Skydiving into a new venture

One year after a famously botched landing, a commercial skydiver tackles a new startup.

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aerial_adventures.03.jpg
Aerial Adventures Demos
Headquarters: Hopewell, Va.
Revenues: $100,000
Event jumps per year: 30

(Fortune Small Business) -- Matthew Fitch learned it the hard way: Sometimes you've got to look -- twice! -- before you leap.

Fitch, 38, is the owner of Aerial Adventures Demos in Hopewell, Va., one of a handful of national parachuting companies that drop skydivers into outdoor events, with clients including San Francisco's Emerald Bowl and the Atlanta Braves. Last summer Fitch got national press after jumping into Duke University's football stadium. The problem? He was supposed to be at the stadium of the team's archrival, the University of North Carolina, about eight miles away.

The experience left him undeterred. "We'll jump into anything," he says.

That includes a new business venture. Last month the former Navy communications officer opened No Limits Skydiving, a parachuting school. After eight years his event-jumping business had hit a plateau of about 30 appearances per year, which generated $100,000 in annual revenues. He hopes that the school, which will charge $225 per tandem jump, will quickly grow to double his business.

For Fitch, investing in the school included a $10,000 down payment on an airplane. He also purchased several $10,000 tandem parachute rigs and spent thousands more building a Web site and printing flyers.

But that doesn't guarantee a smooth ride. "This is a tough business," says Ed Scott, executive director of the United States Parachute Association. "You are totally dependent on the weather, because you can't jump in high winds or low clouds. There's a lot of overhead, including airplane operation, skydiving-gear maintenance and insurance."

Fitch will continue his event jumps, which provide free publicity for his school. And precision is no problem now, says client Ryan Oppelt, assistant executive director of the Emerald Bowl. "When you do a television event, you follow a script," he explains. "The Aerial Adventures guys had perfect timing." Fitch hopes his new business will make an equally flawless landing.  To top of page

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