Super students to help firm crack US market

By Joseph Aldridge -
The US tourism market beckons for Tauranga company Reserve Group. Photo / AP
The US tourism market beckons for Tauranga company Reserve Group. Photo / AP

The owners of a Tauranga tourism strategy and technology firm are jumping at the opportunity offered to them by an American university - more than 2000 hours of research by a team of MBA students to help them crack the US market.

Roland Leemans and Henrik Arlund first developed their online booking system evoSuite for the tourism industry more than 10 years ago and have since developed the software platform into a fully integrated, comprehensive business system.

evoSuite is now used by more than 1000 tourism-related customers in Australasia who process revenues of $5 million to $6 million a month on the system.

The software has enjoyed good success in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands but the question of how to expand into the large US market has not yet been answered.

That's where the team of MBA students from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) come in.

Reserve Group (the name of Leemans' and Arlund's company) became aware of the opportunity to be the subject of the MBA thesis through a relationship with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE).

They applied, did a Skype interview, and were chosen last month.

It is a huge opportunity that will likely set the future direction of the company, they say.

"What I really like about this programme is it's going to bring in five industry-experienced MBA's who are going to spend in excess of 2000 hours evaluating our products and doing market research for us, and with us, and that's an amazing opportunity," Arlund said.

To get the same work done by a consultant would cost about $500,000, Leemans said.

He also made the point that the people working on the project were not undergraduate students but graduates with at least nine years of commercial experience.

Arlund and Leemans will fly to Los Angeles this month to introduce themselves and their product to the UCLA staff and students.

They will return to the university in December to be presented with the students' final business plan in front of a panel of professors and venture capitalists.

In between times, three of the students will travel to New Zealand to study evoSuite in Reserve Group's Mount Maunganui office.

The work the MBA students do will be hugely important in defining how the company enters evoSuite into the US market, Leemans said.

"The insight gained through the UCLA MBA programme will provide a huge leap forward for our business. We are proud to have deployed over 1000 evoSuite solutions in Australasia. UCLA's analysis will enable us to now confidently tackle the US markets with our products.''

Furthermore, if the students recommend a plan requiring a large amount of investment, the venture capital firms will be on hand at the final presentation to possibly offer the necessary capital.

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