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Monday, May 29, 2023

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Pictured above, a child kicking in a swimming pool (file photo). Pictured above, a child kicking in a swimming pool (file photo).

Fowler Senior Dives into Successful Startup

Lavin Entrepreneur Liam Howlett’s summer job inspired him to establish a business that teaches people to swim.
By Fowler College of Business News Team

Liam Howlett knew from the time he was in high school that he wanted to start his own business. Then, while working as a privately contracted swimming instructor after graduation in 2016, he saw an unfulfilled need for swimming lessons among those who don’t live near municipal pools.

He took the plunge into entrepreneurship and founded Safety 1st Aquatics, a company that connects people with swim instructors for lessons at nearby private pools, in 2017.

Howlett realized that if he wanted to grow the organization, he would need to acquire advanced business skills to make that a reality. A student at a community college in Los Angeles County at the time, he began researching four-year colleges and universities and entrepreneurship programs throughout Southern California. He was drawn to San Diego State University’s Fowler College of Business by the prospect of participating in the college’s Lavin Entrepreneurship Center, which offers workshops, mentor programs and other expertise to students interested in launching a business.

“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.

The Glendora native is now a senior at SDSU and a participant in the Lavin Entrepreneurs program, which he credits for helping him grow his business.

Simple Concept

Howlett designed Safety 1st Aquatics to be simple: The company sends swimming instructors to offer lessons to clients who generally live in remote areas and have access to a private pool. 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 an extra fee, Safety 1st Aquatics offers customers in Southern California a list of fully insured private pools where they can rent time and space when they book their lessons.

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 more than 450 private contractors who serve as instructors. According to Howlett, the company registered $1.5 million in swimming lessons and pool rental agreements between March 15 and August 31, 2021.

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.”

Lavin Mentor

As Safety 1st Aquatics continues to grow, Howlett feels that he owes his success to hard work and help from the mentors at the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center.

“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.”

In August, Howlett won the top prize in a “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.

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. He’s looking at divisions focused on other areas of education, such as tutoring, music lessons and sports training using the same business model.

“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,” Howlett added. “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.”