What does a former economist with the World Bank need to learn about cash flow, marketing and distribution?
Everything, according to Bethesda resident Tom Hoopengardner.
Before retiring from the World Bank two years ago, Hoopengardner, 57, spent his days poring over data about health care in Romania and pension plans in Poland.
Then, on a lark, he began taking video production classes at Montgomery Community Television. Now he is an independent television producer.
Knowing the minutiae of retirement benefits in Eastern Europe, he learned, doesn't prepare you for the challenges of pitching an idea to television executives, not to mention running your own video production business.
To learn more about how to start a business, Hoopengardner created a television show about entrepreneurs. "I guess I was looking for insights for what makes entrepreneurs successful and what makes their businesses successful," he said.
Hoopengardner's show, "Open for Business," airs three times a week on Montgomery Community Television's Channel 21. It features Montgomery County small-business owners, including many who have a disability -- a personal interest of Hoopengardner's, who also studied disability issues for the bank.
During the half-hour show, Hoopengardner interviews his guests and shows footage of them in their places of business. Hoopengardner's subjects have included a hearing-impaired former IBM executive turned acupuncturist, a woman who built a soap company on her kitchen stove, and an auto mechanic who raises prize-winning steer on a farm in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Montgomery County.
The show is no infomercial. Hoopengardner peppers his guests with questions about how they financed their business, what sort of training they need, their marketing strategy and how they assess consumer satisfaction.
Sometimes the bare-bones format has all the charm of a grade-school Career Day assembly. But Hoopengardner clearly can't get enough of the answers. "I daydreamed of being an entrepreneur but never did it. I always admired people who make something out of nothing and balance their business interests with other personal interests," he said.
Hoopengardner gets to put what he learns into practice. He runs his own production house, Glen Echo Associates, out of his home off River Road. His source of capital is his pocket. He described his cash flow as "horrible." He has done some video producing for the World Bank and created a public service announcement that won an award at the 2003 Rosebud Film and Video Festival.
His marquee project is a television series featuring student-made videos called "America's Best Student Shorts."
The idea came to him two years ago while he was taking video production classes. He saw that his classmates put a lot of energy into creating their mini-masterpieces, and once they received their grade and held a private screening for friends and family, those films went on the shelf or in the garbage.
At the same time, the falling costs of video editing equipment and software have raised the production values of student films, bringing many of them up to broadcast-quality. Hoopengardner saw a product that was inexpensive to obtain with commercial possibilities.
In search of worthy material, Hoopengardner said he watched scores of films that ran the gamut of quality. "Some of the students manage to find semiprofessional actors, but in others you can see the producer basically asked five pals to star in the movie, so everyone is within two or three years of age of each other. It makes it seem like they're playing dress-up," he said.
After two years of collecting student films from across the country and licensing them for three years, Hoopengardner has created a demo tape. "I wanted something to show the naysayers," he said.
The films on the demo tape include a bizarre music video for a song called "Banana Man," a "Psycho"-style horror flick and a gangster movie.
Hoopengardner also includes interviews with the producers as part of the show. "People in my target audience" -- ages 18 to 30 -- "are almost as interested in the producers as they are in production," he said.
Hoopengardner said he has enough material for one season of episodes and with many of his licensing agreements set to expire in a couple of years, he is on the hunt for a distributor.
In February, he plans to try his luck at the annual meeting of the National Association of Television Programming Executives in Las Vegas, where production companies hawk new shows to networks and station owners.
He's a tad nervous.
"I'm such a small fry that I would like to find distribution before I go. If I don't, I expect to be trampled," he said. He looked into getting a booth at the three-day confab, but the $7,000 cost put him off.
Hoopengardner has big ambitions for his student film show, such as a slot on a major cable or broadcast television network. So far, he has had interest only from a company that provides content to college campus television stations. "It's a much smaller audience than I've been dreaming of," he said. "But it may be a good way to start out."