Beedie undergrad goes to the extreme for action sports enthusiasts

Jul 11, 2012

Jesse Robson, Director of Action Sports Concepts. Photo by SFU Venture Connection

A Beedie School of Business undergraduate student is putting experience into action – by launching the country’s first indoor action sports training venue.

Fourth-year BBA student Jesse Robson undertook the Venture Connection co-op placement in early 2012, using it to develop his business plan for an action sports training facility.

The facility, which would be the only one of its kind in Canada, would provide a safe, controlled learning environment to allow participants of all ages and skill levels to practice the increasingly demanding maneuvers associated with so-called action sports, which include skateboarding, BMX riding and snowboarding.

“With the action sports interest in Vancouver there is a real market for a venture of this sort,” says Robson. “In the past, Vancouver has had indoor skate parks, but there has never been a facility catering to so many sports with the option of a safe environment for training any skill level, from beginners up to elite level.”

The facility will incorporate both street style and bowl ramps for skateboards and bikes, a bicycle pump track, dry slopes for snow sports and various high-tech landing pads and airbags to allow for safe, controlled landings when attempting tricky maneuvers. It will also include Olympic standard gymnastic fly bed trampolines with foam landing pits for safely attempting trampoline jumps.

“We are not trying to compete with any of the world-class winter facilities in and around Vancouver,” says Robson. “Instead, we are providing a year-round environment for these action sports that currently doesn’t exist. The kids that want to hit jumps can try it out and land safely on an airbag. It also provides a destination for kids to enjoy themselves in. At present, at 5pm on a rainy November night there’s not much to do in the city.”

Although similar models currently exist in the USA and Europe, these are located in destination resorts and not in the centre of urban communities, which offer drop-in consumer potential. The facility will cater for all skill levels, with pricing options aimed at attracting young clientele and packages similar to those available at the local mountain resorts.

The facility will make use of top-end technology to provide the highest standard of training for the clientele. Robson is currently researching a tow-in system to control how users hit a jump, ensuring that they maintain the same speed at every attempt. Coaches will also be in complete control of the environment they are training in, providing a high overall level of safety for participants.

With a lifelong passion for extreme sports, Robson is in the right place as Director of Action Sports Concepts, the parent company of the facility. In addition to an interest in mountain biking, he has skied since the age of two and has been coaching in the sport for the last ten years. For the last six years he has coached freeride skiing at elite level at Whistler Blackcomb Resort, BC.

Skateboarding is the fastest growing sport in North America in the last 20 years, with more active participants than in little league baseball, and Robson was aware of the potential market for a facility such as this. Having considered the possibility of such a venue for some time, he first took the idea seriously when he was required to carry out a feasibility study in his Business 342 entrepreneurship class during his third year at SFU.

After the feasibility study demonstrated that his business idea was workable, he decided to present his plan to Venture Connection and was chosen to participate in the Venture co-op.

“Working with Venture Connection has been a very positive experience,” says Robson. “It’s an ambitious project but they have given me more practical experience than all of my previous courses combined. The mentors are very hands-on and have all been there and done that. It’s a very different outlook from the more academic side of business school.”

Robson spent three months working full time on his business plan out of the Venture Connection offices. As part of the Venture co-op, participants are paired with the most suitable mentor for the business, and Robson found the experience his mentor, Dave Thomas, brought to the project invaluable. Thomas’ experience managing a sailing school and in the sports recreation industry proved a perfect match.

“I plan to work with Venture Connection even when the business is operational – there’s a lot to be gained,” says Robson. “I can’t see a definite end point to my relationship with them. They are a huge help in getting things to move forward and the networking opportunities they offer have been a tremendous boost so far, and will hopefully allow me to meet potential investors in the future”

With a potential location already chosen and a partner on board to manage the coaching and programming sides of the venture while Robson focuses on the business aspects, the only obstacle left to overcome is funding. Robson readily admits that this will be the biggest hurdle to tackle but is enthusiastic about the prospects.

“Most of the investors in Vancouver are used to dealing with tech- and resource-based businesses,” says Robson. “We are looking for a very specific type of investor, one who has experience in sports-related activities. I plan to concentrate on seeking investment for the facility for the foreseeable future and I am optimistic that people will see the potential in the business.”

With only two semesters left before he graduates, Robson hopes the facility will be his focus for years to come. “We have already discussed the possibility of future expansion into similar territories such as Calgary and Toronto,” he explains. “The opportunity to run an interesting, profitable, sustainable business with expansion possibilities, the subject of which I am passionate about, is fantastic. I dreamed about a facility like this when I was younger – and I still do.”

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