Local Printer is SBA Pittsburgh District Young Entrepreneur of the Year
PITTSBURGH – For Sidney Jake Huffmyer, it never was all about the bass… or the treble; it was all about making an imprint. And he has.
Today, thousands of Pittsburgher’s rock t-shirts created and printed by the musician who sits at the helm of 3E Studios and is the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Pittsburgh District Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Huffmyer was nominated by the University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which lauded his diligence to learn business tactics all while working and pursuing a degree.
“It’s still just sinking in,” said Huffmyer. “I was nominated and didn’t think anything of it, but, winning truly is a humbling experience.”
Huffmyer will be doing more than just accepting his award; he’s inviting other young entrepreneurs to his celebration, allowing his peers and mentors to share in his success and sample their products.
SBA Pittsburgh District Director Kelly Hunt admires Huffmyer’s efforts. “Mr. Huffmyer’s decision to share his spotlight truly is a boost for all entrepreneurs,” she added. “The event now showcases the unique and unparalleled experience one receives when they visit a small business.”
The bass player who holds an associate’s degree in audio engineering from Full Sail University coupled with an electrical engineering degree from the University of Pittsburgh, played in the band October. At 16 he signed with a local record label.
"It was a small label, so, I went to college to get my audio degree. I wanted to get signed to another label, go on tour, sell t-shirts and make money,” he said. “But, instead I came back home and developed a ‘Plan B.’”
According to Huffmyer, the plan, which included obtaining his engineering degree, detoured when his cousin purchased printing equipment from a retiring t-shirt maker. The duo seized upon the opportunity, launching 3E Studios in Huffmyer’s parents’ basement with a modest goal of doubling their sales each year.
“The name stands for easy, efficient and enjoyable,” he explained. “Our first job was giving a pizza shop shirts at cost if they would stuff our flyers in their boxes. That’s how we started, and we made about $2000 in sales our first year.”
Huffmyer, who also was simultaneously enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh, sought assistance from its SBDC. “They helped us with a three-year plan to grow our business,” Huffmyer explained.
Hunt applauded Huffmyer’s ongoing educational efforts. “Many entrepreneurs think they know what it takes to be successful, but, I can tell you first hand it’s hard and you end up learning from your mistakes,” she said. “Instead, it makes sense to use the free resources and take two steps forward versus one step back.”
The plan worked as Huffmyer moved from Aliquippa to the city and upgraded his equipment.
“I was still playing in bands and moved our operation to the North Side,” he said. “Since I knew area musicians, 3E started designing and printing shirts for the Pittsburgh-based band Rusted Root.”
Eight years and a few moves later, 3E Studios now occupy a large space on Western Avenue. Using the SBA’s microloan program, they’ve secured money from the Northside Community Development Fund to upgrade their equipment. Armed with the new capacity of printing more than 500 shirts per hour, Huffmyer said 3E prints everything from family reunion commemorative tees to large, contact jobs for major area businesses like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Giant Eagle.
According to Huffmyer, clients soon will be able to both design and order customized shirts within minutes from the convenience of their own home through an interactive website.
For Huffmyer, the shirt business suites him to a tee and enables him to mix his creativity with his education. “There’s the design aspect incorporated with precision and physics, all just to make a shirt,” he explained.
Last year more than 2,800 clients received almost 40,000 hours in services from Western Pennsylvania’s eight SBDCs. Funded by the SBA, state, local governments and private sector resources these centers provide an array of technical assistance to small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs. They are considered one of the nation’s largest small business assistance programs.