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Darla Moore School of Business

  • Image of Brian Gerschutz in front of a F-35 jet plane

A winning business flight plan

UofSC entrepreneurial competition victory launches civilian flight instructor company

Professional MBA program candidate Brian Gerschutz (’23 MBA expected graduation) is pairing his Moore School education with his military background to address pilot shortages affecting the aviation industry and military. Gerschutz recently won first place at The Proving Ground competition in the Caliber Discovery Category for his business Elite Support Americas.

Elite Support Americas is a business that provides live flying civilian contract instructor pilots to military aviation organizations. Specifically, these instructors will train potential pilots to fly F-35 fighter jets for air force units in the U.S. and internationally.

“ESA will provide proficient, qualified flight instructors that train F-35 pilots and fly F-35 fighters,” Gerschutz said. “It is crucial to recognize that worldwide pilot training is in growing demand; smaller companies can provide great value to entities that need our niche service.”

As the founder of ESA, Gerschutz saw an opportunity to test his business plan and refine his pitch at the UofSC The Proving Ground competition.

“I saw The Proving Ground as a great way to challenge myself and the business plan by entering a demanding ‘Shark Tank’-style competition,” he said. “Win or lose, I was confident that elements of the business plan would be refined along the way.”

A first-place victory in the Caliber Discovery Category was a huge milestone for ESA, according to Gerschutz. He says the cash prize will help him jumpstart the company in its initial years.

“It was a huge boost of confidence to have experienced professionals recognize the market opportunity and appeal of my business model,” Gerschutz said. “I am very thankful for the cash prize since it will make up a considerable percentage of the first-year capital needed to get the business on its feet.”

The opportunity to display his company idea in front of judges would not have come had it not been for his decision to attend the Moore School’s Professional MBA program, where Gerschutz is specializing in innovation/entrepreneurship.

“I chose the Moore School due to its strong reputation and its ability to effectively leverage satellite campuses like the Bluffton, South Carolina, campus,” he said. “The Professional MBA program offered the right flexibility and entrepreneurship courses for me. This was important since I also have to balance time with my family and a demanding career.”

Gerschutz says the Moore School has taught him to better understand the dynamics of group behavior. He says that this is a skill he uses every day as a flight instructor.

Before arriving at the Moore School, Gerschutz came to the school with soft skills that paired well with the Professional MBA program, thanks to his service with the United States Marine Corps.

“A military background provides applied leadership experience and develops 'soft skills,' which is a great pairing with the Professional MBA program — augmenting the portion of the program that delivers hard skills and business knowledge,” he said.

Gerschutz was a training systems manager for pilot training systems and simulators and later became an F-35 pilot instructor and executive leader for the Marines. He said he knew he needed the business skills an MBA provides to make the transition from a military pilot instructor to owning his own civilian contract flight instructor business.

"The UofSC Professional MBA program provides a well-balanced business syllabus," he said. "I particularly appreciated the techniques I learned to analyze new ventures, develop effective business models and revise and test strategy."

In the future, Gerschutz sees ESA growing into a world leader in training pilots.

“I see ESA firmly established in a productive strategic partnership with a firm that has similar goals in place like we do,” he said. “A partnership will allow ESA to deliver superior service and value to potential U.S. and international clients.” 

-James Culbertson

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.