The future looked very bright for Rich Brueggman in 1994. Or so it seemed. Hired right out of college by a company named PPG, Rich had established his credentials as an expert in process automation, and was being groomed for bigger things.
Rich, however, had other ideas. "I wanted to focus on growing an automation company within PPG, something that didn’t fit in with senior management’s plans," he says. "It was then that I began thinking about starting my own business providing process automation services."
Rich decided to continue his full-time job while doing his consulting work on the side to build up demand. For two years, he devoted nights and weekends to the effort, while also keeping in touch with Carl and the other SCORE mentors. Before long, Rich had more work than he could handle. By 1996, Carl agreed that the time had come for Rich to become a full-fledged business owner. Later that year, Data Science Automation (DSA) was born.
Today, DSA is a full-service automation service provider that Rich says "I can help companies automate anything." His 25 employees write custom software and provide hardware integration services for manufacturing, inspection and quality control functions. The company has offices in Pittsburgh; Cleveland; Philadelphia; Washington, DC; and Kansas City, MO, and recently acquired another information technology company. DSA has been named southwest Pennsylvania’s Fastest Growing Technology Company three years in a row, and boasts an impressive list of clients, including Rich’s former employer, PPG.
Rich is as eager to share his experiences as he is to learn more about keeping DSA growing. In addition to participating in SCORE events, he is part of Inc. magazine’s “Birthing of Giants” program and a graduate of the Entrepreneurial Management Program at Carnegie Mellon University.
“SCORE was definitely instrumental in the early stages of the company,” Rich says. “As we’ve grown and progressed, their level of involvement has gone down. But without them, we wouldn’t have gotten this far. It’s still a thrill to know these guys and get their input whenever I need it.”
“I was trained to be a scientist, not a businessman. I needed ideas and insights from other people who are more experienced, and have literally done it all. Carl Wapiennik and SCORE fulfilled that role, giving me the insights and objective opinions that enabled my business to succeed.” Rich says.
Rich’s father suggested that he get in touch with family friend Carl Wapiennik, a retired director of a scientific institute, who was also a SCORE mentor. Rich spent most of a Saturday at Carl’s house discussing his idea. Carl then suggested that Rich come by the SCORE office and meet with some other mentors.
“That meeting was more valuable than seminars because I was going one-on-one with some really seasoned professionals,” Rich recalls. “They all had operated businesses in the past, and had vast knowledge of the business environment.”
Rich says the mentors were tough, but realistic in their questions. "They asked about my market research, how I would generate business, what specific services I’d provide and how I’d finance growth," he says. "Luckily, I had the right answers because I had been thinking about this idea for awhile. But I know what they were getting at. Many people think that starting a business is easy. The truth is that it’s a very risky proposition that can have serious consequences if you make a mistake."