From the May 1999 issue of Startups

Next time you visit Southern California, don't be surprised if a fit-looking college student pulling a rickshaw cheerfully asks, "Want a ride?"

"People do look at us funny sometimes, but they still go for the ride," says Peter McCormack, the 30-year-old owner of rickshaw enterprise Green Limousine Inc. in San Diego. Singer Sarah McLachlan has been among the customers willing to give it a go.

Green Limousine deploys a fleet of two dozen rickshaws and 100 drivers at such Southern California destinations as zoos, parks and museums. Most rickshaws are powered by college students looking for extra cash and exercise.

The biggest challenge drivers face isn't sore muscles but the guilt of would-be passengers. The idea of sitting in a cart pulled by another human being makes some of his customers uncomfortable. "People think it's really hard to pull a rickshaw, but the secret is in the balance," McCormack explains. "[If you do it right,] all the weight is on the wheels and the cart just rolls along."

McCormack should know: He pulled rickshaws as a college student in Canada and, in 1992, started his own company in Winnipeg with $3,500 in start-up capital. In 1996, he headed south, choosing San Diego for its dry, sunny climate and steady influx of tourists.

A seemingly risky pricing strategy has paid off for Green Limousine, which earned $140,000 in revenues in 1998. The pullers lease individual rickshaws from McCormack. Tourists aren't charged; instead, they simply ask passengers to tip in an amount that reflects what they feel the ride is worth. (Tips average $5 per person.)

Eventually, McCormack plans to expand to tourist areas nationwide. "We want to build relationships with theme parks like Disney," he says. Mickey Mouse on a rickshaw? Could happen sooner than you think.

Gray Matter

Think of Cerebellum Corp.'s educational videotapes as the fun, hip professors you never had--or, as one bookstore manager puts it, "a mix between Saturday Night Live and Sesame Street." From statistics to astronomy, from buying a car to cooking, Cerebellum explains all of life's mysteries to you through creative and amusing skits. Just clear a couple of hours in your schedule, slip in the tape and you're on your way. (The best part? No pop quizzes at the end.)

The sociology tape, for instance, features a parody of the X-Files. In the chemistry tape, a talking green molecule acts as professor. "Some people don't like our style," admits co-founder Chip Paucek, 28--but enough do to bring 1998 sales to $5 million.

Paucek and co-founder James Rena, 30, got the quirky idea in 1993 when, while reminiscing about their college days, they realized they could still remember the subjects taught by the professors who used creative approaches. After talking to college bookstore managers and researching the competition, they decided they were on to something big.

The two scrounged up $80,000 from relatives, friends and "anyone who had money," says Paucek, who had a professor tutor him on finance, then took five days off from work to write the script for "The Wild and Wacky World of Finance," the first video in Cerebellum's Standard Deviants series. Using former classmates as actors, they scored their first 11 orders at a college bookstore convention.

Cerebellum's Standard Deviants videos teach high school and college courses; the No-Brainers series tackles life's challenges, such as how to write a resume and cover letter, how to select wine and how to make a speech. The videos and accompanying workbooks are sold in more than 2,000 college bookstores and national chains, including Borders and Zany Brainy.

Cerebellum plans to release 14 videos and 10 DVDs this year. The new releases are scheduled to include a testing component, which could lead to a new title in the Standard Deviants series: "How to Ace a Test."

Pamela Rohland (prohla@aol.com) is a freelance writer whose work appears frequently in national and regional publications.

Contact Sources

Cerebellum Corp., (800) 238-9669, http://www.cerebellum.com

Green Limousine Inc., (877) 374-2574, greenlimo@aol.com