The road to becoming a successful entrepereneur was marked by hard work and determination for one local television station owner, Gary Cocola, owner of Cocola Broadcasting Companies.

The Craig School of Business at California State University, Fresno, recently recognized his model of success. Cocola was selected as the Entrepreneur in Residence for the year 2000. The Entrepreneur in Residence Program was established in 1998, and is a program of the Craig School, hosted by the Institute for Developing Entrepreneurial Action, and funded by the Coleman Foundation. Each year, a successful entrepreneur is selected and asked to share his experience with students, faculty and the community.

Timothy Stearns, PH.D., the Coleman Chair for Entrepreneurial Studies at Fresno State feels that Cocola is more than deserving of the accolade.

"He embodies the best of the entrepreneurial spirit in the Central Valley," Stearns said.

In his role as Entrepreneur in Residence, Cocola donates his time to share his business success story and to give valuable tips and advice to business students and entrepreneurs. Last November, he visited the Fresno State campus for one week and spoke to students and faculty at the Craig School. He also agve a presentation to the graduates of the Entrepreneurial Resource Center, and tenants of the Central Valley Business Incubator (CVBI).

"I thoroughly enjoyed talking to the students. I want to instill the entrepreneurial philosophy into their minds and to teach them to never give up," Cocola said. "It was a great pleasure for me, and I see it as a way to give back and let others benefit from my success."

Cocola grew up working on his father's farm, adopting hard work ethics and learning the skills involved in basic entrepreneurship. However, rather than pursuing a career in the farming industry, Cocola said he was always fascinated by television and broadcasting.

He gained his first experience with the television business at the age of 17 while working for a local television station. From 1956 until 1958, he worked as a panelist on a local program called KFRE-TV Channel 12, called Open House with Al Radka. His job was to judge new records for a program calles Traffic Pops. He then became a co-host of the television program called TV Record Hop, a local dance-party show.

After getting a taste of local celebrity, Cocola was determined to pursue a career in the television business. However, after his agent made him aware of the limited shelf life of a television star, he decided to put that idea on hold.

Cocola went into the sales business instead and began to sell fresh produce for his father. Although his own produce business was very successful, the work didn't fulfill him. As a result, he decided to return to his original field of interest. This time, he approached it from a different angle and decided to create his own television station.

One of the major obstacles that Cocola faced along the way was the bureaucracy of the government application process. He applied to have a new station in Fresno, but he had to wait seven years before the Federal Communication Commission granted him a license.
The next challenge was to acquire the funding to build the station. He had a hard time convincing a sponsor who was willing to support his million-dollar project. However, his vision inspired him to keep going.

Cocola explains,

"You need stamina, fortitude and a positive attitude to advance. I kept moving until I found a sponsor."

His persistence finally paid off, and he was granted the start-up money from a local bank. After seven years of planning, hif first station, Channel 59, KMSG-TV went on the air. Channel 59 offered broadcasting of 24-hour Christian television programming.

Since then, his business has continued to grow and evolve. Today Cocola Broadcasting runs over 20 stations with nine stations in Fresno, three in Bakersfield, two in Sacramento, one in Santa Maria, Visalia, and Arroyo Grande, and three in Boise, Idaho.

His entertainment and HomeShopping Television Channels attract a loyal television audience. The Home Shopping Television Network offers various items such as house wares, clothing, jewelry, and electronics for sale, 24-hours-a-day. Cocola's personal favorite station is MTV2, the music channel 34.

In July 2000, Cocola entered the Internet business with discounttvspots.com. This Web site offers discounted production of television commercials for small business owners who often do not have the resources to spend on television advertising.

"We sell advertising on eight of our local stations in Fresno for $4.99 per 30 second commercial," Cocola explains. "Results have been fantastic!"

Cocola has many words of advice for young entrepreneurs. He often works 10 to 11 hours a day and it is not uncommon for him to work on weekends. He says that entrepreneurs must be prepared to put in long hours of work. In addition, Cocola recommends entrepreneurs to look for a mentor.

His own experience taught him how valuable a mentor's advice and direction can be. His mentor, Paul Bartlett, a Fresno broadcasting expert, helped him to achieve his goals and make the right decisions. He credits Bartlett with preventing him from giving up 51% of his rights to the station in order to receive the funding he desperately needed.

He also recommends that entrepreneurs seek a support network, like CVBI, to provide resources and counseling.

"I encourage all entrepreneurs to go there. They can receive help in many ways, especially with financing. CVBI helps keep people and their ideas in the valley," he said.

However, his biggest encouragement is to follow one's dream:

"Find something you really love to do. Then work becomes fun."

The Entrepreneur's Journal article Monday, April 9, 2001
reprinted with permission