Raphael Balas '18
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Raphael Balas '18

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Raphael Balas '18 came a long way to learn from the experts in business and entrepreneurship at the Barney School of Business. Originally from Lyon, France, Balas knew he wanted to attend a university where he could major in Entrepreneurial Studies, and that is not easy to find. But when he learned about the University of Hartford’s prestigious entrepreneurship program, he knew it was what he had been looking for. And because he also wanted to pursue a minor music, the University’s esteemed Hartt School helped seal the deal.

One of the final classes Balas needed to take for his degree was one focused on business planning. Teaching the class was Milena Erwin, who also helps Connecticut entrepreneurs develop business plans through her work as the Program Manager of the Women’s Business Center at the University of Hartford’s Entrepreneurial Center (EC-WBC). The course culminated in a business plan competition in which Balas and his classmates developed and presented full plans for their business concepts. Because he already had a business idea in mind, something he knows a lot about and is eager to pursue, he jumped into the process quickly. “My basic plan was ready in two or three days,” he said with a smile. “I was motivated!”

Balas’s idea is a low-cost private jet chartering service. It is something he understands well, because Balas is a licensed pilot. His concept for reducing the costs involves using trainees and flight instructors, who need to accumulate expensive hours in the air, to fly his charters. Additionally, he proposes that planes be stored in rural airfields rather than major airports to avoid the substantial airport taxes.

He recognizes that, at first glance, some people might be wary of flying with trainees in the cockpit. “It’s understandable,” he said. “But what many people don’t know is that commercial airlines also use trainees in their cockpits. They have one fully qualified pilot, but they can use one trainee. It’s absolutely safe.” Balas emphasizes that these trainees have already received many hours of preparation, training, and practical experience in advance. They simply need to log enough hours in the air to complete their licensing.

Like the commercial airlines, his crew would have one chief pilot who is a flight instructor along with one qualified trainee. “It’s like a training program in the cockpit,” he said.

When it came time to present his plan at the competition, Balas said that he was impressed with the quality of the ideas and business plans pitched by his fellow classmates. “I didn't really expect to win,” he said. But, as luck would have it, a licensed pilot happened to be sitting on the jury that judged the business plans—and he was enthusiastic about Balas's idea. With his background, he was able to judge the feasibility of the concept and the practicality of the business, and that worked to Balas’s advantage. Balas was the second French student in a row to win the undergraduate business plan competition.

Balas started a marketing internship at Dassault Aviation, maker of the prestigious Falcon jet, in early 2019. Balas already completed an undergraduate internship in finance at Dassault’s New York location. While his internships are giving him insight into a how a luxury aviation brand works, he knows that will not be his market. “I honestly learned as much practical information from my experience in flying school, in terms of what pilots need and how to make the process more affordable. That’s who I will be looking to serve.”

Once he completes his education, he plans to focus on just one route in order to work any remaining flaws from the plan. The most-traveled route in the world is from Paris to Geneva, so that is the route he will serve. Then, once he has demonstrated the value and profitability of the business, he will add more routes.

Balas realizes, though, that he has a lot yet to learn. This business concept might not be his end game, after all. But the combination of his years of personal experience, his love for flying, and his schooling do give him an advantage. His business plan has been judged as exceptional by a panel of experts, and he is receiving additional training with prestigious aviation internships. It’s a business that is poised to get off the ground, and if he chooses to pursue it, the sky is the limit!