05.09.05 Notes: OVA showcases the entrepreneurial natural behind Roy Hobbs Baseball league

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Tue, 05/10/2005 - 02:04.

At their monthly member luncheon, on 05.09.05, the ever insightful Ohio Venture Association pitched something far a field of the usual build-it-and-they-will-come NEO entrepreneurial dreams by showcasing the biggest baseball champion of our lifetime, around here - the owner of Roy Hobbs Baseball, Tom Giffen. While some may think the sports industry is the exclusive domain of billionaire businessmen, Tom showed OVA attendees how being in the right place, at the right mid-life crisis, made one entrepreneurial journalist a self fulfilled and satisfied natural in the baseball industry, offering the audience many inspiring lessons for all ages.

But first, OVA President Ben Calkins kicked-off the meeting discussing the vision of their organization to continuously improve their impact and value to the community. He explained OVA surveyed membership and area venture capitalists about enhancements to their proceedings and determined the meetings should be on Fridays, when more VCs and traveling professionals and consultants are available. The survey process also resulted in the decision that after this year there will not be meetings in July, when many members are unavailable. Further, they determine there will now be two rather than three 5-minute forums, to insure a timely flow to meetings, and there will be an adjustments to the charter allowing 12 Board Members.

The membership in attendance voted and passed the proposed changes and we went on to the brief introductions by everyone in attendance at the meeting. OVA has a diverse membership and fascinating range of participants in their activities, including start-up entrepreneurs, investors, business service providers and representatives of economic development organizations – for those with related pursuits, this is an excellent community of interests.

Brad Nellis of http://NEO411.biz
then took the floor to introduce some valuable entrepreneurship business at hand, pointing out his parent organization Greater Cleveland Partnership is holding a business plan challenge offering over $100,000 in awards for winning business plan submittals. Brad encouraged any entrepreneurs in the audience to go to http://neochallenge.com to submit plans for consideration, and he asked that any business experts in the audience, including funders and service providers, who would like to be a judge of business plans in the challenge should contact him at 216-592-2321 or bnellis [at] neo411 [dot] biz, as they will appreciate the expert perspectives.

Brad then introduced the 5-minute forums, when OVA offers opportunities for start-up entrepreneurial ventures to showcase their initiatives before a receptive economic and business development audience – the forum presenters represented eHealth Data Solutions and The Golden Golf Company.

eHealth Data Solutions serves the elderly extended care segment of the healthcare market – hospitals, nursing homes and companies owning them. John Sheridan, CEO, presents on their current market success and plans to take their business to next level, as he says they are positioned for considerable growth.

To begin his outreach, John shows a 3-minute multimedia presentation explaining their CareWatch product. We learn the challenge of managing nursing homes – extended care facilities can only manage what they can measure… CareWatch provides rich resident care information – manages reimbursements – demonstrates facility performance effectiveness for insurance cost reduction and to streamline survey requirements. No software on client end – web based – developed by nurses – real time – all interaction within three clicks – focus staff on real solutions – cost effective ROI. Ownership corporations can analyze performance across multiple facilities – “Can you afford not to do Care Watch?� – see http://www.ehds.biz
for more information.

Following the multimedia presentation, John explains eHealth Data Solutions has been going at this since 1997 – he’s compiled a great team – to grow the enterprise they’re exploring joint venture and investor relationships. Their products require no additional effort from caregivers to implement – they currently serve 305+ nursing homes – expect to reach 500 this year – poised for huge growth. In addition to their CareWatch product, RiskWatch is an incident reporting compliance tool – the need for this is increasingly government mandated.

eHealth Data Solutions started as John’s vision, brought to reality with friends and family investments – lost money first few years but have passed break even – have developed key business development partnerships – prospects for growth are strong – new products in wings – looking for synergies for new investors and partnerships with interests in electronic medical records, automated billing, and claims administration – principals only.

Next to tee up is The Golden
Golf Company
, which has prepared video on their product and company and will be available to talk after their presentation. The video explains their products are designed with seniors in mind – focus on golfing lifestyle and branding. They claim a timely vision and firm plan to revolutionize golf industry. The CEO, Bruce Fleischmann, was previously with Coca Cola as director of transportation. He has designed, invented and patented a new golf tee for senior golfers. The video stresses the management experience of the COO/CFO, who has strong background in sourcing. Enterprise mission is to be the industry’s first and preeminent seniors golf products company. Line of products will be branded with their logo and include clothing, food and golf products.

They point to the growing senior population and their high disposable wealth. Golden Golf will pursue direct sales, co-branding and secondary markets. Forecast sales of $38 million within three years, largely through direct sales channels. Need $1.5 million in start-up funds. 440-224-0259

Following the 5-minute forums, we were introduced to the featured speaker, Tom Giffen, owner and “Commissioner� of Roy Hobbs
, who spoke on “Adult baseball in this era".

Roy Hobbs is a character from the novel “The Natural�, by Bernard Malamud, described in the 1952 New York Times book review as “a sustained and elaborate allegory in which the "natural" player who operates with ease and the greatest skill, without having been taught is equated with the natural man who, left alone by, say, politicians and advertising agencies, might achieve his real fulfillment.� The name is quite fitting for the league and owner.

Tom spent 15 years at the Beacon Journal, rising to Sports Editor. At mid-life, he realized he didn’t want to spend his entire life as a journalist. He thought of teaching but then naturally found calling from his youth and the joy of playing baseball back then. As an adult he started playing casual baseball again – at age 39 he realized it was as rewarding as it was as a kid. In the course of playing ball, he met up with the owner of an adult baseball league called Roy Hobbs Baseball, who was planning to sell – 18 months later Tom bought the league, largely by taking on lots of debt. In doing research and due diligence, Tom spoke with vendors and creditors and determined he could renegotiate many contracts and reduce debt and make better deals, putting the venture on a better financial playing field. He also negotiated favorable terms and relations with the city of Ft. Meyers to locate and grow the enterprise there – the city now promotes itself as the capital of adult baseball. Roy Hobbs Baseball operates during the summer and has been able to work with professional baseball organizations with spring training facilities in the area to use their fields “off season� for this adult league – the pros offer a very broad base of support, and the Hobbs get to play in professional facilities.

For many years, Tom ran the league while still working full time for the Beacon Journal. Tom markets to adults. When growing up, plenty of adults loved baseball but couldn’t get into professional sports career - as they get older they start loosing strength but still play well. To level the field of dreams for these players, Roy Hobbs baseball has age bracket divisions starting in late 20s and going all the way to a 65 and older division – and there are women’s division… all hardball… over 180 teams in all. No matter where in the country or what walks of life players come from, they all grew up loving the game of baseball, and still love it.

Tom showed video that shows the high quality of play and fun on the field. He explains he doesn’t think kids really grasp the value in their life of plating the game when they are younger – you really appreciate it once you’ve grow up and life centers around work. We need a break from life, and Roy Hobbs baseball offers that for their players..

He has arrangement in Florida to lease professional ball parks so players on are on the league fields – charge teams a fee per team to play for a week – teams form traveling parties of 70-75 that come from around the country and rent houses together and eat as team – while there they play at least six games – the organization helps the teams with all the arrangements so it is a unique vacation opportunity.

Tom said he “was clueless� when he started this venture and he didn’t realize what he had until right after 9/11 – over 100 teams had already paid and the season was about to start and he was concerned he would lose teams to the tragic time, but it turned out even though he lost a few teams of policemen and firemen who couldn’t take time from their jobs, he actually added teams overall – it was then he realized “boys are going to be boys� and will protect their ways of life, and vacation time – for many this is their annual vacation and they make arrangements over a year in advance and look forward to that. Tom realizes now that he was in the right place at the right time – he realizes there are people who love baseball and want to keep playing. Most of the people come from the North and value the opportunity to get away.

Many of the players are former pros – the level of competition and reward is great – two former pro pitchers said they still play through Roy Hobbs for the experience of the dug-out and club house because it is a special place of teammates – caring about fellow players – the ongoing experience creates special memories.

Players come from all walks of life – local league in NEO has around 80 teams who play “off season� to stay on game. Tom also is on commission of women’s baseball – he points out that as kids women are encouraged to play softball but they certainly can play hardball.

He is also on the board of Challenger
for kids with handicaps. They find sponsors and volunteers to make it free for the families because they have enough issues to deal with in life. Tom tells the audience, if they are looking for something they can personally do to make a difference in the lives of others, look up your local challenger baseball program and give an hour or two a week. Tom shows a video of this program and it is clear how rewarding that is for all involved. Ohio state championship will be in Canton – everyone is safe, and hits and scores and wins and is made to feel great about life and being a natural.