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Musician Strums to the Beat as Web Designer

Musician Strums to the Beat as Web Designer

Bryan Brown is SBA Western PA Young Entrepreneur of the Year

PITTSBURGH – A rap session with the University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center [SBDC] spun musician and student finance major Bryan Brown from business banker to small business owner.

The then-senior interned for the center assisting entrepreneurs with strategic plans. “Working there was very proactive, hands-on and completely different from what I was learning in classes,” Brown explained. After graduating, Brown employed those same tactics growing his web design business, Responsival, LLC., from a one-man band into a 12-member group in just three years.

His business savvy earned Brown accolades as the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Western PA Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Brown will receive his award at the University of Pittsburgh’s SBDC C3 (Creating Opportunities, Connecting Resources and Contracting Diversity) event, May 3. An appropriate venue for the center’s intern turned success story.

“I’m extremely honored and flattered,” Brown said. “Everything I learned about growing a business from Senior Consultant Catherine Tyson is 90 percent of how I ended up as a responsible business owner.”

SBA Pittsburgh District Director Dr. Kelly Hunt is equally elated. “It’s amazing when an internship with an SBA-powered resource partner results in both small business assistance and entrepreneurship,” added Hunt. “Because of SBA and the Pitt SBDC, Bryan is able to realize and live the dream of small business ownership, becoming a change agent.”

Arriving at Pitt from Philadelphia via a full academic scholarship, Brown, a guitarist, spent his nights immersed in music -- creating backbeats for hip-hop artists at a Lawrenceville recording studio. “I composed about five of these a day – each one taking anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours to complete,” Brown stated. “I sold hundreds of them to local rap artists.”

At the studio, Brown met a mentor and struck an entrepreneurial chord with him. Instead of accepting a post-graduation job offer at a financial institution, he slept on his mentor’s sofa and started a small business designing websites compatible on a suite of devices.

“I found a web platform that I liked and locked myself in a room until I learned how to do websites,” he explained. “It was just supposed to be a side business, but it kept growing.”

Brown’s foray into entrepreneurship certainly was unconventional, as were his marketing tactics.

“At first, I did everything for free,” he said. “I frequented a local tavern and noticed the website could be improved, so I changed it and mailed it to the owner.” Never hearing back, Brown ventured in, showing the bartenders his work. They shared their enthusiasm with the owner who hired Brown.

Within months, Brown went from sleeping on a sofa to renting office space to hiring a designer.

“It took me a year of word-of-mouth marketing to get about 20 clients,” Brown added. “But, I got lucky and added the next 100 clients very quickly from referrals and email marketing.”

 He credits the local feel of Pittsburgh to his surge in clients. “Local feeds local and I’m a patron of local businesses,” he said.

According to Brown, there’s a need for his product. “With all of the media platforms, it’s not easy to make things look good on every device, that’s our job,” he explained. “That’s why I chose Responsival for the company name. “We’re responsive to business needs and the ‘val’ stands for the word carnival; we like to have fun with projects.”

Today, Brown employs a sales and designer team, interns and contractors hoping to hit his goal of $1 million in sales. “We’re on pace and growing at a rapid rate.”

Equally important is giving to the community via website assistance. “We always like to do free, nonprofit work,” he explained. “Recently, we created and launched a site for underprivileged children and now we’re working with a local community on a platform combatting the heroin epidemic.”

Brown, who never thought of owning a small business, says he wouldn’t change a thing in his life. “I never wanted to dress up for work,” he stated. “I think differently and instead created a positive lifestyle and culture.”

According to Hunt, that is why she loves being an entrepreneur. “Small business ownership is very self-satisfying enabling entrepreneurs and like-minded individuals to give back to communities and those in need.”



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