The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Business

November 15, 2012

Tech solutions startup taps young, local talent

Part 4, JARI local entrepreneurs series

JOHNSTOWN — Small businesses create nine of every 10 new jobs in America and hire 40 percent of all high-tech workers, according to the Small Business Administration.

And in most cases, those jobs result from one or two individuals’ willingness to take a calculated risk.

Mike Hruska’s startup plan for his technology consulting and professional services company was to win clients before he and his brother Nikolaus quit their jobs.

“The transition from working for someone else to working for yourself can be a scary place,” said Mike Hruska, president and CEO of Problem Solutions. “If you are worrying about putting food on the table, it will probably make you very motivated, but it also might distract you from the kind of long-term strategic actions that you need to be successful.”

Born and raised in Johnstown, the Hruskas worked as researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland. They returned to Johnstown in 2004 after cofounding Problem Solutions a year earlier. A third partner, Jonathan Poltrack, joined the company in 2004.

Operating from a suite of offices in Richland Square II in Richland Township, Problem Solutions is a specialized professional services firm that provides consulting and software engineering on new technologies centered around learning to the Department of Defense and other government and commercial clients.

“We operate in the place where learning, education and training intersect with technology. We help organizations connect learning and performance. We do this through solutions that leverage Web and mobile technologies as well as face-to-face interactions,” Mike Hruska said.

The company’s capabilities range from software development to deploying learning systems. For example, the company has assisted the Army with mobile strategy and developed technology that helps to distribute movies on mobile devices for Paramount and Disney.

Problem Solutions has assembled a niche team of more than 20 specialized employees willing to push the edge of innovation in design and application of technology to meet the needs of its clients.

In the past two years, team members have spoken at international learning conferences in Norway, Romania, Japan, Brazil, the former Soviet Republic of Georgia and across the United States.

Building and maintaining high-performance teams is a struggle for many young companies. Hruska said Problem Solutions realized early on that it was unable to effectively use entry-level professionals in software engineering. That’s when its founders approached Pitt-Johnstown with a plan to identify prospective interns that the company could begin to work with prior to their junior year in college.

“Johnstown is a great place and has a great talent pool. We have a 100 percent track record of hiring our interns from Pitt-Johnstown, and we’re looking to expand that program because they are actually the lifeblood and innovation behind a number of technology initiatives that we have going right now,” Hruska said.

Hruska is encouraged, not only for his business, but for the entire region.

“We have the opportunity to build a vibrant startup community here, like in Boulder, Boston, or Silicon Valley, because of opportunities like crowd funding,” he said. “Crowd funding is what happens when a large group of people come together and make small investments that collectively fund a startup company.

“A lot of people here want to see Johnstown become a launch pad for new business. The door is open; we just need to walk through it.”

 

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