SBA helps mechanic cycle into business

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Mike “Zak” Kostyzak quickly became the buzz of the Western Pennsylvania biking community -- known for aiding cyclists and their broken bikes on the McKeesport Loop Trail of the Great Allegheny Passage, located behind his house.

His Zak’s Bicycle Shop shirts are worn throughout the area. Not bad for an upstart entrepreneur opening his basement shop in 2009 with just $2,800. He says some bikes at big-box stores cost more than what he started with.  Repeatedly hearing about shoddy service and sales, though, he believed he could do better by just by being honest and helpful.

He was right – honesty was the best policy. His first day, Kostyzak sold a go-kart for $1,000 and hasn’t backpedaled since. He quickly outgrew his basement shop because his customers kept telling their friends about the business and they told their friends too. In two years, his second location wasn’t big enough; his third and current location is the charm.

Instead of selling guitars from his collection for financing, he looked to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Washington County Council on Economic Development (WCCED) for assistance. SBA Microloans provide entrepreneurs with up to $50,000 in funds through nonprofit intermediaries. Last year in Western Pennsylvania, 80 entrepreneurs, like Kostyzak, received more than $2.5 million for working capital or any business-related expense. WCCED Loan Officer April Cacia said these loans are designed to help entrepreneurs succeed and their respective communities thrive by providing funding and free technical assistance to the region’s smallest business owners. Kostyzak is one of her best clients.

Kostyzak used the loan proceeds to add inventory in an industry boasting global annual revenues of $60 billion. In Pennsylvania alone, there are 650 bike trails spanning 12,000 miles. It’s a segment brimming with entrepreneurial opportunities due to the relatively low-cost coupled with health benefits.

And no-cost, industry-specific help is available to Kostyzak and any entrepreneur through the Commonwealth’s Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) Centers of Excellence once they become a client – which is free. A survey by the UPS Store found that 70 percent of small businesses that received mentoring survived more than five years—double the survival rate of non-mentored businesses.

Gannon University SBDC provides that niche consulting for small businesses in the travel, tourism and outdoor segments. Director Maggie Horne explained her team helps those entrepreneurs better identify and market to their target audiences -- connecting clients with everything from best practices to organized events across the state.

Kostyzak’s 15 successful years certainly belie his humble beginnings – from both learning to ride and starting his business. Finding a discarded bike and teaching himself to ride it that same day was a lifelong treasure. Decades later, the trained auto mechanic  simply switched gears to something he truly loves – fixing and selling bikes. He’s grateful the SBA was there for support.

Learn how Pennsylvania SBDCs can help you navigate the cycles of small business ownership by visiting:

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