As East Liberty continues to benefit from new investment and opportunities, increasing minority entrepreneurship is a focus of ours at ELDI.
One way we are doing that is through our partnership with Catapult Greater Pittsburgh. Catapult is an organization committed to advancing economic justice through a host of programs and services, including their Startup to Storefront entrepreneurship program. As longtime supporters of Catapult, we are happy to introduce a new series that highlights the Startup to Storefront program entrepreneurs who are growing and developing their businesses in the East End.
Up first is Taylor Ford of IT’s 4 Me. Taylor launched her IT consulting business in 2018, leaving her job in March of 2019 to work on it full-time. Shortly after, she joined Catapult’s second Startup to Storefront cohort. Through the program, she was able to get the mentorship she needed to take her business to the next level. Read on to discover Taylor’s journey, from putting together computers as a kid to forging a path for African American women in the IT space.
Can you give us an introduction to your business and what you do?
My business is IT’s 4 Me, and our slogan is we make technology work for you. We are a managed service provider, and our goal is to integrate technology into companies so that they can operate more efficiently. We do this through three main services. We offer a consultation service, which is one of our most popular. We like to say, you don’t know what you don’t know, especially when it comes to IT. We consult on everything from hardware to software, to roll over, to implementations, even down to the different devices that people want to use. Whether it be buying software or making a hardware purchase, we then can install and implement whatever we’re inputting. We can also manage it. That brings me to our second service: managed services, which is simply managing what we installed. Finally, we do digital media marketing, which includes web design and social media brand development. We help businesses manage their social media profiles, because we all have to market digitally, but we don’t all have the time to do so. We also offer training on digital media marketing and IT for adults and children.
How did you get into this kind of work?
I built my first computer when I was 10 and that led to my first business. I would sell my IT services to friends and family members, doing things like putting music on their iPods and sending them back to them. I started there, I became the IT guru for my family. When I was older and had graduated from Syracuse University, I was having trouble getting a job in my field. I went to school for chemical engineering, and I was always either overqualified or under-qualified for the position. That’s when I decided to go back to my first love of technology. I started as a third-party vendor for another company. In that job, I witnessed many practices that weren’t beneficial for the client. They would hide things to save themselves money. Eventually, I decided to go into business for myself to be the antithesis of what this industry is. Often, the IT industry doesn’t want to tell or teach the client anything. They say “telecommunication” when they could say phones because then they can charge $5,000 as opposed to $500. I went into business to dispel this idea that IT is confusing and hard. It’s not. It’s supposed to work for you.
When did you start your business?
I was incorporated in October of 2018 while I was still at my full-time job. I left my full-time job and started doing this full-time beginning in March of 2019.
How did you get involved with Catapult?
One of my clients is the Larimer Consensus Group, and they told me about Ms. Tammy. When I met her, she told me about the Catapult program and what it does. I was new in the business world, so I wanted to make some solid partnerships and relationships, but I wasn’t quite sure how to do that. That’s how I ended up joining Catapult’s second cohort.
How did Catapult help you develop your business? Which parts of the program have you found most valuable?
I would say the one-on-one mentorship was the most valuable piece of it. Having access to a mentor on a more consistent basis was a major benefit for me. I had what I needed to get things together, but I needed someone to talk me through it and to bounce ideas off of. I needed someone to be transparent with me about whether they thought this or that was a profitable idea or a good move. It was monumental to have that guidance during my first year of business. That changed the game for me. It helped me become more prepared and more resilient. It helped me understand that being a business owner is not as pretty as it looks—it’s actually really gritty. They helped me get through some of my major business milestones, and even things that happened in my life. The program isn’t just about business, because they know that if you’re a business owner, your life plays into your work—it’s all rolled into one. For example, at one point during the program, I was almost evicted and Tammy helped me out of that. I was still running my business in the midst of having real issues at home, but they helped me through that so that I could continue to run my business without the fear of losing my home.
The family cohort style was also a major benefit. We’re like a little family. We love and talk each other through things like a family. It was beneficial to have a group of people I could tell my business woes and get real feedback and help. It was nice because I knew what I was saying held weight with them and was confidential. I had a safe space to express how I felt.
The program isn’t just about business, because they know that if you’re a business owner, your life plays into your work—it’s all rolled into one.
The pandemic has created challenges for small businesses all around the world while making a digital presence more important than ever. I’m curious how IT’s 4 Me has been affected by the pandemic and if it’s led to more businesses turning to your IT services?
It’s led to pro-bono business. Before, when we would say, you need a website, you need to be secure, you need to work from home, we just sounded like a broken record, and then COVID happened, and it was a bulldozing because everybody needed to work from home. Everybody needed to get a laptop. Everybody needed to go mobile. Everybody needed to go virtual. You would think it was really good for us, and it was, but no one had any money because of COVID. So we did a lot of pro bono work. I’m a Christian, and I truly believe that I was blessed with talents, not to hold them for myself, not to use them always for profit, but sometimes to benefit the community at large. I saw the community struggling. I saw restaurants that were having trouble getting take-out orders on their website. We were like the “gap bridgers.” We helped bridge the technological gap with companies who had never worked from home. We talked to our clients about work from home practices, etc. It was a lot of training and reminding people about their digital responsibility.
What has been the most rewarding part of being an entrepreneur, and what keeps you going?
That’s easy: the changes that you make in the lives of the business owner you work with. That’s been the biggest reward, seeing the change, feeling the change, and being a part of the improvement and betterment of companies. That’s the blessing of what I do. The reason that I do it is multi-fold. I feel like it’s a mandate from God. It’s my calling to do this. I also do it because I want to show my son that a black woman can be more than just a mother. We can be business owners. We can be trailblazers. I want him to see that exemplified by his own mother, so he’ll never have to look for it. Finally, I do it because there are not a lot of African-Americans in this space. I went to school for chemical engineering, and I was the only African-American woman that graduated in my class. I don’t ever want another woman to feel that way, to feel alone. So I went into this industry to provide jobs and be there for my community while providing opportunities for my community to grow.
I want to show my son that a black woman can be more than just a mother. We can be business owners. We can be trailblazers. I want him to see that exemplified by his own mother, so he’ll never have to look for it.
What’s next for IT’s 4 Me?
Expansion. We’re going to be hiring technicians, project managers, and I’ve already hired a marketing director and client relationship manager. Now that we have our services and what we’re going to offer down, we’re going to expand, eventually to the Maryland area as well where I have family.
How can people support your business?
We are running a visual media package promotion for businesses right now with major discounts on website and brand development. People can visit www.its4me.tech to learn more. We also do “Tech Talks” every Friday on Facebook, which are live Q&As where people can ask questions.