On a recent Friday, Paul McMann was stuck in Manhattan midtown traffic, battling weekend travelers on their way out of the city.
He was trying to get in.
Mr. McMann is deep into the task of rustling up venture capital for his start-up company. A professor of managerial accounting at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., he has been knocking on the doors of banks, corporations, and Wall Street firms for months, hoping to snare $18 million.
"I've really just been doing all of the things we teach at Babson," Mr. McMann said of his search. "It's a textbook strategy."
His product is the College Professional Basketball League. The league would provide scholarship and pay for college-age basketball players, and be a direct competitor to the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
To show he's serious, the husband and father of two children has put up $300,000 in personal savings and credit cards to promote the new league.
Quickly, Mr. McMann, 40, is finding out how difficult it can be to raise venture capital in uncertain times. He is asking corporations to sponsor eight teams for the league. The price is $400,000 per team. He has yet to land his first sponsor.
To bolster his funding, Mr. McMann is also counting on money from banks, Wall Street, individual investors, and venture capital firms. He's hired Josephberg Grosz & Co. to help with that part of the search.
"Anytime you have a new venture you have skepticism," said Rich Josephberg, head of investment banking at the firm. "But there's a huge amount of money out there. That said, one certainly has a tougher time of raising money these days unless you're a mature venture."
Mr. Josephberg also has yet to score. Since a post-Labor Day push, he's failed to win any commitments for the league. A recent pitch to Chase Manhattan Corp.'s new sports finance group was rebuffed because it doesn't invest in start-ups.
"I'm confident we'll have the deal spoken for by yearend," Mr. Josephberg said. "I knew it was a difficult task. Anytime you talk about a sports venture, people know about the failures."
Bank market analysts suggest venture capital loans will be among the biggest casualties of the tightening capital markets. Since the stock market fell from its high in July, highly leveraged loans and bond issues have all but dried up.
"Anything that smells like venture capital is not going to happen," said Steve Reny, a vice president with BancBoston Robertson Stephens Securities Inc.
Not everyone is chilly to the idea. Mr. Josephberg said he turned down $1 million commitments because he wants to keep ownership to three or four investors who put up about $5 million to $6 million each.
Fleet Financial Group Inc. and Salomon Smith Barney Inc. have been approached, but neither group has given Josephberg an answer. Fleet bankers declined to comment. Salomon officials could not be reached.
Mr. McMann said the idea for the league has been stuck in his head since his own undergraduate days. But it was on a drive home from work in 1996 that his quest took life.
"I was listening to sports radio and there was some guy pitching a league for kids who didn't want to go to school. I got home and told my wife there was some guy who stole my idea."
The "guy" was Bruce Stern and he was pitching the National Rookie League-a venture that also remains in its formative stage.
Nevertheless, Mr. McMann and his wife decided it was time. Mr. McMann rushed to a desk and wrote a strategy for getting the his own league up and running.
In October of that year a board was formed to run the league. The panel included former National Basketball Association star, George Mikan, a member of the NBA Hall of Fame. "We knew we needed credible people on board," Mr. McMann said.
The next summer Mr. McMann commissioned Boston University students to study fan interest in such a league. The study has become the key tool being used by Mr. McMann as he pushes for money.
In April, Mr. McMann hired a handful of administrators to run the league from Lexington, Mass. Aggressive sales promotions began in February 1997.
"It's been evolving," Mr. McCann said. "We are at the point where I've got three salespeople and a sales manager a they're averaging about five appointments a week and ... generating four proposals a week."
Though Mr. McMann remains confident, the stress of the pursuit can sometimes be overwhelming.
On a recent trip to New York he found that he had the wrong addresses for two of his three appointments, causing him to be late.
"I called the office and told them to send all of the salespeople home," he said. "I was really upset about it. But you have to be professional. I guess I overreacted, I don't know."