Passion. Dedication. Confidence. Most entrepreneurs exhibit these three key personal attributes. One critical range of skills, however, separates those who succeed from those who don't.
"Poor management skills is the major factor for small business failures," says Sam Bruno, professor of marketing and director of UHCL's Small Business Institute program. "Yet, a little help from others and a strong commitment to overcoming obstacles can be the key ingredient in building a successful business."
The challenge of beating the odds is what drives Calvin Williams, developer of Kangaroo Soccer Headgear, to wholeheartedly dedicate himself to making the game of soccer safer for children.
Williams took up the gauntlet in the late 1990s after a casual conversation with some parents of soccer-playing children revealed concerns about headaches, blurred vision and ringing in the ears.
"It just stayed on my mind, so I started doing some research and making some calls," says Williams. "I discovered that unlike other contact sports, soccer players are not required to wear protective headgear. Basically, what we're doing throughout this country is cheering whenever a 16-ounce ball traveling 30 miles per hour hits a kid on the head. It doesn't make sense to me."
After years of research that included medical evidence, Williams saw a definite need for protective headgear for young soccer players. He developed prototypes constructed of cushioned foam material, and began his quest to change the U.S. Youth Soccer Association's game rules.
Williams, who recently attained a U.S. patent and foreign license for his helmet design, now chairs a committee for the American Society of Testing and Materials to set standards for soccer headgear.
Although he already had a successful 30-year track record as president of his own shopping center development company, Calvron Inc., Williams still needed some help in bringing some order and structure to his new venture. He turned to UHCL for that assistance.
The university's Small Business Institute (SBI), administered through the School of Business and Public Administration, is one of more than 500 institutes coordinated by universities and colleges throughout the United States. The program offers advanced business students the opportunity to perform in-depth management studies and make recommendations to small-business owners. Essentially, it provides students a practical training ground that supplements academic studies with real-world experience. To small-business owners, the program serves as a resource to enhance their competitive position in today's challenging business environment.
"This service is provided at no cost to the business owner," says Bruno. "Many small-business owners simply cannot afford to pay a consultant to come in and evaluate their business and make recommendations for improvements. Our students are performing a very important service that can have a major impact on individual businesses as well as our local economy."
In spring 2001, UHCL graduate students Saul Galarza and Khalid Al-gazzawi helped Williams by developing a marketing plan and researching business records management software.
"The UHCL program was very beneficial," says Williams. "Saul and Khalid offered fresh ideas from an objective perspective. They pointed out both strengths and weaknesses, so it wasn't all one-sided."
Galarza and Al-gazzawi enjoyed the experience and, as business students, felt the project offered invaluable lessons and experience. Furthermore, both students share Williams entrepreneurial spirit. Al-gazzawi, currently pursuing his master of business administration, already has his own business, a coffee shop in the Clear Lake area. He started it during the same semester he worked with Williams.
"It was a crazy time for him, but both he and Saul still came through on the project," notes Williams.
Galarza, studying for a master's degree in management information systems, plans to one day fulfill his lifelong dream of opening his own business.
"This particular class allowed me, for the first time ever, to actually apply my knowledge to a real-world case. I was able to put theory into practice," says Galarza.
That hands-on experience will be critical one day for Galarza and others who share his dream. According to studies conducted by the U.S. Small Business Administration, more than 50 percent of new businesses close within five years. Those small businesses that survive, however, represent more than 99 percent of all employers and provide about 75 percent of net new jobs across the country.
"To succeed, your heart has to be in it," says Williams, who continues to refine the design of his soccer headgear. "For me, the most rewarding aspect is the challenge. And, this is a challenge that doesn't go away. The game of soccer is gaining popularity. There's a need there, and I want to make sure it's met. Also, persistence pays off. You have to believe that if it doesn't happen this year or next year, it will eventually happen. In five to 10 years, kids will be wearing headgear - mine or someone else's."
Entrepreneurs should also have the visionary skills to dream on a large scale.
"This," says Williams of his small one-room office, "is world headquarters for Kangaroo Soccer Headgear."
Since UHCL began its Small Business Institute program in 1975, students have assisted more than 500 businesses gain a competitive advantage.
Clients from the small-business community in the Houston-Galveston area include Bluebonnet Landscaping Services, The Dance Academy, ProDefense, Clifton Automobile Restoration Service, Events International, Study Smart Inc., Awards of Distinction, and Coastal Alloys Inc.
For more information, call 281-283-3122.
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