LVEDC Interview: How Stu Schooley Has Made Such a Splash in Business
By LVEDC Staff on July 22, 2014
EDITOR’S NOTE: Stuart “Stu” Schooley is a founding member of the Lehigh Valley Angel Investors group, and the owner and president of Dutch Springs, an aqua park as well as one of the largest freshwater facilities for scuba diving in the United States. A spring-fed lake located north of the City of Bethlehem, Dutch Springs offers sunken wooden platforms that are used for diver certification testing, and numerous attractions such as a fire truck, school bus, trolley and several aircraft are submerged at different depths throughout the lake. Throughout his career, Schooley held various roles in finance and accounting, including that of founder of his own accounting firm, Comprehensive Business Services. In this exclusive LVEDC interview, you’ll learn why Stu is high on Lehigh Valley and supportive of the region’s start-up community.
LVEDC: What possessed you to create a scuba-diving facility in Lehigh Valley – and how did it become so popular outside Lehigh Valley once you opened for business in 1980?
Stu Schooley: I’m a CPA by profession. I got involved in this because a couple of my clients who ran a local dive shop were investing in it and I was looking for a way to work in a recreational field. Eventually my partners abandoned the project and my wife Jane and I became sole owners. Previously, the nearest site for dive certification was outside Harrisburg. When we started in 1980 there wasn’t enough business to consider it my fulltime job. Finally, in 1991 – 11 years later – I was able to quit my job as an accountant and keep Dutch Springs open seven days a week. Once we got through the initial surge of divers, we realized we had to continually add and expand. In 2006, we added the aqua park. We still host 30,000 to 35,000 divers a year but the aqua park provides a reason for divers to bring their families, too – it draws 20,000 to 25,000 visitors a year. The reality is once a person gets certified, they make most of their future scuba dives in international waters. The non-diver market is what keeps us afloat. But even then, we are at the mercy of the weather and the school calendar.
LVEDC: Your business card states: “Empowering and Motivating People.” Just how do you accomplish that and why have you made that your mission?
Schooley: That’s all about our Northstar Team Development courses we offer here at Dutch Springs. Team building is a growing trend in business and there’s not much like our course around and since many companies face friction between departments this has become our sweet spot for empowering and motivating people to work better together – and maybe see each other in a different light after negotiating our challenges that force them to work together to solve problems that they’ll never face in the workplace. We’ve been growing in this area since my wife has taken the reins. Jane is an internationally certified business coach and a master behavioral analyst in the DISC Experiential program. We’re seeing companies brings teams back for follow-up visits. They know that if you don’t practice the skills, you lose them.
LVEDC: Tell us about your work with Lehigh Valley Angel Investors network – who qualifies for your financial help and how many success stories can you share?
Schooley: I’m current serving as the president of the Lehigh Valley Angel Investors. I got involved because people helped me when I needed help. I wanted to give back to the community. When I needed money for park improvements over the years, the banks weren’t always willing to provide assistance. I was able to make some improvements only because of the kindness of private investors. This is my third year now as a member of the Angel Investors network. The website describes why we exist: “The Lehigh Valley Angel Investors group was founded in 2010 by a group of entrepreneurs in the Lehigh Valley… The purpose of the group is to pool investment funds from accredited and experienced investors to provide seed or growth capital to startup companies. Investments will often be located in and around the Lehigh Valley, but is not limited to this area.” Some successes include Cerora Inc., a start-up healthcare IT company focused on developing and commercializing affordable and accessible neuro diagnostic information; Carmell Therapeutics, which is developing biologically-active medical devices, with growth and regenerative factors designed by nature in the right proportions to heal tissues; Carmell Therapeutics, which is developing biologically-active medical devices, with growth and regenerative factors designed by nature in the right proportions to heal tissues; and Orion Fleet Intelligence, which provides GPS fleet management solutions.
LVEDC: I saw recently you were seeking new members for the network. Does this mean businesses is booming for startups and business in general here in Lehigh Valley?
Schooley: We are currently trying to enlist more members so we can do our job even better. It could make a difference since one project that might now get $50,000 would be able to land a $250,000 investment. We are also working with the LVEDC finance team to provide yet another source of funding for Lehigh Valley entrepreneurs and businesses. The more money that is available for worthy projects, the better off this region becomes. The Angel Investor network doesn’t expect to see a return on a project for five to seven years. Therefore, we need a deep pool of funds for new prospects. Interested parties must show financial accreditation. Anyone who is interested in making a difference can contact me at [email protected].
LVEDC: What makes Lehigh Valley so special that you to continue to live and work here?
Schooley: I’ve traveled the country and came to conclusion that this is a really nice place to be. I grew up in Wilson Borough, attended Penn State University, and then looked around before deciding there really is no other place I’d rather live. My wife Jane is from Wilkes-Barre; she was fine with settling here with me. As far as business is concerned, I’ve found that Lehigh Valley does not seem to suffer economic downturns as frequently as other areas. Another plus: more than 30 million people – potential customers – live within a two-hour drive of here.
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