A Winning Business Plan: Three Apprentice Electricians Create a Startup

From left, Flint-Saginaw apprentices Jay Ewell, Crystal Poore and Kyle Chappelle won Electri International’s Create a Winning Business Plan Competition with a plan for their hypothetical company, Mid-Michigan Electrical. All have ambitions of starting a real EC firm. Electri executive director Joey Shorter, Ph.D., presents the award. Photo Credit: NECA
From left, Flint-Saginaw apprentices Jay Ewell, Crystal Poore and Kyle Chappelle won Electri International’s Create a Winning Business Plan Competition with a plan for their hypothetical company, Mid-Michigan Electrical. All have ambitions of starting a real EC firm. Electri executive director Joey Shorter, Ph.D., presents the award. Photo Credit: NECA

A business plan is hopefully the first draft of a success story. Purportedly, somewhere in the recipe for success there is a secret ingredient or two.

In the business plan for Mid-Michigan Electrical, LLC, the first “special sauce” was refreshingly original. Mid-Michigan would pay a commission to other electrical contractors to hand over their unwanted sales leads, bona fide information on upcoming projects that those other contractors knew about but had no interest in pursuing.

That’s just one unique tactic Mid-Michigan Electrical would prospectively employ to expedite building its own customer.

Another remarkable fact about the Mid-Michigan Electrical business plan, it was conceived by a trio of fourth-year electrical apprentices currently enrolled in the Flint/Saginaw Electrical JATC program. Ironically, they are part of an industry in which the vast majority of firms have never produced or followed a formal written business plan. Yet these three young electricians displayed great insight and imagination in devising one to compete in a national contest.

Entering the 2019 Create a Winning Business Plan Competition sponsored by ELECTRI International, Kyle Chappelle, Jay Ewell and Crystal Poore met and exceeded all of the stipulations in the contest rules and then some. As an example of their extra effort, they even projected future milestones for Mid-Michigan Electrical on its fifth, 10th and 20th anniversaries.

This hard-working trio not only put their best thinking down on paper, but they also pitched their plan multiple times in presentations to live audiences, a few times caught on YouTube.

Unlike so many of those celebrated college drop-outs who famously left universities to found dotcom start-ups, Jay Ewell, Crystal Poore and Kyle Chappelle are not departing to go into business. They intend to complete their five-year apprenticeship. All agree collaborating on the business plan was a great complement to their regular course work.

Rick Mason, training director at Flint/Saginaw Electrical JATC, is proud of their performance and accomplishment. He brought them together for an interview with us. Having completed their work envisioning a hypothetical company, they taught us about their real-life plans for the years ahead in their careers as electricians.

Poore has set her sights on residential and small commercial work. Ewell also envisions starting with residential work but hopes to segue into the industrial sector. Chappelle wants to focus on commercial work.

The three agreed the experience of formulating a business plan awakened them to the wide range of realities of the contracting business.

The most eye-opening aspects of the exercise for them were the financial realities. For the first time, they were able to calculate the capital requirements of funding just a fledgling operation and to contemplate the impact of not getting paid—that is, not on time and/or not at all!

Of course, the part of our discussion that we enjoyed most concerned that second special sauce in the recipe for success spelled out in the Mid-Michigan Electrical business plan. Poore, Ewell and Chappelle proposed to offer “temp services” through which their hypothetical company would provide electrical workers to customers on an as-needed basis to supplement in-house forces in facilities upkeep. We applaud the creative thinking in their plan to make this form of service and maintenance an integral part of their total operation.

One of the most striking takeaways from our conversation in our visit with these future entrepreneurs came next. Although Poore, Ewell and Chappelle are now committed more than ever to someday owning their own EC company, the majority of their fellow apprentices are not. Poore, Ewell and Chappelle believe most of the others have reconfirmed their belief that they have no interest in going into business.

Clearly, the 2019 National Apprentice Start-Up Challenge was a thought-provoking exercise for the participants that deepened everyone’s understanding of the pros and cons of owning a contracting business. In many ways, it reconfirmed that there is no abiding secrecy to the fundamental ingredients of success.

About the Author

Andrew McCoy

Service and Maintenance Contributor

Andrew McCoy is the Preston and Catharine White Fellow and Department Head of the Department of Building Construction in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction at Virginia Tech. Contact him at apmccoy@vt.edu.

About the Author

Fred Sargent

Service and Maintenance Contributor

Fred Sargent is an electrical industry consultant focusing on service expertise. He can be reached at fred@sargent.com.

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