Valdosta State University students Luke Tilt and Quinn Silvernale competed together on the university’s wake boarding team. Tilt was required for his business class to develop a plan for an imaginary new company. So he wrote a plan modeled after the cable parks they had visited in Europe and Florida. Wake boarding, for the uninitiated, is a sport that looks like skateboarding on water. Cables, rather than boats, pull the wake boarder over the water and onto ramps and other obstacles. Their senior year, Tilt and Silvernale developed a solid plan for a wake compound. “Then we graduated, moved to Atlanta and got real jobs,” says Tilt.
It didn’t take long to decide they’d be happier in the business they had developed on paper than working for someone else. So they found investors, returned to south Georgia and opened their first Valdosta Wake Compound, a two-cable park in a 10-acre rented facility, in July 2012. “We raised enough investor cash–$100,000—to get set up,” says Tilt. “From there, we had a master plan for where we wanted to be, on 30 acres with a full cable that would ride multiple wake boarders.”
Within the year, Tilt approached the University of Georgia SBDC at Valdosta State University for help in securing the loan they needed to purchase land and equipment for their expansion. They had been turned down by all the Valdosta banks, even twice by one bank, and needed help getting the loan. “We were gaining attention at our smaller park, but were in a standstill in getting the full cable started,” says Tilt. They began working with the SBDC to develop financial projections and tighten their business plan. “The plan did not reflect their current earnings, so their cash flow needed to be updated,” says Area Director Lynn Bennett, who joined the office as a consultant in 2014. “Also, the banks here were skeptical because they had not seen a business like it. Those were big obstacles.”
Tilt agrees. “Getting financing was our biggest constraint. In our business, there are not a lot of statistics that show how you’ll do, no benchmarks or measures that help prove you’ll pay the loan back. Valdosta is a conservative financing area and we had an unproven, hard-to-explain business. There was not a set path for the banks.” Tilt and the Valdosta SBDC’s former area director found a lender in Midtown Bank in Atlanta. Tilt and his partners secured the loan. “We purchased a big mud hole within a good view from the interstate,” says Tilt. They redeveloped the lake area to create a larger compound with campsites, purchased a full cable system and added a retail pro shop where they sell wake boards, helmets, t-shirts and other merchandise. Since their 2014 move, sales have more than doubled. Valdosta Wake Compound attracts wake boarders from all over the United States, Europe and Canada. It hosts a couple of board sponsorships and is in partnership with the National Guard. “Nike has filmed a big feature here, and Quinn, a pro wake boarder, has done a lot of filming for sponsors at the park. It makes people all over the world want to come here,” says Tilt. Bennett has since assisted Tilt in QuickBooks and with his taxes, when needed. “I go to the SBDC regularly. Lynn will go to battle with you,” says Tilt.
“Luke is very focused, a driven young man,” says Bennett. “He knew he wanted to be his own boss. And he wanted to enjoy what he did every day. It’s apparent when you meet him, and very impressive what he has accomplished.” Tilt also credits Valdosta State for leading him to the SBDC. “In college I felt I was getting taught to work for someone else, while the SBDC was showing me how to develop my own business. That’s pretty awesome.”