For many people, the ideal overseas vacation consists of living as if they had never left home. Not for Tom LeaMond, co-founder and CEO of Travel Alive. After an extended career in business and finance, Tom began preparing his business plan in late 2004, partnered with Molly Besta-Alscheid in 2005, and turned to Chicago SCORE in 2006 to help turn a dream into reality. SCORE helped him by developing a business plan and working on a marketing strategy.
The Oak Park, Illinois-based travel company offers what it describes as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to volunteer and grow in a foreign land.” Specifically, Travel Alive provides travel packages that offer language immersion and volunteer experience for students and professionals who want to improve their language skills while making a difference in the world.
In 2006, Travel Alive sent five participants to Ocotal, Nicaragua. In 2007 more than 80 clients will travel to Nicaragua and, late in the year, volunteers will begin traveling to Ecuador. Late in 2008, Travel Alive expects to send its first participants to Brazil as part of an overall goal of more than 300 volunteers they have recruited for next year.
A year into the business, SCORE introduced Tom and Molly to Nicki Tader, another entrepreneur with a dream to start a volunteer-based travel company—this time in Brazil. The trio combined operations under the Travel Alive name. “We were excited,” Tom says.”With Brazil as a destination, we were able to offer clients a new country and a new immersion language, Portuguese.”
SCORE Mentors Bill Broderick and Ingrid Van Weenen met several times with Tom and Molly to review business plan progress and help develop a marketing strategy. “We were investing a lot of time and our personal funds to get this off the ground, and Bill and Ingrid offered expertise and encouragement when we needed it most,” Tom says.
The pair also attended a number of SCORE seminars and enjoyed ready access to other SCORE mentors, including Mike Koen, an expert in business development, and Peg Corwin, who helped the pair maximize the company’s Internet presence.