Five Entrepreneurs Look Back On The Life-Changing Moments That Inspired Their Businesses

Five Entrepreneurs Look Back On The Life-Changing Moments That Inspired Their Businesses

Leadership | Posted by - March 14, 2017 at 12:30 am

Sometimes life moments can become so confronting that we're compelled to change ourselves or other's lives for the better. 

For five new entrepreneurs, the moments they witnessed while working in hospitals, factories, and on ships compelled them to leave jobs they loved; they wanted to help people live healthier, happier, and safer lives. You could call them humanitarian entrepreneurs. YouInc shares their stories of courage, passion, and hope:

Sidra Qasim had dreams to leave her village in Pakistan and explore a career in the city. But, as a young woman her parents expected her to stay home and care for a household. While studying in Lahore, Qasim partnered with a family friend and her future husband to launch a social media company that eventually became Markhor, now a Y Combinator graduate. 

My life was supposed to be my husband's life. As a woman I was not expected to have dreams of my own or plans of a career. But I wanted to further my education in the big city of Lahore. When I got accepted into a graphic design program, my parents refused to let me go. When I landed three job interviews in Lahore, they said if I wanted a job, I could be a teacher in Okara, like my mom. 

My life was supposed to be my husband's life. But I wanted to further my education in the big city Lahore. 

What they didn't know was that I'd secretly started a business with a family friend, Waqas, who lived in Lahore. Our company was called Social Media Art, and it was a social media agency that helped other companies make better use of the Internet. This was 2009 at 22, my first time using the Internet. The more I learned about these amazing and powerful tools, the more I realized that this is the work I wanted to do. But there came a point where I needed to move to Lahore to help the business grow. 

By some miracle, one morning my father caved. He agreed to drive me to Lahore for a job interview. I landed an offer and my parents agreed for me to take it. But they warned that they wouldn't be able to financially support me anymore and that I would have to live on my own. I accepted the job. 

Living in Lahore wasn't easy. I moved into a hostel where I shared a windowless room with two other girls. After work each day, Waqas and I headed to the library to use the computer lab. In the library, we read old issues of Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and Fortune. I was amazed by the stories of entrepreneurs. We cut clips from the magazines that we found inspirational. My family continuously asked me to come back home, but I stayed. 

I had heard about the Internet for the first time in 2003. I was 14 years old. My uncle was visiting our home in Okara, Pakistan. He told my mother that the Internet would enable her to order anything from anywhere in the world, even the tea we were drinking and the furniture we were sitting on. I imagined a cup of tea literally popping out of the computer screen. I was fascinated and perplexed. 

Now I'm 30-years-old sitting in Silicon Valley and the Internet is helping me deliver handcrafted shoes from Okara, Pakistan, to more than 41 countries. 

When Kevin Oulds, 32, from Georgetown, Ontario, lost his uncle suddenly, he saw how difficult it was for his family to plan a funeral; no one knew how his uncle wanted to say goodbye. This mental toll motivated Oulds to risk leaving his job at a cement plant to start his business Final Blueprint, a process to help families talk about death and their final wishes.

I only went to college because that's what you were supposed to do. 

My uncle worked at a cement plant for almost 40 years and made a great living. I thought I could put in a year or two and save a good amount of money. I ended up there longer than I originally planned. 

I started each day by loading bags of cement onto trailers by hand. For a fully-trained crew you would be expected to load 6,200 bags a day depending on demand. Some of the loaders were so big they could run over a car and not notice if you happened to get in their path. 

Loading was kind of therapeutic from time to time, you and the crew would get in a rhythm loading and just talk about life and joke around a bit. But people would get injuries, mostly knees, back and shoulders. I hurt my back pretty bad in a different department, and was on and off work. 

I told my aunt that I would try my best to have something positive come from the death of my uncle.

After the unexpected death of my uncle I saw how difficult it was for my family to plan a funeral without knowing any of his wishes. Some people have a very difficult time discussing death, and that was the case with my aunt and uncle. I had to go into work and ask some of his friends if they ever discussed funeral arrangements over the years they worked together. I told my aunt that I would try my best to have something positive come from the death of my uncle; I would build something so other families didn't have to go through the same issues we did. 

I would be lying if I said I have always been motivated throughout this journey, but I knew it wouldn't be easy when I set out. I didn't want to wake up in 10 years wondering, "What if?". It's been a crazy ride so far but at the tenth anniversary of me quitting I know I won't have any regrets looking back. 

In 2012, while working as a pediatric nurse in Toronto, Abigail Hopkins made meal plans to keep fit and healthy. When curious friends wanted in on her lifestyle, Hopkins made ebooks with recipes and itemized grocery lists. When strangers started pulling out their credit cards to buy her books, Hopkins, now 29, had to decide between growing her career as a nurse, and bringing meal planning to the masses.

I continued working casually as a nurse for two years until it became glaringly obvious I needed to make a choice between nursing or That Clean Life. It wasn't an easy decision because I loved my work as a nurse. It was chaotic, exhausting and stressful, but the work was extremely meaningful; my colleagues were incredible human beings, and I was proud to be part of such a supportive team. 

Being a nurse is no joke. The responsibility is huge and you never know what the day is going to throw at you. Having multiple patients with multiple needs required me to be on my A-game every single minute of my 12-hour shift. I'd arrive on the unit, pick up my patient assignment and spend 10-to-15 minutes reading up on my patients and assessing their needs, so I could plan out my day. I'd then get a report from the outgoing nurse on my patients, do a team huddle with my fellow nurses, and the rest of the day was spent running. Literally. 

Going from working with a team of colleagues to sitting alone at my kitchen table trying to build something from nothing was hard. I also had to accept the sacrifices and learn to be confident with my decisions. I spent a lot of time questioning my decision to leave a secure, full-time job with benefits and a decent salary to having no income and no guarantees. If I had to go back and do it all over again, I would have taken more time to enjoy the journey. But, hindsight is 20/20.

When his friend sold him on the lifestyle and job opportunities in sunny Perth, Australia, Matthew Moore, 32, took the leap and moved overseas from Halifax. While working night shifts on oil rigs, he witnessed dangerous safety issues that could have been avoided with proper illuminating equipment. In 2016, he launched Canada Rope and Twine Ltd to bring night safety gear to commercial fisheries and industrial sectors. 

I worked away offshore in Perth, Western Australia, for seven years as a marine safety technician on oil rigs. I surveyed and issued Safety of Life at Sea approved certificates for life rafts, life jackets, lifeboats, fire extinguisher services, and rescue boats. 

A lot of emphasis has been focused on day safety, which I also found odd since most fatalities and near fatalities occur during night hours. While in some dangerous situations, I picked up on the need for night safety.

Once I was working on a personnel transfer vessel. I was on the deck of the ship and looked above at the workers coming from the oil rig. They were being lifted from a personnel transfer device to the ship below. The swells were high that evening, and the transfer basket struck the side of the vessel on the way down, and one of the workers fell into the sea. The worker was extremely lucky that the rescue crew did an amazing job to bring him back to the vessels rescue zone. The current was working in his favour this evening.

I moved back to Canada in 2015, and I worked for a company in Halifax called DSS Marine. I serviced and assembled life rafts and brought in new sales to the company. My inner entrepreneur kicked in after a year and my suggestions of improving safety services in new areas weren't being heard. 

Within a year, I launched a business that manufactures night safety ropes and night oil spill gear. 

In 2002, when her family relocated to California from Scotland, Denise Richardson made the decision to stay home with her kids. When her son got caught up with the law, an instance of injustice led her to launch California's first jail-to-college pipeline called Open Gate. At 50, her kid had graduated high school, and Richardson was now doing something not only for herself, but for people most in need in the community. 

My husband travels a lot - he's a million miler - so I was a single parent most of the time. I really liked that I could be there when my kids came home from school and told me their stories. I felt that I was involved in their lives and didn't have to stress in a crisis. I could be there when they were sick or sad or in trouble. I once tried to keep a straight face in the principal's office when my wee eight-year-old girl got in trouble for beating up the huge school bully boy. 

I enjoyed the time I had to myself while they were at school, but not using my talents was frustrating. I graduated from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, in Social Sciences and then with a Post-Graduate Diploma in Teaching. It was frustrating not having a status. It was frustrating to have people's eyes glaze over when I said I was a stay-at-home mom, as if slopping about in sweatpants and a ponytail. It was frustrating not being appreciated. 

I decided I had to do something about the injustice. 

When I turned 50, I felt it was time to do something for me. I knew I didn't want to be at home anymore when my 19-year-old son got brought home by the local police for having weed in his car; he had to do 10 hours at the food bank and wasn't charged. At the same time, I was a volunteer teacher to a young African American boy who was caught doing the exact same thing and he got nine months in jail and has a permanent drugs charge on his record. I decided I had to do something about the injustice. 

I co-founded Open Gate Inc, a non-profit to work with inmates re-entering our community. Chabot college in Hayward, California, has contracted Open Gate to establish a pipeline from Santa Rita County Jail to Chabot College. This is California's first jail-to-college program. Open Gate runs college readiness workshops within the jail, and then we meet the new students when they are released and continue working with them on campus. 

As told to Kristen Marano for YouInc. Interviews were edited for clarity. 


What was your life like before you became an entrepreneur? We'd love to hear your stories. Share with us in the comments below. 

Tags: business, encouraging entrepreneurship, entrepreneurs, inspiration, life change, motivation, success story, arlene dickinson, youinc

Kristen Marano

Kristen Marano covers women and their work for publications around the world. She has interviewed some of the most influential business leaders in Canada and the most passionate change makers in towns and cities as isolated as Perth, Western Australia. Most recently she interviewed Canadian businesswoman Zita Cobb about reinvigorating the economy in Newfoundland through the arts. Kristen's work encourages women to share honest and open perspectives about the emotional challenges of their journeys.

Featured Members
Joe Wasylyk
Seniorpreneur Project
Cheryl Mazak
See All   ► Recent Activity Recent Activity
Dustin Boehm joined YouInc
parth solanki joined YouInc
Home Appliances Plus joined YouInc
shagunsweet joined YouInc
teenachris35 joined YouInc
bruceshogans joined YouInc
saqibkhan joined YouInc
Insight Health Apps joined YouInc