Discovering My Entreprenurial Passion
By Juwon Owolabi
From early on in my life – at age four, actually – I made up my mind to be an engineer. After all, my father, who had studied engineering and taught in Chicago public schools, believed I should be. And who was I to disagree?
But soon after I entered Lehigh University, one of the top engineering schools in the country, I realized both of us were mistaken. I should take a different direction. I should be an entrepreneur instead.
My aptitude for entrepreneurship was actually right there in plain sight all along.
I was eight years old when I started my first business, Juwon’s Lawns. My landscaping enterprise mainly involved mowing lawns, raking leaves, and shoveling snow.
I averaged two customers a month, generating just enough income – about $20 a week – to pay my dad back for the mower oil and spoil myself with daily corn dogs. I loved everything about my little boyhood enterprise: earning some cash, developing a sense of responsibility, and keeping the lawns of the neighbors in my hometown looking good.
But, after earning a D in a class for the first time, I saw a need to focus on performing better in school and closed shop. So that was that for my entrepreneurial ambitions.
Ten years later I was accepted to Lehigh University, and my lifelong plan for a career as an engineer kicked into high gear. Now all my hard-earned academic excellence was going to pay off. I entered Lehigh as a mechanical engineering major, but that would soon change.
All through my first year, I barely understood the concepts being taught in classes, much less enjoyed the lessons.
But then I signed up for an extra elective, a course in Entrepreneurship 101. And it changed my life.
In the first lecture, Professor Joshua Ehrig taught us about the concept called The Golden Circle of Why. I learned to define my “why” – why I do what I do and what my purpose is – before moving on to the “what” and the “how.” And always, in making decisions, to come back to my “why.”
In my first weeks in the class, I saw where I had gone wrong. I was trying to channel all my interests and skills into a predetermined career as an engineer. Instead, I should stay on course toward my true destiny.
I was an entrepreneur at heart. I saw not only what I already was but also what I could be.
In the process, I joined the Lehigh@Nasdaq Center – initially through its Startup Academy in San Francisco as a data analyst intern at a cybersecurity startup – and discovered that when it came to pursuing a career in engineering, my father and I were only half-right. Yes, I now saw, I indeed had an engineering mindset. But that accounted for only a sliver of my entire identity.
I had other dimensions to my personality, too. I also thought like a businessman, an artist, an analyst, a teacher, and a developer.
In short, I was a full-service problem-solver.
So if I wanted to fulfill my ambitions, I would have to operate more broadly. And that’s exactly what I decided to do. I co-founded my second business venture, LJ’s Midnight Munchies. It’s a fast-casual restaurant in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania that caters to late-night clientele four nights a week. The delivery-only place offers comfort food from best-sellers macaroni-and-cheese and fried chicken wings to Belgian waffles and funnel cake. It’s doing well: to date, it’s served about 20,000 meals.
Every day now I wake up loving what I do, and it’s because once again I’m a full-fledged entrepreneur. My business creates value. It feeds people. It makes an impact.
Now I’ve set a new lifelong goal. I want to help educate kids about entrepreneurship and give others what my parents gave me. My father taught me that what kids need more than anything else in order to learn is the right environment and the right support system.
So I plan to create an elementary school in Lagos, Nigeria, my father’s hometown. The school will show kids now living in poverty, to develop the mindset and the skills required to be entrepreneurs.
Young people should be able to do more than just climb a tree. They should also be encouraged to plant one.
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Juwon Owolabi, a Business Information Systems student at Lehigh University, is an alum of Lehigh@NasdaqCenter's Startup Academy program as well as the owner of LJ's Midnight Munchies.