Cleveland entrepreneur speaks to College of Business

Seth Roy

Mike Burkons speaks to a group of business students last night. Burkons started the Charitee Hole-in-One Monitoring System, which is a surveillance system for golf courses. The system is used at four local golf courses and is being installed at two others

Credit: Jason Hall

“We’re not a success story yet,” said Mike Burkons, 30, of Cleveland. “I still drive a crappy Camry.”

Burkons, president of the Charitee Hole-in-One Monitoring System, spoke yesterday in the College of Business as part of the Michael D. Solomon Lecture Series in Entrepreneurship.

His speech focused on the original idea behind his business and his experiences in starting it up.

The idea started to grow when he would golf with his friends in college. They golfed at a course that featured a weekly hole-in-one contest in which the prize was an SUV.

“It was something that was exciting to us,” he said. “That was the base, the concept of my idea.”

Between graduating from Connecticut College and enrolling at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Burkons installed surveillance equipment for a bar management company.

Using his knowledge of surveillance and of the interest golfers have in contests, he drew up a business plan, which won second prize in the start-up category of the December 2003 Council of Smaller Enterprises competition.

The idea behind the Charitee system is that golfers can participate in a hole-in-one contest anytime they want. By simply playing a round of golf, a golfer has a shot at winning $1,000. By paying a small fee of $1 to $5, the prize can escalate all the way to a Hummer.

“There’s no doubt you added to the excitement of that person’s round,” Burkons said. “With our system, there’s no negative effect.”

With each hole-in-one, a certain amount is paid to the golfer, with the rest going to a charity – which is how the company got its name.

The connection to charity has helped Burkons attract investors and sell the product.

Another draw is credibility. Many investors may be hesitant to invest in Charitee because Burkons is young and has no prior experience.

“The success or failure of my business probably has 60 or 70 percent to do with my product,” he said. “The biggest barrier people had was investing with a 29-year-old. They see tremendous value in having somebody whose done it before.”

Burkons first tried his product on Manakiki Golf Course in Willoughby Hills in the summer of 2004. This year, he added three more courses.

“We’re introducing a new product into an industry that hasn’t had a new product since the golf cart,” he said.

With more investors and a more solid business plan, Burkons has been able to think about what he wants to accomplish as an entrepreneur.

“If you’re an entrepreneur, you don’t like working for people,” he said. “I don’t think it’s as fun and exciting as doing something that’s never been done before.”

He is the second and final speaker of the semester for the Solomon Lecture Series. Julie Messing, instructor and coordinator of entrepreneurship, said she was excited to have Burkons speak as a contrast to Michael Solomon, who spoke earlier in the semester.

“It’s valuable to see someone who’s been there before,” she said of Solomon, but “it’s good to see someone that’s in the thick of it right now.”

Contact College of Business reporter Seth Roy at [email protected].