WorkWise: External, internal forces shape small-business surprises

culp@workwise.netJuly 22, 2013 

(Ola Ayeni, Eateria) Ola Ayeni (right), who owns Naperville, Ill.’s Eateria, engages a customer about winning four competitions in a single year for his loyalty marketing software.

Entrepreneurs, compared with people in other occupations, often appear to experience life as a whole in their work. They’re engaged, attentive and open to surprises that lift them up. Sometimes the natural environment causes them; other times, entrepreneurial drive.


David Pressler discovered that Hurricane Wilma, despite her destruction, not only couldn’t touch the family of one of his customers but increased his business. He’s president of DRD Enterprises Inc. in Plantation, Fla. Making what at first appears to be an enormous claim, he says, his “company builds indestructible monolithic concrete structures.” Ask a few questions and you’ll discover that they’re modeled on the monolithic domes built by the Germans along the Normandy Coast, standing since World War II.

“It’s one piece of concrete with no seams or connectors,” explains Pressler, a retired firefighter, “framed with rebar (reinforcing) steel and sprayed with four to six inches of concrete.” Because the transportable SafeDomes are above-ground, they allow inhabitants to communicate with the outside world, should the dome become covered with debris.

Who would want one of these energy-efficient structures? The family in Florida who had one installed just weeks before Wilma survived the hurricane. But the astonishment on Pressler’s side came when he “knew from the media that the eye of Wilma went through Palm Beach and found out where ...,” and that he subsequently sold four more units in that neighborhood.


One recurring piece of joy for entrepreneurs comes from throwing themselves into their work and then being surprised at results. Ola Ayeni, owner of Eateria in Naperville, Ill., which sells a digital loyalty marketing tool for the hospitality industry, realized one day that he’d won four competitions in as many industries promoting his software in just one year. He initially planned to get capital without sacrificing equity or going into debt. His ultimate goal would be to seek outside funding.

Ayeni set out to teach himself to identify competitions best suited to Eateria and then apply to them, a process he says ate up weeks of his time. For the first one, sponsored by a leader in the food and beverage industry, “I followed instructions to the letter,” he mentions, “including how you space the pages.” He practiced repeatedly so he could make a substantive, winning pitch in a video conference and ultimately won $50,000. This money he invested in developing the platform for his software.

Another competition involving a technology leader offered $60,000 of software to use for free for two years, no strings attached. A third, a financial services leader targeting software-for-service companies, awarded him $50,000 in credit card fees, with no time limit. The most recent, from a major-city economic development program attempting to attract new businesses, sifted 712 applications to 20 winners of $50,000 each, Eateria among them. That made four business plan competitions in one year, a development that astonishes Ayeni.

How does he explain it? He immediately points out that he didn’t win every competition he entered, just those that seemed best aligned with his criteria, financial and otherwise. He also didn’t succeed in isolation. He researched, joined groups and kept in touch with people he met so that he stayed informed. With no hint of egotism or arrogance, he adds, “When your time has come, nothing can stop you. Things happen for you. When that time is available for you, doors just open for you. Treat people kindly. Empower them. Having a life where you impact people is a life worth living.”

Dr. Mildred L. Culp welcomes your questions at ® 2013 Passage Media.

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