Andy Long spent most of his four years at Millersville University studying to be a metalsmith.
But after a bad experience while working as a bench jeweler before his senior year, he abandoned that plan and began taking more computer design classes.
Soon after graduating with what he describes as a hodgepodge of skills, Long had a chance encounter at a 2003 Boxing Day party in Lancaster city that launched him down the path of tech entrepreneurship.
Along with Brandon Griggs and Andrew Martin — who would go on to start Thistle Finch Distillery in Lancaster — Long founded SiteStrux, a web publishing platform that was sold in 2016.
Long says a “light bulb went off” when he was talking with Griggs and Martin about their potential business during the day-after-Christmas party Martin hosted at his Lancaster city home.
“I didn’t know if they could pay me money. I just quit my job and showed up at Brandon’s apartment,” he said.
Long would spend just over three years at SiteStrux before beginning a career that would include stints at Listrak during the Lititz company’s early days and four years in Colorado, where he had a job with Listrak and then eBay.
Now he gets to share what he began learning 16 years ago with people who had their own version of a Boxing Day revelation.
Since April 1, Long has been working with all kinds of entrepreneurs as the portfolio manager and entrepreneur-in-residence at the Ben Franklin Technology Partners’ TechCelerator at The Candy Factory in downtown Lancaster.
In the role he describes as a “dream job,” the 39-year-old Long said he draws on his own early experience with SiteStrux in Lancaster as he offers guidance to anyone taking steps to start a business.
“That petri dish of experimenting entrepreneurially was probably the foundation of a lot of what I’m bringing to this environment at Ben Franklin,” he says.
Ben Franklin Technology Partners is an initiative of the state Department of Community & Economic Development that offers business training, coaching and early-stage investments in a variety of technology companies.
“We function like a (venture capital) firm in that we can dole out funds in the form of convertible notes,” he said.
In March 2018, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central & Northern PA, which includes Lancaster, opened an office in The Candy Factory co-working space on North Queen Street as a one-stop shop for emerging tech-industry entrepreneurs.
While part of Long’s role is to help scout for companies that Ben Franklin could invest in, he says the second-floor space at The Candy Factory is meant to be a safe space for anyone with a potentially good business idea.
“Listen, there’s no silly business ideas and there’s no one we won’t take an hour to spend time with,” he said. “We’d like to know about a viable business idea, even if we don’t fund it.”
Long, who talks about the importance of “leaning in” to a business idea at key moments, says he also encourages would-be entrepreneurs to understand the power of networking.
“The success of any one business is about who they can do business with,” he says. “Especially in the early going, it’s relational. It’s who you know.”
Connecting entrepreneurs to local resources such as SCORE Lancaster-Lebanon where they can get practical help and mentoring is also one of his roles as he functions as a chief talent scout for promising and innovative companies.
“There’s very little that we can’t offer an entrepreneur in the way of assistance,” he says. “At the end of the day there’s no substitute for a good idea. We’re here to help people realize a good idea and identify weaknesses in that idea so it can be strengthened.”
While Long preaches the power of technology as “the most scalable way of solving problems,” he seriously considered a career in a decidedly low-tech business — horseradish.
Long’s Horseradish, a staple among stands at Lancaster Central Market, has been grinding fresh horseradish since 1902 through five generations of the family.
When Andy Long was 10 years old, his dad, Michael, took over the family’s business, operating it from a Lancaster Central Market stand until last month when he sold it to another standholder.
“I would have liked to have taken it,” Long said, before adding: “It is a grind, both literally and figuratively, to get scale out of that business.”
The problem, Long says, is the horseradish, which was freshly made by his dad at the market stand, wouldn’t last long in a warehouse before being shipped out.
“Heat, air, temperature, time — horseradish hates them all,” Long says. “It is not shelf stable.”
To grow the business beyond a one-person operation, the horseradish would have had to be made differently. But those changes would have affected its quality, Long said.
“If I took the business over and did that, my dad would disown me,” Long joked.
So instead, he took a different career path.
“Everything I’ve done has touched some form of marketing technology or startup-type environment lending itself to marketing and e-commerce in one form or another,” he says.