Fowler Senior Builds Successful Business That Began as a Summer Job.

October 15, 2021

Liam Howlett’s journey into entrepreneurship started as a result of a dare from his father when he was 18-years-old. 

“My dad actually challenged me to change my life and work for myself, so I went out and did just that,” said Howlett, now a senior at San Diego State University’s Fowler College of Business. “Once I did it, I realized that I enjoyed a certain level of uncertainty and the necessary innovation that came with it. I understood that if I were in a job in corporate America, it would be much harder to innovate and to change processes, products, or strategy within a short period of time the way a business founder could.” 

Howlett Headshot

Liam Howlett, Business Management Major specializing in Entrepreneurship

Howlett, a native of Glendora, California, worked as a swim instructor for several companies as a private contractor immediately after he graduated from high school in 2016. This work prompted him to establish his own swim instruction company, Safety 1st Aquatics, in March of 2017.  

Recently, Howlett won the top prize during the “Boost Your Pitch” competition at the REC Innovation Lab at Miramar College in San Diego. The young entrepreneur shared his business plan for Safety 1st Aquatics with a panel of San Diego business experts and was awarded $4,000 along with a one-hour mentorship with a successful local entrepreneur.

Simple Concept Proves to be Wildly Popular
The premise of Safety 1st Aquatics is relatively simple: The company offers mobile swimming lessons in areas where municipal pools or instructors aren’t readily accessible. Customers fill out a profile on the company’s website and, using an algorithm created by Howlett, they are matched with a swimming instructor in their area. For customers in Southern California who also need to rent pool time for the lessons, Safety 1st Aquatics offers a list of private, fully insured pools to choose from when they book their lessons through a network of private homeowners. 

Howlett found an immediate demand for Safety 1st Aquatics’ services and the company has grown to service 11 metropolitan areas in five states with 11 employees, and over 450 contractors. Between March 15th and August 31, 2021, the company registered $1.5 million in swim lessons.

While Safety 1st Aquatics offers lessons to customers of all ages, Howlett has found that most of his customers are parents looking for lessons on behalf of their young children and the demand is growing. “The market share is massive, with 23.6 million U.S. infants and toddlers taking lessons each year,” he said. “We are hoping to eventually book around 885,000 lessons per year.” 

Advice from Lavin Mentor Help Steer the Business Model
As the business grows, Howlett — who is a management major specializing in entrepreneurship — is prepared thanks to his own hard work and help from the mentors at SDSU’s Lavin Entrepreneurship Center, which is located within the Fowler College of Business. “I had gotten stuck in the early business mindset where you build your venture by using ‘duct tape’ to hold your processes together and then you refine them later,” he said. “One of the mentors here convinced me that I needed to create processes now for when my business is 10 times the scale and allow the company to grow into those processes over time.” 

It was the lure of the resources and expertise of the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center that brought Howlett to SDSU in the first place. While he was still a student at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California, he began researching the entrepreneurship programs throughout Southern California colleges and universities. “San Diego State really just had an amazing program, reputation and a massive amount of resources available for students who were building businesses,” said Howlett. 

Leaving the World a Better Place
Howlett plans to continue to use the resources available through the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center as he takes the mentor’s advice to scale his business processes. “We’re planning to open several business divisions focused on other areas of education, such as tutoring, music lessons and sports training since our business model allows us to leverage our current contractor base in order to fulfill those services,” he said. “The real vision is to use adaptive teaching techniques and our network of contractors to provide swimming lessons and tutoring to low-income families at no cost to them. Impact is everything and if I can leave the world a better place than I found it and help people along the way, I’m happy with that.”

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