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Sports Specialist High Jumps into Business
Ms. Ruriko Nomura
March 2004

How did a woman with a 15-year background in athletics end up running a consultancy focusing on education, sports, and English?

How did a sportsperson with Olympic ambitions end up washing dishes for E980/hour?

And how did she then become one of the most recognized femaleentrepreneurs in Tokyo?

When Ruriko Nomura was told by her gym coach at the age of 15 that she was not good enough to go to the Olympics, the dream she had held since age eight was shattered. While many would have thrown in the towel, Nomura-san was not ready to quit just yet.

"I realized that if I could speak good English, I could probably become a good Olympic coach and still attend the Olympics," the Tokyo-born sports enthusiast recalled at the EA-Tokyo seminar on March 2nd.

Turning point
Nomura-san moved to the U.S. at age 15 after telling her parents, "I would like to stay for one year." She stayed for nine. While Stateside, Nomura-san met a couple of exceptional Rumanian coaches and motivated herself to become a top athletic coach. She decided to attend Pennsylvania State University to study coaching and teaching with the aim of getting to the Olympics. After working for two years coaching and training gymnasts under her Romanian instructors, she returned to Japan as a gymnastics coach. Nomura-san was one of four coaches who left the Japanese Gymnastics Association after they could not push their teams to reach Olympic qualification. She was told, "OK, you are not good enough - leave!" It was another big disappointment. But the game wasn't over.

In fact it wasn't even half-time...
So she left. She was 31. While many young Japanese women are considered "old" at 25, and hold the notion that having "made it" means owning a Louis Vuitton wardrobe or a salaryman boyfriend (with an easily accessible credit card), Nomura-san was gunning for gold.

This was a major turning point in her life. "At that time I thought that maybe in the future, I could choose my life by myself." So she decided to become someone who could own her own organization. "At that point I was very selfish," she says with a laugh. But the wind wasn't about to turn in her favor any time soon.

"Despite the fact I had been working at the very top gymnastics club, none of the other gymnastics clubs hired me because I could not make our team win at the Olympic qualifying championships. But I was still confidant that I could get a good job in the athletics industry." When she started applying for jobs, she had another hurdle to jump - she had no business experience. "I had been a good gym coach, but in business, that means little," she recalls. "Also the problem was that I had been teaching gym for the last 15 years and so had never sat in front of a desk or touched a computer." Subsequently, her first job after leaving gym coaching was as a dish washer at Royal Host for E980/hour.

Prize winner had to launch business in 10 months
Rapidly becoming disillusioned with this work, Nomura-san considered her future would be brighter if she had a Masters degree under her belt. She started studying and before long was accepted by Keio University Business School. "All of my life I have never been rich," she says. "I was frustrated, wanted more money and a way to concentrate on my MBA." In the hope of finding a solution, Nomura-san began telling people that she wanted to make a lot of money to pay for her course. Somebody suggested Nikkei Women, a magazine for women entrepreneurs. "They have a Business Plan contest and if you win it, you will earn 100,000,000 yen," she says. After entering two business plan competitions, she won one - the New Business Plan contest - and walked away with a 100,000 yen prize. The other competition, however, was not so straightforward. In order to receive the money, the eventual winner was required to establish a company within 10 months. Discussing her options with her Keio University professor, he suggested that to start a business, one needs three things - human resources, money, and products and/or services.

Realizing she only had one - money, and possibly a service in her ability to teach gymnastics, she asked her professor, "Do you think I am ready?" Drawing a comparison to cooking, he asked her, "When you make a stew, you need vegetables, meat and other ingredients before you start. Similarly, before you start a business, you also need the right ingredients." "I knew then that I was trying to cook something when I had barely anything," she says. "I realized I was missing something, specifically a basic knowledge about education." Knowing she wanted to have her own school, she pinpointed the hole in her knowledge. "I had been studying physical education and business, but not simple education. I knew I had to obtain some more technology about education." After showing her business plan to many experienced business people, receiving their criticisms and assessing their feedback, she won the second competition too.

Next, she needed to find people to work with, people who were interested in the educational business who spoke two, preferably more languages. Nomura-san also realized she wanted an education from a University that everyone - both Japanese and foreigners, would know. With dogged determination, she set her sights on and applied for places at Harvard and Columbia Universities. Even though she is a slow but very careful reader, her strategy for passing the exams was simple - answer a few select questions extremely well rather than trying to attempt them all. Thankfully, she knew exactly what she wanted to do after finishing her university course and it showed. "Two questions were,'What have you done?', and 'What are you going to do in the future?' - ie: your past and your future. I think my answers were different from other students in that I didn't write, "I want to do this", or "I aim to do that." I wrote, "I will do this," and "I will do that.""

She was accepted by both Harvard and Columbia.
Today, Nomura-san, President of Hopes Inc, is an entrepreneur establishing a consultancy in education, sports, and English. She is one of the most recognized female entrepreneurs in Tokyo. In her business, Nomura-san coordinates and teaches courses for advancing a career and preparing for studying abroad. Additionally, she operates a school in sports, having instructed competitive gymnastics for Olympic Committee specified clubs for both Japan and the USA. Her extensive knowledge in business is based on her experience after having worked in foreign affiliated financial industry and under IT related industry's top executives. She has written a book entitled, "English Expressions for Your Successful Presentation". Nomura-san teaches "Business Communications at the Mori Building "ARK Toshi-juku" (ARK City College - a well-known business school). She also teaches 'Business Presentation' and 'Career Design Strategy' at the Waseda University Extension Center and is a lecturer at Nihon Sports Science University (Sports Service Theory).

Key Learnings
Writing a business plan
In the midst of the excitement of building a new business, entrepreneurs should keep their eyes firmly fixed on the following key components of running a business.

"A business plan can be compared to a large ship," Nomura-san says. "Imagine you are the owner of the ship and you are talking to the passengers of the ship."

In your business plan, consider the following:
1. Where are we going? What is the product or service you are selling?

2. What is your market? Do you really have a market? Who are we going with? (ie: in Nomura-san's case, her Clients are going with someone who has an MBA, who has experience in the sporting and athletics industry,etc.)

3. Who are the competitors? Does any other company have the same or similar product or service? How will we get there? How are your products and/or services going to be marketed? What kinds of products and/or services can you prepare or produce? How will they be produced? Are you sure you can produce them?
What will it cost? How much money is required? How will it be financed? Are you sure you can raise the capital?

4. What is the product or service used for?

5. When will we get there? When will each stage of the business be completed? Make plans and set objectives with specific deadlines and targets, ie: how much money you will make in 5, 10 years.

For more information: www.hopes-net.org
Text: Jonathon Walsh
For comments and suggestions: businessgrow@hotmail.com

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