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Spotlight on student entrepreneurs:
Senior Stefan Hochfilzer serves up tennis lessons as community spirit

Stefan Hochfilzer manages two employees more than ten years his senior from afar while he studies business administration at Berkeley. (Photos by BAP)
– For Berkeley senior Stefan Hochfilzer, entrepreneurship is a family tradition. His father manages international hotels, his mom owns her own travel agency, and his 23-year-old elder brother founded a computer business. So when Hochfilzer turned 15 in his hometown of San Diego, it was natural that instead of working as a lifeguard or a caddy like other super-athletic high school students, he began giving tennis lessons.

A varsity tennis player in high school and winner of several singles tournaments, Hochfilzer started off through word-of-mouth referrals. "I'm a loud and enthusiastic teacher," he says, "and people walking by would hear and come up to me to ask about lessons for their kids." Soon he had cut a deal with the Palacio Del Mar homeowners' association to offer lessons on the gated community's rarely used four courts.

Net profits

With 550 homes, a 9-hole golf course, and two swimming pools in addition to the tennis courts, Hochfilzer saw a terrific business opportunity in Palacio Del Mar. Three years later, he had more than 100 clients, a couple of teens working for him, and the beginnings of what would become the Inspired Learning Institute LLC (ILI), an after-school athletic and academic program serving kids aged 6 to 13 in San Diego gated communities.

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Hochfilzer was holding three to four group lessons per week in addition to the individual ones, and at $15 per person per lesson, the money was rolling in. With help from his high school assistants, he was able to keep the program going through his first two years at San Diego Community College. Working from just 3 to 6 p.m., he was able to bring in more than $40,000 a year.

The money was nice, but Hochfilzer says it was beside the point. "Working with kids is awesome," he says, banging the table with enthusiasm, then wincing - his arm is in a sling from a snowboarding fall. "I can relate to them, and I know how to inspire them. Teaching them golf and tennis is great, because unlike football or basketball, really, they're sports for life. You can keep playing even when you're an adult."

So if they're good skills for all ages, why does he limit his lessons to the under-13s? "That's just when kids go crazy," he shrugs, smiling. "They don't like anything, and it becomes hard to implement the fun factor."

Who's the boss

'I'm trying to make gated communities a happier place. They know their neighbors, but that's it.'

He credits the experience with helping him get into the Haas School of Business undergraduate program, to which he transferred last year. But the move required a decision: should he sell the client list, or try to manage the business from afar while in a much tougher academic environment?

True to his family roots, he decided to stick with it. He incorporated ILI as a limited liability corporation in summer 2001 and immersed himself in the legal nuances of hiring subcontractors to run the business full time while he studied at Berkeley. Now the 21-year-old student has a 39-year-old tennis instructor and a 29-year-old golf instructor working for him, and over Christmas break he was interviewing a swimming teacher and academic tutors to round out ILI's offerings.

"It was tough in the beginning, building up trust so I could feel secure that they wouldn't just walk away with my clients behind my back," says Hochfilzer. "But I found a solution through a no-competition clause in the contract, and I give incentives, like $100 for every 10 new clients they sign."

Getting in the gates

Thanks to his Haas courses, he has learned a few new marketing tricks, although in his business law class, he did have to sit through the same subcontractor issues that he had already schooled himself in. The most valuable experience he's gained away from the business, he says, has come through membership in Delta Sigma Pi. He credits the business fraternity with putting him at ease with public speaking and building his negotiation and leadership skills — as well as helping the junior transfer student make friends who may end up working with him to expand ILI.

He will return to running the business full-time when he graduates from Berkeley this May (if all goes as planned), turning it into a full-fledged after-school program, with not just sports but also tutoring in individual subjects and SAT preparation. "I'm trying to make gated communities a happier place," says Hochfilzer, who did not grow up in one. "I hold barbecues and contests for the students to bring the community together. They know their neighbors, but that's it."

Once he fine-tunes all the Inspired Learning Institute's offerings at Palacio Del Mar, he thinks the program will transplant well into San Diego's myriad other gated communities, or at least ones with "the right facilities and amount of children," he qualifies.

"I do not want to have some 8-to-5 job," Hochfilzer says emphatically. "I want to make a difference." To those who would raise an eyebrow about how much help gated communities really need, he shakes his head and explains, "This is just the first phase. I'm learning how to make this work for richer communities so that once I have the money, I can do this as a nonprofit for places like Oakland that will really benefit from it."

One thing's for sure: Hochfilzer already knows how to serve.

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