Scholarship Finalist: Joshua DeJong

More than just a business

I have always been an entrepreneur. As a child, I peddled candy from my Easter basket to my siblings, bid on yard projects for my dad, and once set up a lemonade stand even though we live in a rural area; I had one customer: the mail carrier. However, at the age of nine, my entrepreneurial zeal took a turn as I watched allied paratroopers descend into France on D-Day to liberate Europe in the WWII movie The Longest Day. I soon began replicating the parachute systems in use by the U.S. military in the 1940’s. During the winter of 2010, I witnessed my first parachute sale. Since then, I have developed my business into a company that manufacturers the finest replica parachute systems from original WWII materials for museums, collectors, and motion picture studios around the globe.

My business started as a hobby. I based my initial designs on WWII movie depictions and built prototypes from plastic bags and packing tape, learning hands-on about everything from aerodynamics to tensile strengths. I became a studious reader of every parachute-related book I could get my hands on and began researching the rigs used in WWII. I ultimately compiled dozens of genuine parachute specimens, over 30,000 pages of original documents, and nearly 6,000 period photographs to aid in accurate reproduction. Zealous for authenticity, I went so far as to obtain a 300-pound 1940’s ultra-duty sewing machine and built up an inventory of authentic WWII-produced raw materials. My reputation for authenticity became so widespread that people specifically sought me out and, in some cases, were willing to wait over a year until I expanded and was capable of producing the specific parachute they desired.

Not surprisingly, small business ownership has greatly influenced my life, allowing me to pursue my passion while simultaneously learning valuable life lessons and developing a strong character. My small business has allowed me to turn my passion into an occupation that will be able to support me. As a child, I dreamed of emulating the heroes I saw in the old black and white WWII movies and creating the sophisticated equipment that guaranteed their safety, but I could have never imagined that in just a handful of years, the assemblies I crafted would be displayed in 29 countries on 5 continents. Laboring in a career for which I have a passion enables me to conclude a long day of school and manufacturing, not weary and drained, but energized and ready to tackle what the next day will offer. Although small business, just like life, throws unexpected curve balls, I’ve learned that with a little ingenuity, a lot of hard work, and a measure of patience, dreams really can come true. For example, at one point it appeared that a shortage of an extremely rare hardware component would force me to either discontinue a certain type of parachute rig or reduce my rigorous standards of authenticity. Instead of using a dissimilar part, I spent my spare time one summer experimenting with CAD software and ultimately reproduced the complex 9-piece snap hook with precision.

Perhaps the most significant influence my business has had on me is the practical life lessons I have gained. I have learned to think strategically and set goals. Any endeavor in life, whether it is education, marriage, or operating a small business, requires strategic planning. In life, there are an infinite number of ways to use one’s time, and juggling school, business, and other activities forces me to prioritize my time and discern between what is better and what is best. In business, I must constantly balance research for future endeavors with the manufacture of current projects to ensure the business operates at optimal efficiency and continues to expand. Interacting with different people, such as conversing with a military collector from Poland or understanding the needs of the Military History Museum of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has allowed me to better communicate and relate to people from different backgrounds, cultures, and nationalities. Running my own business has given me the opportunity to learn how to manage money hands-on, such as reviewing cash flow, completing cost/benefit analyses, and navigating the complex tax system.

Above all, small business has sculpted me into the person I am today through building character. My parents instilled in me the value of hard work, perseverance, and excellence, but it was through my entrepreneurial ventures that the rubber really hit the road. Small business is not simply a job, but a way of life that entails much blood, sweat, and tears. In the world of small business, few things come easily, and operating my own business has taught me the value of hard work and perseverance; after finishing up the homework load for high school, I work late into the evening to complete a project that needs to be sent out first thing in the morning. In my business, I strive to offer the highest quality product and unsurpassed service. My reputation as a top-notch producer has led to sales from leading WWII historians, multiple museums, and most recently, a contract for providing the parachute equipment used in the upcoming Universal Pictures movie Unbroken.

Small business ownership is so much more than a way to turn a profit; it is a passion that evolves into a way of life. In the fall, I look forward to gaining additional knowledge and further developing my character while pursuing a business management degree. Moreover, I have no doubt that a continued commitment to quality and further expansion will enable me to continue providing top-notch gear to the most arduous collectors, museums, or film studios. Looking back, small business ownership has been a great experience and has had a tremendous impact on my life, allowing me to turn a dream into an occupation. For me, small business ownership is more than just a business.

This essay was written by Joshua DeJong, one of 10 finalists for the Small Business Success Student Scholarship Program. Joshua and the other finalists were selected from more than 500 applications reviewed by the Scholarship Committee. Three of the finalists will win a $1,500 scholarship to be used toward furthering their education. To vote for Joshua or any of the other finalists, visit the Small Business Success Student Scholarship voting app on Facebook.

Update: To apply for the 2016 Small Business Success Student Scholarship Program, click here.

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