By “my own” we understand of course, that the idea, design, implementation and follow-on management would have been mine. The start-up money, however, was to be from an investor.
Having mastered Polish higher education management by 2008, the idea to set up a new, independent, specialised business school was growing in my head. It emerged as an intellectual “what if” or “how could it be done” project, with in-depth analyses of HE law, Ministerial regulations, etc. Then the financial analysis started, ending with a detailed Excel budget covering all aspects and a period of 5 years. Once I had that, the organisational setup followed, working out all details of HE operations for a non-public school.
By 2009, I had the first meets with potential investors, both Polish and international individuals with either actual involvement in HE (elsewhere) or enough spare money to fund the start-up without putting excessive pressure on fast RoIs. Unfortunately by then the global crisis began poisoning the investment climate, putting pressure on investors to first defend their existing funds, while questioning the sense of freezing-up sizeable funds.
Our main iceberg came in the form of real estate – for international investors, the prices of renting square footage were a shock, as were the requirements of owners. Even with the crisis increasing pressures to lease all space in shortest time and at reasonable rates, when hearing of the intended use, landlords became greedy and asked for outrageous sums. The other option, of buying a facility was out of the question, as the time prior to first recruitment (from purchase, through submission of documents for permits to opening doors) was just too long and thus massively increased initial costs pre-first-PLN hitting our coffers.
The plan called for:
– a small, optimised, lean school with a business focus;
– gaining degree rights in business areas;
– creating narrow specialisations allowing for tie-ins into advanced industries;
– educating in English;
– gaining collaborative partners to enhance competitive standing of academic offer for Polish and international recruitment;
– extending into tourism, with useful specialisations;
– locating strategically, to gain goodwill and support for local government and administration;
– jumping deep into research and consultancy, to speedily gain credibility;
– use teaching and research successes to become a credible receiver of EU funding;
– prevent over-employment of unnecessary staff by allowing newcomers to pay for themselves by bringing in new funds (grants, etc);
In my plan/budget, we broke even by the end of the second academic year, assuming tight financial discipline and maintaining aggressive growth. Year 4 showed such a nice profit that new opportunities could be explored: new degrees, more science, establishing a campus elsewhere.
By 2012, the demographic low has hit Poland, while the economic crisis is sweeping the world, reducing potential numbers of students. At the same time, so many private Polish schools are in dire straits due to low intakes, that it would be simpler to BUY an existing school, and take over its degree rights, permits, budget (even if wobbly) and staff.