Paintball plan wins business competition
She was up against executive MBAs, lawyers and engineers pitching services from biomedical waste disposal to feeding the poor. Undergraduate Casey Henry had to sell a panel of entrepreneurs on her passion.
“It sounded pretty lame compared to everything else,” the 21-year-old University of South Florida senior said. “But they liked the plan. It was all buttoned down, I guess. I covered a lot of financial bases, I had a lot of research and market analysis, and I guess that’s what won them over.”
Indeed, Henry won USF’s Center for Entrepreneurship Fintech Business Plan Competition last month — and the $15,000 in startup funding that comes with the victory. It was the fifth competition open to student-owned businesses.
The money tops off the $80,000 in savings she and a partner have set aside to start South Tampa Paintball, soon to be a set of three fields at 5005 Performance Park Blvd., along 50th Street south of Causeway Boulevard.
She didn’t have to worry about her concept being “pretty lame.”
“The genius is in simplicity,” said Scott Riley, one of the judges and the chief executive at the contest’s namesake, Fintech. “The hula hoop. Is that pretty simple? Yeah. Paintball is an activity. It’s got the sexiness, it’s a fun thing. This has just got a good feel to it.”
Henry has been a paintball enthusiast since she first tried the sport in a church youth group. A competitive player noted her skills and her petite frame and enlisted her as the front woman for his team. And she’s been playing ever since.
“You can go pretty crazy with it,” she says.
The sport is thought to have launched in the 1970s, when a paint company developed a gas-operated gun and marking pellets for a variety of industries, including forestry and ranching, according to Empire Paintball, a leading manufacturer of apparel and equipment.
When some friends decided to use the equipment to play shoot-‘em-up, a sport was born.
In 2012, there were 3.5 million paintball players spending some $163 million on the sport, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.
With the booming popularity of the 1980s came rules and dedicated equipment, with companies providing the guns, gelatin shell capsules with water soluble dye, compressed air tanks that propel the paintballs, hoppers that carry them, masks, vests, and other equipment.
Tampa’s professional paintball team, The Tampa Bay Damage, holds the second place spot in the Paintball Sports Promotions Pro Series, with its next tourney coming up in June in Chicago.
There are a handful of paintball fields in the Tampa area but they are largely dedicated to recreational users. Henry’s operation will focus on competitive play.
Two of the fields on her newly acquired property will be reserved for competitive play, and a third will be for casual players.
“Recreational players will say, ‘Oh, let’s go to the movies, let’s go to dinner,’ and once in a blue moon they’ll come out for paintball,” Casey said. “The tournament players are playing every weekend. It’s a lifestyle. They’ve invested $10,000 to $15,000 in their gear. This is what they do.”
That focus could help South Tampa Paintball avoid the doldrums that have settled over the industry since the start of the great recession.
According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, participation is down more than 8 percent in the past five years, and spending has been halved from 2007 levels.
Competitive paintball “doesn’t ebb and flow with the economy like recreational paintball does,” Henry said.
She is keeping her day job as an office manager for a Tampa law firm and taking night and online classes to finish her degree in finance at USF. Weekends will still be for paintball, but as an owner, not just a player.
“I had never written a business plan, I had never done any competition in the business school,” she said. “I read a lot of articles, just figured out how to write a business plan from online research.”
None of that mattered to Fintech’s Riley and the other judges.
“We always look at the premise that there are three legs to the stool,” Riley said. “Management is so key. Then you have to have your business plan. And you have to have a product that has growth and potential to it.
“From soup to nuts, she had every base covered.”
Henry expects to open South Tampa Paintball in July.