Staff heroes: Small business center’s role became even more vital


If there was one group of people who needed to pivot more than most during the pandemic, it was the small business community.

By March 20, 2020, just a week after the Pitt campus went almost entirely remote, the University’s Small Business Development Center, headed by Raymond L. Vargo, offered its first webinar. More than 800 business owners and economic development leaders, as well as those with expertise in the law and insurance, attended from across the state, looking for answers: What assistance is going to be available, and how can I take advantage of it? How will I manage until assistance arrives?

“This last year has probably been the most rewarding time in my entire career,” Vargo says. “The service that the SBDC has provided this past year has been vital. We had to pivot like small businesses had to pivot. The entire team in the SBDC has played a role.”

The center, part of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, which itself is part of the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, offers consulting and trainings — the majority at no cost — to more than 1,000 people annually. Its mission is to provide information and resources to people starting or already in business.

“We’re another set of eyes and ears for business owners,” Vargo says, helping them with strategic planning, business analysis, market research and business plans. He points out that such training programs are available to staff as well.

Since March, he says, the center has helped thousands of businesses secure capital, including federal loans. Over the recent winter break, as Congress delayed passing its second relief bill, “we made sure our services were available,” he says. “No matter if the University is open or closed, we found a way to address the needs of the small business community. The lives of so many individuals have been affected. So many have had to switch to e-commerce options.”

In September, the U.S. Small Business Administration awarded Pitt’s Small Business Development Center its SBDC Excellence and Innovation Award, calling Pitt’s efforts tops among more than 1,000 such centers in the country.

Vargo has been part of Pitt’s SBDC since 1995. “I’ve been every role at the SBDC imaginable,” he says, starting as a management consultant. Although he worked previously for economic development organizations in other counties and for the federal government in Washington, D.C., his desire to move back to his hometown brought him to Pitt.

“It’s become my passion,” he says of his SBDC work. “There’s nothing more rewarding than to help a business owner. We help business owners and potential business owners make better business decisions. I’m so proud of the effort and so honored to have the team that I do have.”

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.


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