Million-Dollar Mentors Make Mark with Regional Award

Jim Kunkel portrait in a suit and tie

Saint Vincent College SBDC Honored as Best in Mid-Atlantic

Jim Kunkel never looked back once he started his job at the Saint Vincent College Small Business Development Center (SBDC). That’s good news for the 10,000 entrepreneurs that the SBDC has assisted and the $170 million they have helped pump into the local economy since 2000.

“Once I walked through those doors, I knew I’d be a lifer,” Kunkel said. “We serve all industry sectors and companies in every stage of the business life cycle, and that’s what makes this job so great…because every day is different.  Also, the Saint Vincent College SBDC is fortunate to have an incredibly dedicated and knowledgeable team that has consistently generated meaningful economic impact.”

His staff shares that sentiment too. Their combined expertise, totaling more than 80 years, led the five-member team to collect top honors besting more than 45 centers as the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Western Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania and Mid-Atlantic Region (Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and District of Columbia) Small Business Development Center of the Year. They’ll receive their award during the 60th annual celebration of National Small Business Week, April 30-May 6.

“This certainly is an honor, “ said Kunkel, who is now the SBDC’s director. “On behalf of our entire team, I just want to let the SBA know how much we appreciate this recognition. I also would like to sincerely thank the leadership of Saint Vincent College for actively supporting our work for so many years.”

Shawn Lazor, whose 47-year-old family furniture business bears the family name, was one of Kunkel’s first clients. “The center really is a gem,” Lazor said. “He really helped my father and now me and my sister over the years with everything from loans to purchase our building to financial analysis enabling us to add new furniture lines.”

Each day St. Vincent’s SBDC helps startup ventures and established small business owners from Fayette and Westmoreland counties with everything from preparing a business plan, securing financing to exporting around the world.

SBDCs are SBA and state-funded entities helping entrepreneurs in every phase of development offering free, confidential and professional consulting coupled with low-cost training classes. “We’re so proud of the Saint Vincent College SBDC team,” said SBA Western Pennsylvania District Director Dr. Kelly Hunt. “Their center provides exemplary service to businesses in our river towns to Westmoreland’s manufacturing and machining corridor. They’ve got their pulse on everything from technology to neighborhood craft breweries.”

Kunkel’s team doesn’t just concentrate on businesses in his counties.  They’ve spent years producing and honing an educational event benefiting all entrepreneurs in Western Pennsylvania. During Pittsburgh Steeler Training Camp in August, SBA lenders, SBDC and economic development agency personnel flock to the Saint Vincent College campus for a half-day long training event hosted by the SBDC.

Like the Steelers, their goal is to create a winning playbook – instead for area entrepreneurs.

“We’ve been doing this for decades,” Kunkel explained. “We typically have about 70 to 80 attendees, and they learn about programs and tools available for entrepreneurs and small business owners… how we can really help them to open and grow that business.”

Hunt said the Saint Vincent College SBA Lender workshop attracts SBA employees from the entire East Coast. “This is such a worthy event that SBA  personnel attend. We learn and share so much information to continue growing the economy through small business ownership.”

Seeing firsthand their former small business clients’ parking lots now filled with cars, some helped by Kunkel and his team more than 30 years ago, certainly cements their accomplishments. “It’s a great feeling knowing you played a role in helping start that small business and now seeing it flourish,” he added. “Today small business ownership is on the rise because there’s a considerable emphasis on buying local and supporting that family-owned store in your community, versus perhaps a mega retailer, and that benefits both the local entrepreneur and consumer.”

Local Uniontown exercise enthusiast turned entrepreneur, Taylor Bryner-Spaw, sought out Kunkel’s advice during the pandemic to assist her in achieving her dream of owning a spinning studio. “There were no spinning facilities in our area, so, we decided to pull the trigger and open our own studio,” she added. “I had no business background and the SBDC team educated and encouraged me, helping me with a business plan to purchase equipment and rent space.”

Both Byner-Spaw and Lazor are busy solidifying their businesses into community assets thanks to free consulting from the Saint Vincent College SBDC team.  Kunkel noted “Economic conditions and global competition can be extremely challenging…we want to be proactive and help you achieve your dreams before they turn into nightmares.”


This article does not constitute or imply an endorsement by the SBA of any opinions, products, or services of any private individual or entity.