Not too long ago, most of them were working 9 to 5 for area companies.
Today, Jill Nadorlik runs her own marketing firm from her downtown Johnstown loft.
Matt Paonessa’s startup helped design a mobile video player for Paramount Pictures films.
And founders of Entropi Software are also developing “apps” for the mobile market – among them, a program that allows physicians to instantly store and share medical scans to quickly diagnose ailments.
They’re among a growing number of young startup companies in the area – oftentimes outside-the-box businesses with few employees but big dreams.
“A lot of us, I think, are becoming our own solution,” Nadorlik said. “You don’t have to wait around for your dream job. Figure out what you’re good at and make your own job.”
Nadorlik did just that 18 months ago, leaving her full-time marketing job in Johns-town to start Nadorlik & Co. in late 2011.
Since then, she added both national and international clients, helping more than 100 businesses over the past 16 months, she said.
“Considering I pretty much started with word of mouth,” she said, “I’m really happy with how far I’ve come.”
She handles social media marketing for dozens of companies, including Italian jewelry designer Adami & Martucci, which sells its merchandise through Nordstrom department stores.
“We’re giving them Madison Avenue marketing on a Johns-town budget,” Nadorlik said. “High quality expertise but at considerably lower rates.”
Matt and Greg Paonessa have brought the same outlook to their startup, JMG Systems, although their market focuses on a much different field. The brothers spent decades in the defense industry as software engineers before deciding to go off on their own in 2011.
“We wanted to focus on technology – whether that be mobile app development or working with other companies to help them use the latest technology to save money within their own businesses.”
As technology consultants, “We’ve been able to help a lot of local companies save a lot of money,” he added. “We’re Johnstown natives. And we want to make sure this area can compete on the larger scale.”
But mobile app development has also been a niche.
“Mobile development is exploding right now,” Paonessa said.
Interestingly, he added, it was a mobile application developed a year ago whose success fell far short of expectations that led to one of their biggest projects.
“We released it on the Android app store and it got no traction at all. But it laid the groundwork for work with other companies, and we ended up being one of several software companies to work on a video streaming app for Paramount.”
Paramount’s DVD and Blu-Ray movie-buyers receive download codes with their discs that allow them to instantly stream digital copies on portable devices. The app that JMG helped develop allows users to do so on Android phones, he said.
Entropi Software was also founded with “mobile in mind,” said Brian Shrift, who started the business in 2011 with colleagues Justin D’Arcangelo and Nicholas Watson.
“Whatever we design, our focus is making sure it works and looks good on an iPad, Android tablet or smartphone. Because that’s where everything is moving.”
Among recent developments, a scan-sharing program for medical offices and a content management system that takes information added to websites and instantly formats it for viewing on mobile devices.
The company has grown to employ six people this year.
Startups like theirs are becoming economic drivers for the region because they have the best opportunity for growth, Problem Solutions CEO Mike Hruska said.
Hruska knows from experience.
He and his brother founded their tech consulting and professional services company in 2003 after years working as researchers at the National Institute of Technology in Maryland.
Offering consulting and software engineering services from their Richland Square II office, they have grown their venture to 20 employees and have clients in the commercial, government and Department of Defense sectors.
He said he’s passionate about start-ups and their role in the local economy.
But Hruska also knows taking the jump into self-employment isn’t always easy. That’s why he formed a entrepreneur meet-up network last year.
“We’re trying to be a resource for people getting ready to make the move – help them get going and innovate their business,” Hruska said.
Meanwhile, the Venue of Merging Arts in Cambria City has launched an initiative offering workspace to small business and self-employed professionals, aiming to provide an as-needed office.
The effort is common in larger cities.
It’s offering a space to work alongside fellow professionals “in a shared, interactive and engaging environment,” said Karen Mesaros, VOMA director of development and marketing. “We want to offer people a chance to initiate interaction with other co-workers to aid in solving their business needs.”
VOMA co-working space is available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The fee is $50 monthly and requires a deposit, although drop-in daily options are also offered for a single-day rate, Mesaros said.
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