Founder and President, Aero Tech Designs
"Riding my bicycle makes me happy," says Cathy Schnaubelt Rogers. The avid cyclist still recalls falling in love with the sport—at age 12 on her Spyder two-wheeler. What she really loved, though, was the feeling of freedom that biking offered, as she cruised along a forest trail or sped down an open road.
What also makes Rogers happy is creating comfortable, durable clothes for fellow bikers. She is founder and president of Aero Tech Designs, Inc., a family-run business that manufactures and markets cycling apparel to suit everyone from professional racers to novices, of all shapes and sizes. The Pittsburgh company has customers worldwide and manufactures a growing line of products with a local staff of designers, seamstresses, Web developers, marketers, accountants, and customer-service agents.
Rogers first got the idea for a company like Aero Tech while in college. She was a member of her university’s cycling team, but those were the days before companies made biking apparel for women. So, she made her own from swimsuit fabric, thinking that others could benefit from her designs. Through the years, her love of biking kept her idea for a cyclist clothing company kindled. In 2005, with support from her husband and three grown children, her dream became a reality when she launched Aero Tech Designs in a small shop in downtown Coraopolis, Pa.
Enter the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence (IEE), an arm of the University of Pittsburgh’s Innovation Institute. When the time came to expand her manufacturing space, Rogers fell instantly in love with a building on Pittsburgh’s North Side along the Ohio River. But to purchase the warehouse, she needed financial support.
Working with Raymond Vargo, director of Pitt’s Small Business Development Center housed within the IEE, Rogers honed her business plan, developed financial projections, and identified funding sources. She benefited from educational programs on taxes, e-commerce, and customer service optimization. Finally, with the IEE’s help, Rogers secured a $3.6 million loan, and Aero Tech Designs moved into the former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette factory in June 2015.
Since its inception 20 years ago, the IEE has secured $330 million for small businesses like Aero Tech Designs, making it Western Pennsylvania’s No. 1 resource for entrepreneurs who are starting, growing, or expanding a business. As the largest self-funded economic development organization based in any U.S. university, Pitt’s IEE offers consulting, education, mentoring, and networking opportunities to its members and clients, helping thousands of small business owners in the region.
“The significance of our partnership is so clearly shown in the success of our business,” Rogers says about her collaboration with IEE. “Our company's mindset is better. We’re thinking more in terms of best practices,” which is exactly what Vargo says the IEE exists to do: help people not only to realize their dreams of owning a business, but also to give them the tools to succeed and prosper.
On her bicycle, Rogers has traversed the United States from Florida to Maine and Seattle to D.C., and cycled in eight European countries, often joined by her husband, Paul Rogers, a cycling enthusiast, too. But Pittsburgh, she says, is an ideal place to grow her business. Support from Pitt’s IEE, as well as from Mayor Bill Peduto and an enthusiastic local biking community, have enabled her homespun cycling apparel business to thrive.