While in high school, aviation enthusiast John T. Hill decided he would do anything he could to get his career off the ground―including sweep it.
Hired by ProJet Aviation at Leesburg Executive Airport, Hill first worked as a custodian, then line service technician, then front desk representative. He also earned his private pilot’s license.
With knowledge gleaned from those experiences, and with a major boost from various George Mason University entrepreneurial resources, the junior economics major is developing an app, EasyFBO, that would make the fueling and servicing of planes at hundreds of the country’s general aviation airports much more efficient and less costly.
“Aviation is my thing,” says Hill, who got his start in the industry changing light bulbs in hangars. “And I’ve been on both sides of the desk.”
Hill’s app would be a boon for pilots, passengers and the FBOs―fixed-base operators―that fuel and service the planes. Business insiders, no stranger to flight delays, are intrigued―Hill is one of Entrepreneur magazine’s five finalists for college entrepreneur of the year. George Mason loyalists and others can vote for him at that site through Sept. 18.
If there’s one subject Hill knows as much about as general aviation, it’s how to utilize his Mason resources.
He and electrical engineering major Ryan Cerny, a friend since kindergarten, operate a 3-D printing business, Mason 3D LLC, through the Mason Enterprise Center’s location in Leesburg. David J. Miller, who runs the Mason Innovation Lab based in the School of Business, has steered printing jobs their way.
The Laboratory for IT Entrepreneurship, based in the Volgenau School of Engineering, assisted Hill in determining how best to develop his app and find partners while protecting his intellectual property. And it was in an entrepreneurship class taught by Robert Gaudian where Hill first discovered he could pursue these projects now, as an undergraduate.
“I’ve always been business-minded, but I had never imagined attacking this kind of thing in college,” says Hill, an Ashburn, Va., resident. “There’s a really good, tight-knit entrepreneurship community here that will help you and get you through that process. The networking at George Mason is unbelievable. Everybody knows somebody.”
Vittoria Aiello, one of LITE’s advisors, helped Hill refine his app idea, better define his mission statement, identify the target market and polish his contest application.
“The goal of LITE is to help students like John unleash their entrepreneurial spirit and to guide them throughout the process of turning their ideas into successful ventures,” says LITE co-director Massimiliano Albanese, an assistant professor in the Applied Information Technology Department.
There currently is no seamless way for an FBO’s client, customer service representatives and line service technicians to easily and quickly communicate. Orders can stack up and cause delays, and with jets requiring thousands of gallons of fuel at about $6 a gallon, mistakes can hurt the bottom line.
“It does happen, and it does cost companies money,” Hill says. “And it costs the pilot time. The app system completely manages the whole process from start to finish.”
Here’s how Hill’s EasyFBO app would work: Pilots will be able to request their fuel or maintenance in advance, so the front desk can prioritize and prepare the service orders. The line service technicians will be able to see the orders on the app. The front desk and pilot, by using the app, will know immediately when jobs are completed. The data collected through the integrated system can be used for billing and marketing purposes.
Hill will pitch his idea at the National Business Aviation Association Convention and Exhibition in Orlando, Fla., in October. He gives back to the local aviation community by sitting on the board of directors for the Aviation Education and Career Expo, which will take place Oct. 24 at the Leesburg facility. Almost $50,000 in college and flight training scholarships will be awarded through that event.
Winning the Entrepreneur magazine contest would net $5,000 that Hill could pour into EasyFBO. The winner will be determined by online voting and by five judges who have 100 points each to dole out to the five contestants.
“It’s really important for me to get support from the Mason community and the aviation community,” Hill says. “I’m going to have to make up points if any of the judges don’t understand the specific need for this idea. The challenge is explaining it and getting the message out there.”