Small-business owner is quick to give back
By Jason Cato
Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2012, 7:24 p.m.
Stephen Cohen doesn't remember which vehicle he was driving or what month it was, only that it was a warm, blue-sky day when he fell asleep behind the wheel on the turnpike while driving between Monroeville and Allison Park.
A rumble strip jolted him awake that afternoon in 1998, and a few things were immediately clear: He was alive, that would be his last day as an insurance salesman, and it was time to be better to himself and others.
"At that moment, I decided to take care of myself and my business at the same time," said Cohen, 62, of Squirrel Hill, who will be honored next week by the U.S. Small Business Association as the Western Pennsylvania SCORE Volunteer of the Year. "I called my boss and said, 'I quit.' "
And that's when Cohen's life as a small-business owner and generous volunteer started.
He began Keystone By Design, his one-man marketing and advertising firm. One of the first places he turned in starting his business was SCORE, a Herndon, Va.-based nonprofit organization created in 1964 that provides free expert counseling to small businesses. The organization has 364 chapters nationwide, including Pittsburgh.
Groups such as SCORE and others, including the no-cost Small Business Development Centers across the country, are tremendous assets, said Marilyn Landis, president of Basic Business Concepts Inc. on the North Shore.
"It's an opportunity for entrepreneurs to figure out what they need, don't need, know and don't know." Landis said. "It's a great starting point for folks."
SCORE mentors, often retired professionals, helped Cohen get his business started, from picking a name to wading through permit and regulation requirements. The organization formerly was known as the Service Corps of Retired Executives.
Though Cohen learned about designing marketing materials and web design to help him and his sales crews at a string of insurance companies over the years, the Queens native always had worked for someone else and had no experience being his own boss.
He helped his first client set up business marketing seminars around the region. Cohen now has a couple dozen clients — mostly all small businesses.
"My object in life was not to be a huge corporation," Cohen said. "My object in life was to feel helpful to people."
One of his longest-running clients — for more than a decade — is Squirrel Hill elder law attorney Michael Marks.
"He knows small business because he's in small business," Marks said of Cohen. "He listens and has good ideas. He gives me advice and recommendations, but he lets me make the decisions."
An early client was SCORE. Cohen handled the local chapter's graphic design needs from 2001 to 2005, the year he joined as a member.
After spending 2006 in Australia, where his wife, Janet, served as chief operation officer of Carnegie Mellon University's campus, Cohen returned and became more active with SCORE. In the five years since, he has served as vice chairman and chairman.
Volunteers with the Pittsburgh chapter conduct between 500 and 600 face-to-face meetings each year with small business owners or those looking to open small businesses, Cohen said.
"We are mentors," he said. "Think of us as a free board of directors."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Garden Q&A: Firecracker vine OK for trellis?
- Starkey: Penguins’ arrogance astounding
- Matt Calvert’s goal in double OT evens series for Blue Jackets
- Boxer ‘Hurricane’ Carter, famously wrongly convicted, dies at 76
- Draftees’ longevity key for NFL success
- Miss America asks York school to rethink prom question suspension
- More women seize opportunities to start businesses
- Penguins’ Gibbons scores twice but leaves with apparent injury
- Biertempfel: Kendall’s book offers inside look at life in majors
- Officials identify Chartiers shooting victim as Wilkinsburg man
- NFL notebook: Pryor will be cut if he’s not traded