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Consumer Reports


Business student reaps $10,000 for real-world plan

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT) For Tim Roncevich, the project began as an assignment in his entrepreneurial-management class at Chapman University in Orange, Calif.

It ended in a $10,000 first prize for the best business plan in Chapman's Emerging Entrepreneur Contest.

In between, Roncevich, a 22-year-old senior, mapped out the next few years of his life.

Chapman, like a growing number of colleges, strives to infuse its entrepreneurial programs with real-world experience, whether that means writing a plan for a real business or teaming business majors with executive mentors.

"You don't learn entrepreneurship by sitting in class. You learn by writing business plans, working with and talking to entrepreneurs," said P.K. Shukla, director of the Ralph W. Leatherby Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Ethics.

For the past four years, Chapman has sweetened the practical business-plan experience with cash prizes.

"This year's field was the best quality yet," Shukla said.

Initially, the Emerging Entrepreneur Contest was limited to Internet and high-tech business ideas. But eligibility was expanded after the dot-com collapse. This year, dozens of students initially explored the contest's requirements; 18 submitted full plans. Perhaps reflective of a weak economy, the entries tended to be practical, tangible businesses, Shukla said.

Six finalists gave oral presentations of their plans. Roncevich proposed Fairway Views, a golf-practice center in Temecula, Calif. His competition comprised Eric Harris' Harris Music Group, retail stores for expensive guitars; Willie Lie's Tropical Indoseafood LLC, a seafood importer; Antoinette Naddour's Remote Management Technologies, security cameras for multilocation businesses; Bernard Steinmann's Onyx Elevators Inc., home elevators for the elderly; and Jonathan Strietzel's Pika Media, advertising over wireless phones.

Steinmann captured the $3,000 second prize and Strietzel, the $1,000 third prize.

"I noticed a lot of these plans were not contest-driven; they actually believed in their concept," said Robert Schwecherl, whose Santa Ana, Calif., investment-banking firm of Aston Roberts & Associated co-sponsored the contest.

"What was refreshing about Tim's entry was that he knew he wasn't going to make a fortune, but he was going to carve out a niche to make money for his investors," Schwecherl said.

Roncevich said he spent more than a hundred hours shaping his plan for a business that could work in the real world.

"I really wanted to enter the contest last year and submitted a two-page proposal for the first round, but the more I thought about it, I just knew it couldn't work," he said.

This year, when Tom Turk assigned his students of management of entrepreneurial enterprises to form teams to write a business plan, Roncevich made himself a team of one so that he would do all the work on every aspect of the plan.

He brainstormed business concepts that would have a high return on investment for financial backers. Southern California's fast-appreciating real estate market came to mind.

Fairway Views would turn slightly less than $1.2 million in equity and real estate loans into a 400,000-square-foot golf-practice center with 100 hitting stations facing difficult targets and hazards for the golfer who wants to concentrate on skill improvement. Roncevich chose Temecula to build the center in because land prices are lower than in Orange County, yet the population is large enough to provide a customer base.

His projected 21 percent return on investment over five years would hardly turn the head of a venture capitalist, but Roncevich compounds it with 187.5 percent ROI from appreciation in land value, and that alone might lure nonventure investors.

Roncevich continually asked himself if this business would really work. He sought advice from the manager of a golf range in Arkansas, a golf coach, a golf-course developer and a counselor with the Service Corps of Retired Executives. He submitted his five-year financial projections to finance professor John Weigel.

Even with validation that his plan is a winner - at least on a theoretical level - Roncevich said he won't start Fairway Views immediately. He doesn't have the $80,000 of personal equity he estimates he will have to put into the deal.

So he's going to leverage his prize money by starting a lower-cost business of building and renting out gaming tables for fund-raisers. He anticipates that profits from that venture will help launch the golf center within three years.

"I can see myself managing Fairway Views for five years, then I'll hire a manager and start something else once the start-up challenge has diminished," Roncevich said. "I want to start a new company every five to 10 years."

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© 2003, Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services