Entering the spring 2020 semester, Ben Skinner ’23 and his classmates in his Entrepreneurial Thinking course never could have predicted the chaos that was about to unfold. The changes wrought by COVID-19 hurled H-SC students—and all of us—into a realm full of unknowns. But the enterprising students, working with the College’s Flemming Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, successfully launched their own ventures amidst the reeling economy.
Among the many principles that the students learn as they build their ventures is to “make lemonade out of lemons.” Expert entrepreneurs employ this concept to keep moving forward when unexpected circumstances derail their plans. And the COVID-19 pandemic is a rather impressively-sized lemon.
Ben had used the first few weeks of class to lay out his plans for building a full-service recreational boat dealership on the Chesapeake Bay near his home. When coronavirus arrived in mid-March, and quarantine restrictions and business closures loomed, Ben realized that winning investors was a long shot. Ben says, “At first I thought I wanted to sell boats, but I quickly realized that that wasn’t something I could do with the resources available to me.”
Instead of holding on to his dealership dreams, he pivoted to a new business model to take advantage of the unexpected opportunity that being at home near the water offered. “I scaled my idea down to something I could start right away—detailing boats. This service was not extremely expensive to start but is a necessity for boat owners. Most pay a lot of money to have their boats detailed, so I knew that if I could get the price lower than other companies, I could earn their business. Detailing a boat can be expensive, but based on my prior experience, I knew there was an opportunity for me to disrupt the current business models out there,” he explains.
Ben founded Yorktown Boat Care LLC to serve boat owners prepping for the coming boating season. An avid boater himself, Ben knew the headaches that often pop up when prepping a boat that has sat idle over the winter months. After serving a few clients, Ben hired some schoolmates who were also homebound, and created teams that could clean boats around Hampton Roads. Within weeks, the newly launched company had already served several dozen clients, and Ben is looking forward to a strong first summer season in business.
On the start-up process, Ben reflects, “One of the most important things about entrepreneurship is getting out and actually implementing your ideas. I knew that I couldn’t go out and sell boats because I couldn’t afford the overhead costs. However, I could afford to purchase the materials needed to detail boats.” And he is innovating his business model on the fly. “This summer, I plan to use the skills that I learned in my entrepreneurship class at Hampden-Sydney to help me further develop my business opportunities,” Ben explains. “Knowing that a large-scale boat cleaning is usually purchased only once or twice a season, I plan to offer weekly boat cleaning services to develop recurring revenue opportunities that offset the nature of running a seasonal business.”
Like a seasoned entrepreneur, Ben is mixing clever proactive and reactive action to turn challenging situations into valuable opportunities.