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Risky Business

All entrepreneurs face start-up problems. But in an industry where the clients face the hazards, these adventurers had to find insurance or head back to the land of the employed.

Today, business is booming for Fulcrum Learning Systems Inc. in Redondo Beach, California. The company's organizational development seminars capitalize on cutting-edge experiential education trends, and Fulcrum's adventure-based learning programs cater to a steady nationwide clientele of Fortune 1000 companies, community and youth organizations, and sports teams. Building their company from the smallest of beginnings, Fulcrum's co-founders, J. Linwood Paul and Leslie Bourne, were bitten by the entrepreneurial bug a decade ago.

But the heady exhilaration of making their own way in a field they knew like the backs of their hands was tempered by administrative realities. In an industry where clients are regularly put in controlled-risk situations, qualifying for liability insurance would be no easy task--especially for a company with no track record to prove its safety. It's the single element that can make or break an adventure-training company, says Bourne: "Without insurance, there is no business."

Paul and Bourne were no strangers to challenges. By 1989, they had worked as independent contractors for more than five years for one of the nation's leading adventure-based learning companies. While traveling around the world, they'd learned the business from the ground up and successfully coached thousands of participants. The pair often acted as lead instructors or day captains in the absence of the company's owners.

Paul and Bourne's personal cachet was growing, and clients were wondering out loud if and when they'd start their own adventure-based learning business. But the realization that it was time to make their move came slowly. "On our fifth trip to France, when Leslie and I were leading a team, we looked at each other and said, `Hey, we can do this.' How did we know? Because we were [doing it]," remembers Paul, 44.

Bourne, 37, says, "It was what we were preaching to clients. We'd go out and assist groups of people in establishing their dreams and goals and values, and help them realize how big they were. Through that process we both [realized] we needed to take that step, too. It [became] important for us to push ourselves to another level."

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This article was originally published in the May 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Risky Business.

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