MCCC Student Wins Entrepreneur of the Year Award

5/04

Russell Hancock, a 20-year-old Business student, is the winner of the "East Coast Collegiate Entrepreneur Award," a competition hosted annually by Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Hancock was the top pick from college students in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Delaware for his lawn and landscaping company, RnR Services, which he started six years ago as a 15-year-old high school student.

A resident of Plainsboro, Hancock is the only community college student ever to win the award, which includes a $1,000 prize for first place in New Jersey and an additional $1,000 for the regional award. Hancock automatically advances to the North American competition, where the top prize is $10,000. The competition is conducted in conjunction with the North American Collegiate Entrepreneur Awards program coordinated by St. Louis University in Missouri.

Hancock considers the award a great honor, especially considering the stiff competition from four-year schools. Nominated by Herb Spiegel, a faculty member in small business management, Hancock entered the contest after seeing posters in the Business Building. "I thought it would be nice to be recognized after working so hard since my sophomore year of high school. I figured I deserved it. But I didn’t expect to be the winner from four states," he said.

Noted Spiegel, "Russ is a student who sits quietly in the first row and seems to absorb everything the instructor presents. He is very open to constructive advice. During one of our small business management sessions, fellow students had suggestions on how to make his lawn service more productive during the winter months. Russ wrote the ideas down on a piece of paper with great enthusiasm and appreciation."

RnR Services started small. Moving to a new housing development in Plainsboro in 1998, Hancock was about to drop off a job application at McDonald's when his dad suggested that he consider mowing his neighbors lawns. Taking $2500 – his life savings at the time – he bought a used commercial lawn mower and started Russ' Lawn Service. "I had six accounts that first year, all within the development. I would ride around the street every day after school," he recalled.

The next year Hancock was up to 25 lawns and had hired a friend to do the "weed wacking" while he did the mowing. "When I finally got my driver's license I bought a truck and trailer. I advertised with flyers and notices on people's doors. I was up to 65 customers."

Russ Hancock, right, of Plainsboro received the “East Coast Collegiate Entrepreneur Award” on May 3. He is pictured with Mercer nominating faculty member, Herb Spiegel.

Russell Hancock on the job in Plainsboro. He started RnR Services six years ago at the age of 15.

Clients began to request other services, including fertilizing, landscaping and mulching. But Hancock was limited by the hours in a day. "By the time I got home from school, I only had about three hours of sunlight to handle 65 customers a week," he said.

That's when Russ' dad, Russell Sr., joined the operation to oversee the landscaping portion of the business. "He was the boss until I got home," Hancock said. Following his graduation from West Windsor-Plainsboro South, Hancock set his sights on college and was accepted to Arizona State University. Instead he decided to spend two years at MCCC first. "Why not stay and firmly establish the business? If I had left, it would have crumbled."

With eight employees, RnR Services now serves close to 200 clients for lawn mowing and landscaping, both residential and commercial, in West Windsor and Plainsboro townships. On a typical day, Hancock rises at 7 a.m., is on the job until 5 or so and then heads for Mercer, where he spends his evenings in class.

In August Hancock sets out for Arizona State, transferring all 48 of his Mercer credits in general education and business administration. He has a business plan in place to insure that his operation will run smoothly in his absence and plans to be back on the East Coast during some of RnR's busiest months.

Hancock said his Mercer education has been invaluable, teaching him skills he has been able to directly apply to his company, including accounting know-how and the development of a business plan. He particularly enjoyed Mercer's International Business Practice Firm, a simulated business environment where he directed the marketing department. "We designed business cards, a logo and a marketing plan for our simulated business. Everyone was always coming to me asking questions. I took charge. I’m used to that," Hancock said.

Other 2004 winners of the Entrepreneur Award are from Rider University, Syracuse, Columbia and Quinnipiac universities, and the University of Delaware. Sponsors of the competition included the Edison Venture Fund, Wachovia and Bloomberg. This year's competition was judged by George Taber, President of Business News New Jersey, Erik Ipsen, Deputy Managing Editor for Crain’s New York Business, De DelBello, CEO/Publisher of Fairfield County Business Journal (CT) and James B. Streit, Jr., Publisher of the New Castle Business Ledger (DE). Criteria for the award include entrepreneurial spirit, overcoming obstacles, the success of the business, concern for quality and customer service, and the estimated potential for future success.

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