By Jeff Louderback
More than five decades have passed, yet Peter J. Burns III vividly remembers the story. The warm childhood memories still evokes a smile, and the experience played a pivotal role in shaping a young boy’s future path while paving opportunities for many others to achieve their dreams.
The oldest of four children, Burns was raised by well-established parents – first in the exclusive Chicago suburb of Barrington Hills, and then in affluent New Canaan, Ct. The family summered on Nantucket Island and wintered at Sanibel Island (Fla.), and when they were home, Burns’ father spent ample time playing golf at a country club. It was there that Peter made his first dollar at the Biltmore Country Club.
“I retrieved golf balls that golfers hit into water hazards and sold them back with a glass of lemonade,” said Burns, who was 6 at the time. “It didn’t take long for my venture to be shut down, but I made $50 that day, compared to my $2 a week allowance.”
“I never forgot that lesson, and it inspires me to this day,” Burns added. “By thinking of an idea, and implementing it, I provided a service that was in demand and was generously rewarded with what I earned. That implanted the concept in my mind that ‘what one can conceive, one can achieve.’”
Life is a series of evolving chapters. For the now 62-year-old Burns, those chapters have featured one constant theme – a thirst for launching and growing business ventures. The serial start-up entrepreneur has started, operated, sold and/or expanded 150-plus companies in an array of industries.
He started the first moped rental business in America as well as the nation’s first college for entrepreneurship as well as a travel company that spawned a partnership with the nation of Vietnam, yielding him a share on revenue of every travel dollar spent and every VISA issued to tourists. These are only a sampling of the aforementioned 150-plus enterprises.
His affection for spearheading new enterprises remains, and it is complemented by a passion for offering funding and guidance to aspiring entrepreneurs in fields as diverse as his own roster of ventures.
Burns first embarked on an endeavor to help aspiring and existing business owners gain access to capital when he created the Entrepreneur’s Credit Card in 2016. Success from that idea sparked one of his newest endeavors - the development of Burns Funding (www.burnsfunding.com), an innovative financial services firm that offers primary credit lines, bridge loans and shelf corporations. Through the company’s credit repair partners, people in need can take the steps to improve their finances and qualify.
“Doing Well by Doing Good”
Response to Burns Funding has further escalated Burns’ commitment to “doing well by doing good” through his own ventures that deliver a positive impact on society and by helping others accomplish their goal of financial freedom as a business owner. As far as Burns knows, he is the only entrepreneur who provides funding for entrepreneurs.
“I’m not fond of traditional banks. They weren’t supportive when I was a fledgling entrepreneur,” Burns said. “Every other funding company of which I’m aware is staffed by people with a financial background without experience in starting and operating a business.
“I’ve lived and breathed the life of an entrepreneur for four decades,” Burns added. “I understand how to raise capital for start-ups and growing businesses, and I’m genuinely passionate about providing guidance so they succeed.”
The Entrepreneurial Chapters Begin
Burns’ personal story of forging a career as a lifelong entrepreneur inspires the fledgling business owners with whom he works.
After serving in the U.S. Army, Burns received an appointment to the United State Military Academy at West Point, attended West Point Prep and gained a four-year Army ROTC scholarship to the University of Virginia. It was there where his first official business was hatched. Burns was freshman at the renowned McIntire School of Commerce, and he enrolled in an “Entrepreneurship” course typically reserved for seniors.
“We are assigned to write a business plan for a real business, and my plan focused on importing mopeds to the U.S. from Europe and renting them to tourists at U.S. resorts,” Burns explained. “When the class was over, I implemented the plan on Nantucket Island and made $55,000 in 10 weeks. That was a substantial sum for a college kid, and my entrepreneurial fire was fueled.”
Unlike his brothers, who he calls “titans” in the entertainment and finance industries, Burns says he has never worked in a “job” where his earnings and freedom are defined and limited. Following his time at the University of Virginia, and the vibrant moped rental business, he started more ventures and graduated from the Harvard Business School’s Owners and Presidents Management Program. At 29, he was the youngest student admitted since Harvard created the program in 1972, a claim he still holds today.
Time after time, Burns has demonstrated a keen eye for creating innovative businesses and partnerships. Some of these ventures have flourished, some have struggled and others have seen modest success. After the moped rental business, Burns started dozens of companies over the next two decades. There was the nation’s first "Dolphin Tour" business using jet boats on guided tours through wild dolphin habitats and the first franchised rental chain of bicycles, mopeds, Harley-Davidsons, exotic cars, water sports equipment among other endeavors.
A New Millennium Brings a New Home and Mission
When the new millennium arrived, Burns relocated to the Phoenix area, brimming with anticipation about his next chapter. A self-made millionaire from his multitude of prosperous enterprises, he accepted a pro bono role as an adjunct faculty member at Arizona State University’s Barrett Honors College. The school – and many universities, for that matter, Burns believed – needed a program exclusively focused on entrepreneurship. Across town, Grand Canyon University’s entrepreneurial-spirited founder Brent Richardson was enticed by Burns’ idea, and the duo spearheaded the country’s first College of Entrepreneurship.
“Arizona State was not interested in a program specifically for entrepreneurs. Brent and Grand Canyon were,” Burns said. “There are multiple layers to becoming a successful entrepreneur, just as there are for becoming a physician, a nurse, an accountant and a professor. I think that entrepreneurship programs and degrees should be commonly found at universities because small businesses, and small business owners, are the backbone of our country and our economy.”
Named Businessperson of the Year by the Arizona chapter of the Future Business Leaders of America, Burns founded the Institute for Entrepreneurship with the intention to license entrepreneurship programs at other colleges, and he started Club Entrepreneur, which was designed to bring entrepreneurs together in an “open source entrepreneurship” platform. The Phoenix chapter grew to 10,000 members. Club E was difficult to monetize, though. Burns opted to embark on his next journey.
“Any serial entrepreneur will tell you that not every business is a home run,” Burns said. “Ultimately, the ventures that have not thrived as expected have taught me as much as the companies that have flourished. I recognized that among my best strengths is connecting the dots and connecting people for profit.”
New Chapters Lead to Ethiopia, La Jolla and Vietnam
Burns opened his book to another new chapter. Prompted by his brother, Burns served as a volunteer for a non-governmental organization in Ethiopia, providing assistance to residents in the impoverished third-world nation. He served for six months in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa as the NGO's de facto Entrepreneur-In-Residence.
“As a lifelong entrepreneur, I was amazed at the significant business opportunities that abounded in this newly capitalistic country,” Burns said. “I vowed to return to Ethiopia and start much needed businesses there in numerous fields.”
When he returned to the United States, Burns immersed himself in identifying opportunities to bolster the vitality of Ethiopia. That gave birth to Ethiopian Capital Partners, the world's first capital fund serving the country of Ethiopia. Ethiopian Capital Partners strives to bring quality medical technology, cancer treatment clinics and dialysis centers as part of its social commitment to improve the quality of medical care in Ethiopia while establishing new medical technology careers and services.
Yearning for a change of scenery, Burns drifted from California to Las Vegas, and then to New Hampshire and the Hamptons. The odyssey generated an idea for a business that monetizes empty time in multi-million dollar vacation villas.
“I was approached by a successful airline travel provider headquartered in San Diego, and he lived in La Jolla. He wanted to partner with me on the idea, and I decided to stay in La Jolla long term after we launched Avia Travel Services,” Burns said.
Avia Travel Services gave Burns access to more than one million hotels and other services in the travel and hospitality industry. In a separate project, he collaborated with HI-TEK Inc., a longtime Vietnamese-American owned technology partner with the nation of Vietnam.
This led to the partnership with the nation of Vietnam, which is how Burns receives a share on revenue of every travel dollar spent and every VISA issued to tourists (www.travel.vn and www.vietnamvisa.com) for 10 years. Stimulated by a deep interest in travel, tourism and real estate, Burns followed that by starting companies centered around luxury villas, luxury charter air travel and even a charter air travel business for people and their pets.
“I remain inspired to create by observing problems or non-apparent relationships between seemingly unrelated components that, when joined, create profit,” Burns said. “All my life, I’ve had an uncanny ability to recognize patterns and opportunities that of which no one else is aware. It’s my nature to act rather than just talk about it.”
Burn$ Funding is a prime example of his initiative. Burns is not the first person to think of the idea to use a bridge loan to reduce credit card debt and gain a higher credit score. Yet the premise is generally attributed to shady companies charging exorbitant rates with the intention of making money off hard-working consumers. Motivated by the dozens of daily requests for financial help from existing aspiring business owners, Burns developed a platform where consumers struggling with credit card debt and small business owners eager for capital can unlock more money at better rates.
Identify a Problem, Implement a Solution
Entrepreneurs Credit Card and Entrepreneur Credit Repair led to the idea for Burn$ Funding, and all three ventures illustrate Burns’ commitment to creating profitable ventures that have a lasting positive affect on people.
“Fortunately, I have a particularly good skill set of recognizing opportunities early in the process and being able to fund almost any enterprise with creative financing techniques I’ve learned over my career,” Burns said. “This (Burn$ Funding) is the first company to offer a vertical integration approach of repairing credit and providing fresh new debt capital at rates and terms that benefit everyone involved.”
The mind of a serial entrepreneur is always percolating with an interest in creating new enterprises. Moved by a commitment to help owners of luxury villas reap tax mitigation benefits while benefitting charitable organizations, he crafted a cost segregation program (www.hlcostseg.com). His facilitation of BurnS Funding has resulted in forays that include a company that helps “vetrepreneurs” transition from the military and into business ownership, and a business that funds and develops the careers of talented independent musicians and artists.
He is currently exploring a project that will seem outlandish to some, but to Burns, it represents the chance to offer a solution to a problem, help people and earn a profit. Shark attacks in beach towns that rely heavily on tourism represents millions of dollars in lost revenue. Multiple reports in recent months have shown that Orca whales are a predator to sharks, and sharks leave any area occupied by the Orcas, which are not a threat to humans. Why not form a venture where captive Orcas can be saved and humanely relocated to areas prone to shark attacks?
“I spent a lot of time on Nantucket Island and Martha’s Vineyard as a child, and shark incidents there is what inspired the book and the movie, ‘Jaws.’” Burns said. “It would be a beneficial venture to purchase Orcas that are in captivity and have them moved to your beachfront community since they do not harm humans, and end the shark problem. What a perfect example of finding a problem, implementing a solution and making a difference for humankind.”