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Spotlight on Women in Business: October 2012

Regina Koetters, Elizabeth Damron, Sylvie Tran and Laura Deklewa.



Regina Koetters
Owner, Marty’s Market
2301 Smallman St., Pittsburgh PA 15222
412/586-7177, martysmarket.com

For Regina Koetters, 168 hours just isn’t enough time in the workweek—which isn’t surprising for someone who recently opened a specialty food store and café in the Strip District in addition to serving as Officer in Charge of a U.S. Navy Reserve detachment in Jacksonville, Fla.

Regina, who is a board member of the Design Center, always had an interest in city building; she studied naval architecture, but ended up attending business school, where she decided to look into real estate from a developer’s perspective.

During her three years of studying at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, Regina researched cities, looking for the perfect place that she could reinvigorate.

“When I was a child growing up in Kentucky, I saw old parts of town being torn down, and I wanted to reverse that trend,” says Regina. “I wanted to revitalize the rust belt, and I decided to start with Pittsburgh.”

With no experience in the food industry, Regina decided to bring a new food concept to Pittsburgh that would catalyze investment in the area as well as strengthen the region’s food system. Her idea transformed into Marty’s Market, a specialty food market, café and coffeehouse that focuses on offering top quality food and ingredients that are all natural and free of harmful chemicals.

Regina says Marty’s Market, which opened in July, is in the business of  “delivering great food experiences to customers,” through a variety of quality and unique products in the market and butchery, flavorful café dishes and single origin, direct trade coffees at the store’s indoor-outdoor coffeebar.  She emphasizes transparency and accomplishes that through a 360-degree kitchen, glass walls and welcoming garage doors.

“These elements are a physical manifestation of my business philosophy that transparency is a key part in changing the food system,” says Regina. “When you hear music, it’s easy to imagine the hands on the instrument, but it’s not as easy to have that connection with food. And through a level of activity, I believe we can do that.”

Another key aspect of Regina’s business plan was her goal to source a growing percentage of their products from small farmers. The plan is risky for all involved, but Regina is insistent on making it work. In order to get the best quality salad greens and culinary herbs, Regina gave a local farm a loan so that they could increase production and build more greenhouses with the idea that the farm would pay her back in food.

It’s innovative ideas like this that have garnered a loyal following already, after only a few months in business.

“There’s this idea that you can vote with your dollar, and it means something to go to the corner store instead of a franchise,” says Regina. “More people are starting to recognize that if they eat well, they’ll live well.”

Regina is unsure of her future role with Marty’s Market, but she envisions that she’ll guide it through the two toughest years ahead and will likely give someone else a chance to run the business. But her entrepreneurial flair and love of service will carry her to open future businesses.

Regina’s interest in re-development also got her involved with the Allegheny Valley Railroad, where she represented freight railroad interests in the Allegheny Valley Green Boulevard study.  Her efforts focused on converting the 20-mile railroad right-of-way into a multiuse corridor for commuter and freight rail service, bike-pedestrian trails and open space.

In more ways than one, Regina hopes to be a creator “of a catalyst for change,” and is excited to play a role in the re-development of the city, one bite at a time.

Elizabeth Damron
Owner, Absolute Ballroom Dance Center of Pittsburgh
6617 Hamilton Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15206
412/441-1461, absoluteballroompgh.com

Elizabeth Damron started ballroom dancing in 2001, a life-changing experience that later transformed into her very own business, Absolute Ballroom Dance Center of Pittsburgh.

After having spent several years as a national pro-am ballroom dance competitor, Elizabeth opened the doors to Absolute Ball Room in June 2008.

The studio space occupies the entire first floor of a warehouse, and the interior space required a complete build out to accommodate more space and more classes. Primarily a teaching facility, Absolute Ballroom’s goal is to provide top quality dance instruction (smooth, rhythm, standard and Latin) at affordable prices.

This was Elizabeth’s first foray into the business world, which she knew would require “a lot of expertise” from others, so she assembled a team to help: an accountant, an architect, a contractor, an attorney, an artistic director and a “talented” group of teachers.

Elizabeth says that Pittsburgh is a city of different dance communities, ranging from Argentine Tango and West Coast Swing to Salsa, Lindy and more. And Absolute Ballroom provides a home for most of these groups.

“It’s a place where you can learn a dance but also meet and gather with people who share your interests and passion for dance,” says Elizabeth. “I have done my best to work with different groups who are looking for a home.”

Expansion is in the works at Absolute Ballroom, with plans to create another practice room, teacher lounge area and catering kitchen. As the need for more instructors increased, Elizabeth and her team created a teacher training program in order to offer great quality classes to dancers.

Elizabeth lives in Shadyside, is married and has two children and a baby granddaughter.

“I’ve always said that at this stage in my life, I could be lounging on a tropical beach somewhere, but instead, I chose to manage a seven-day-a-week business,” says Elizabeth. “On any given evening, I’ll usually be the first person who greets you when you come in – to me, this is very important.”

Sylvie Tran
Development Manager, Shell Oil Co.
2100 Georgetown Drive, Sewickley, PA 15143
724/933-5334, shell.com

In the past 17 years, Sylvie Tran has lived and worked on four different continents before moving to Pittsburgh with Shell Oil Company as a development manager for the Appalachia region, where she plays a key role in the development of shale gas fields in Pennsylvania.

A first generation Canadian-Vietnamese, Sylvie lived in Quebec City, Canada, and studied mechanical engineering at McGill University. She “fell” into the oil and gas industry through a summer job as an operator in a gas plant. After graduation, Sylvie pursued a career in the industry as a Drilling Engineer because of her interest in issues spanning the energy sector as well as the operational and technical aspects of the engineering work.

Sylvie came to Pittsburgh in 2010 to start up the company’s first upstream (exploration and production) business in Pennsylvania. She manages the full life cycle planning of the development of shale gas fields and the associated capital program. Her team works to determine how to best develop the field and install the necessary surface infrastructure.  

“I’m always focused on balancing economic, technical, social and environmental aspects of the development for any decision I make,” says Sylvie. “Sustainable development is very important to me —development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Sylvie believes that Pittsburgh is playing a big role in the future of natural gas, which could be strengthened if Shell’s plan to build an ethane cracker in Beaver County comes to fruition.

Sylvie is involved with several organizations, including The World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh and Propel Charter Schools. An avid mountain biker and snowboarder, Sylvie has enjoyed exploring the Pittsburgh area.

“The business community has been welcoming and has really helped me to get engaged and settled,” says Sylvie. “Pittsburgh is this big city, but it also feels small, and you really feel connected.”

Laura Deklewa
Owner, Allegheny Construction Group
100 Commercial St., Bridgeville, PA 15017
412/221-0500, alleghenyconstruction.com

Laura Deklewa recognized an opportunity to save a struggling Allegheny Construction Group (ACG) with a construction project that developed out of a real estate opportunity.  Laura, a 20-year veteran of finance and construction, bought controlling interest in 1998 and revitalized the company by providing an infusion of capital as well as developing and implementing a strategic plan to provide corporate growth. Shortly after Delewa took over, the Pittsburgh Business Times ranked ACG seventh among the top 100 fastest-growing companies in Pittsburgh.

ACG, a woman-owned company, provides General Construction and Construction Management services focusing on commercial, institutional, healthcare, industrial, tenant build-out, leaseback and pre-engineered metal building projects in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.

Laura graduated from Lebanon Valley College with a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Business and completed the Entrepreneurial Management Program at Carnegie Mellon University.

Fourteen years after acquiring ACG, she believes it’s an advantage to be a woman in a male-dominated field, describing women as being “wired differently,” which gives her a better understanding of the human element when dealing with clients.

“Women have made strides in business by networking with other women,” says Laura.  “I’ll meet with an architect, business development manager, or someone in real estate or construction, and it will be a woman. It wasn’t always that way.”

Laura currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Lutheran SeniorLife Board of Directors. As an invited speaker at Penn State University and Slippery Rock University, she has shared her valuable experiences with young people.  

“You have to take advantage of the opportunities in front of you, use your imagination in every job, and determine what you’re good at,” Laura says, who serves on the Advisory Council for SRU School of Business.  “That’s what gets young people excited about being future business owners and entrepreneurs.”

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