s original, independent 501c3 status so we could serve small and emerging companies across Western Pennsylvania and not be locked in to one economic development partner.
In December of 2015 we voted to change our bylaws to be gender inclusive so that we could serve small and emerging companies in any community, regardless of gender.

In April, 2016 we began to identify and work out joint marketing strategies with more than 30 economic development organizations in Western Pennsylvania who already had funding to help small and emerging companies to grow. With their help and the help of a major capacity building grant from a private foundation, we developed a series of educational and outreach events (more than 150 pop-up events per year) spread across Western Pennsylvania to expose PowerLink Advisory Board “lessons learned” and application information and to recruit qualified companies who want to grow with a PowerLink Advisory Board experience. We now have more than 40 clients enrolled in an active Advisory Board experience and more than 200 companies who are waiting their turn to jump on the train.

In May of 2016 we started recruiting and hiring Executives in Residence (seasoned CEO’s) to chair our PowerLink Advisory Boards. We now have 8 incredibly talented EIR’s who are the face of PowerLink and run our Advisory Board meetings all across Western Pennsylvania.

In January of 2017 we added a staff member (Stephanie Goodwald) who spends most of her day recruiting, networking and reconnecting with our Advisory Board network of close to 1000 advisors.

In September, 2017 we started work on convening our 51st  board (through the Penn State SBDC) since October 2015. There have been a few running themes that are easier to spot after the fact (like most patterns in life):
a.      Growth: most of our clients in the last two years wanted to grow, but were “stuck” in some way. Annual sales in this group were between $75k and $500k and all of them wanted to grow to $1 million and beyond. Our advisory boards did indeed help with that, some monumentally. Our greatest increase in sales of any one PowerLink company receiving an Advisory Board has been $200k to $25 million (over 15 years).

b.      Succession: our most dramatic succession Advisory Boards have been to help the owner exit in some way. The advisory boards usually know going in that that is why they have been convened. Last week I talked to a PowerLink company who called PowerLink because her husband (the company founder) was very ill and wanted her to take over the company. But she had been a stay at home mom and knew nothing about the business. Her PowerLink Advisory Board stayed with the couple through the husband’s passing and for the next three years while she learned the business. She is truly the CEO of this company today and credits her PowerLink board with hanging in there patiently through her husband’s funeral, the eventual decline in sales, the rebuilding of her leadership team and the turnaround and true takeover of her husband’s company.

c.      Part Time CEO while working full time: Many of our owners have been quietly building their businesses while working full time for someone else. They have achieved at least $75k in annual sales and have one or more employees helping them on the side while they wake up and go to work. But the potential for their business is large.  They are trying to figure out their “jumping off the big company payroll and benefits train.” When is the best time to do that? PowerLink recruits advisors willing to meet with the CEO after working hours to help them fine tune their sales and operations strategy and determine the best jumping off point for them and their family.

d.     Operational and Growth Analysis: How big do we want to be? Do we want to be national? International? Which of our 7 services have the most growth and profitability potential? How do we better manage growth and profitability and sustain that over the next 10 years? Mature companies and mature owners want to be able to ask these questions and get helpful guidance from someone who is not their spouse, their lawyer, their accountant or their employee. They want to be in front of a neutral group of advisors with domain expertise, growth and operations expertise who is not their competitor. PowerLink convenes Advisory Boards for larger, mature companies and CEO’s asking these tough questions.

      Final connect the dots observation: Pittsburgh has an incredible network of economic development organizations in Pittsburgh and it has truly been amazing to see the impact of all these smart people helping fuel our region. We are so glad to be a part of this team helping business thrive in Western Pennsylvania.  –A.F. Brattina (