As an entrepreneur herself, Leigh Solomon Pugliano understands on a personal level the amount of commitment and sacrifices that individuals put into starting their business–especially women.
“I started my business pregnant with my third daughter,” Pugliano said. “I also saw that it was the best thing for my family, too, as scary as that sounds. And I was scared every day.”
Eight years ago, Pugliano founded Straightforward Consulting Co. that specializes in strategizing business operations and improving productivity. Four years ago, Pugliano started Barrels to Beethoven, which she founded to teach and preserve the history of the steel pan, an instrument she has been playing for much of her life. Pugliano’s father is a steel pan builder and tuner, and when he emigrated with his family from Guyana to the United States in 1984 he started the Solomon Steelpan Company, the first of its kind the nation.
“I realized there was a need to preserve the history and culture of the people that have built the instrument, because that story was being lost,” Pugliano said. “Barrels to Beethoven wants to preserve the instrument any way we can: education, performance, technique, training, all of those elements.”
As the Director of Opportunity at New Sun Rising, Pugliano’s experiences give her an apt entrepreneurial perspective on how to build a business from nothing. But there is another attribute that she possesses, putting her in a different league when it comes to mentorship and business development.
“She has this empathetic quality to understand what we are going through,” said Staycee Pearl, co-executive director of PearlArts Studios. “She has a lot of different experiences and her range of knowledge about nonprofits and business is vast, and her [frame of reference] is what is most helpful to us.”
One of the personality traits that Pearl appreciates the most about Pugliano is her ability to walk into a room with the cognizance that she has and not treat others as if she is superior. Pearl described Pugliano as “respectful,” “encouraging,” and “always thinking of ways she can support us.”
Pearl was a participant in the first iteration of the NSR GROW Residency, a program for established business owners that was created and led by Pugliano. The bulk of the program consisted of weekly individualized consulting sessions with Pugliano accompanied by three group meetings over the course of six months. There were a total of six business owners who participated in the program, including Kelauni Cook, founder of Black Tech Nation.
Cook said when she first met Pugliano through the Grow program there was an immediate connection, and since then her respect for Pugliano has only grown.
“Speaking first from a woman’s perspective, I admire Leigh’s ability to command attention without having to say much. As a woman, you feel like you have to take space when you’re in a room full of men and be aggressive,” Cook said. “[Leigh] is so graceful and she doesn’t do that, she just comes in and observes and has a powerful presence.”
“From a Black woman’s perspective, just having her as a mentor, having someone not much older than me that also understands the nuance of being Black and female and how that works together in the business and startup sector in Pittsburgh—she is someone I can look up to that looks like me.”
Pugliano said her number one passion is supporting entrepreneurs, and one of the beneficial traits to her work with New Sun Rising is that she not only brings diversity, “but build[s] diversity because I am welcoming and inclusive.”
Pugliano also oversees the growth New Sun Rising’s Vibrant Communities Framework, which was created to help communities develop a strategic roadmap and get to action around the priorities they want to set for themselves.
“It could be around entrepreneurship, it could be around education, but this framework will help guide them on that path and then we can help them with strategy or help with implementing the things that they need to do,” Pugliano said.
For those who might feel not ready to take the jump into starting or progressing their business, Pugliano said that New Sun Rising is a good place to start, even if individuals just have an idea.
“People are at different places and stages with their business and within themselves,” Pugliano said. “We understand that and can help guide people through that process.”