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Business Owner Pedals To Success With Leg Up From Development Center

by on June 25, 2013 10:45 AM

Fortunately for Todd Miner, he was already a pretty active person before he began pedaling people around State College in a rickshaw taxi.

“I’ve had some setbacks,” he says, laughing. “But I have a good feel for the weight capacity of the bike on certain hills and if I do have two or three passengers, I’m not going to go up that Pugh Street hill.”

While he was between jobs in 2010, Miner took a trip to San Diego and noticed many rickshaws carting people around. He took a ride in one and immediately thought back to his alma mater.

“I thought that it would be good for the community,” he says about his business, Vamos! Lion Chariot. “I also thought it would be good for myself to give me the opportunity to stay in a place that I love.”

But Miner says his Penn State degree in meteorology wasn’t going to help him start up a small business.

“I didn’t want to just rush into something,” he says. “I had to first make sure that [the business] had a good enough chance to succeed.”

So Miner took his idea to Penn State’s Small Business Development Center to learn more about becoming an entrepreneur. He attended one of the center’s First Step seminars, a three-hour intensive overview on how to start up a business, and began to develop a relationship with the organization. Miner continued with some one-on-one counseling. Now he only needs to return to the center periodically for advice.

Maria Kirby, a business consultant at the center, says that planning for a small business is essential for success.

“There’s a huge value for businesses to go through the process of business planning,” she says. “That’s something we encourage every client – to work on a business plan and put together financial projections. And we can help with that.”

Small business owners in Centre and Mifflin counties can schedule free and confidential consultations through the center to talk about marketing, technology commercialization and financial management, among other services.

“In a smaller community, it’s important for people to be able to make their own opportunity,” Kirby says. “Sometimes that’s what has sustained a family in this area – the opportunity that [small business owners] have created.”

Vamos! Lion Chariot opened for business in April 2012. Miner quickly purchased two additional rickshaws to create a small fleet of three. People can wave one of the rickshaws down like a taxi. These trips usually run for about $5 or a "tip as you please" rate. Another option is to visit the Vamos! website to set up a cruise for birthdays, graduations, weddings or just a romantic night on the town.

“It doesn’t have to be really special,” he says. “It could be a case where people want to do something interesting one evening and call Vamos! to get a ride downtown or some place on campus.”

State College has proven to be a nice fit for Miner’s chariot business. During a busy football Saturday, he says work begins at 7:30 a.m. and about 75 rides later, it’s Sunday morning. And although the student population decreases in the summer, residents who want to enjoy the nice weather take rides and events like Arts Fest are busy.

“It’s a great feeling when people get on and off and tell you that it’s the best ride they’ve ever had, which I get fairly frequently,” he says. “And when you hear that, it gives you incentive to just keep pushing forward.”

Although he works part time as a tutor at the university and doing weather forecasts for AccuWeather, Miner says the challenge of being a small business owner who provides “transportainment” is worth all of the work.

“The success of what you’re doing is definitely dependent on you and how much effort you put into it,” he says. “And then when things go well, it makes you feel like you’re positively contributing to society.”

Shawn Christ is a recent Penn State graduate who is working as an intern for
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