The Teacher Becomes the Student: Adjunct, Entrepreneur Uses Skills to Pivot His Own Business

Over the past few months, individuals and businesses alike have had to adapt to the ever-changing conditions brought on by COVID-19. Though entrepreneurs and newer businesses might have been more immediately vulnerable to the economic uncertainty, established business have turned to entrepreneurship and innovation to stay afloat.

Many Syracuse, New York, community members whose jobs or businesses were impacted by the pandemic are now exploring entrepreneurship. El-Java Abdul-Qadir ’98 (A&S), G’01 (Falk/A&S), director of the South Side Innovation Center (SSIC) and adjunct professor at the Whitman School, explains how most businesses were unprepared last spring for how much the pandemic would impact them.

“Regardless of how prepared you are for having a couple of months of savings or having systems in place that would help you deal with the challenges that come up, nobody could have expected the impact that COVID-19 has had,” he says.

However, some were able to identify opportunities and adapt accordingly. For example, Abdul-Qadir shares a story of a SSIC client who owned multiple businesses and had millions of dollars of revenue prior to the pandemic. Once business started to decrease in the spring, those revenues quickly fell. The business owner, who had made a commitment to keep his entire staff employed throughout the crisis, tapped into his creativity as the downturn dragged on from one month to many more. Soon, the client decided to change course and adapt his business plan to the circumstances.

“His company, prior to the pandemic, was in the garment industry already, so he was able to pivot from focusing on athletic material to providing things that were needed by essential workers,” Abdul-Qadir explains. “He was in an industry where he had access to textiles, and he had access to making PPE (personal protective equipment).”

Abdul-Qadir, had to pivot, too, as the pandemic forced one of his ventures, a martial art studio, to shut down, albeit briefly. However, he emphasizes that sometimes challenges can, in fact, create opportunities for innovation and growth.

“That’s what entrepreneurship is. It’s about being able to recognize a gap in the market, being able to recognize the opportunity that exists,” he explains.

In his case, entrepreneurship took the form of expanding virtual options for his customers. Abdul-Qadir says that before COVID-19, he was already offering a limited number of virtual classes for students in different countries. But when the pandemic closed the studio, he was able to offer the very next class on Facebook Live before later transitioning to Zoom.

“In my mind, I identified an opportunity,” he says. “I started to reach out to students of mine who had graduated from Syracuse University or moved away for a job somewhere else. It was awesome to bring together former classmates and have them reconnect in this way, but it was also great to offer them an opportunity to train again.”

Learn more about the Whitman School’s Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises program.

Mallory Carlson
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2 comments on “The Teacher Becomes the Student: Adjunct, Entrepreneur Uses Skills to Pivot His Own Business

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  1. The best way to reach new heights is to look for ways to help if you were in a different direction. I pray we all find our inner voices and help in ways we never thought possible before. Thank you for helping in so many ways you’re an inspiration to our community as a whole!

  2. I had the pleasure of being mentored by El Java at the Southside Innovation Center. His attitude and energy is inspiring. Love hearing this story!