Standing under a tent at a lacrosse tournament, Justin Gelwicks, ‘23, engraves a wooden lacrosse shaft with a name, number and team logo for a young customer.
Handing the finished product back to the young player, Gelwicks described the feeling of seeing a satisfied customer as “magical.”
“I fell in love with that feeling and connecting with the customer,” Gelwicks said.
Gelwicks has grown his business into one of the world’s largest wooden lacrosse shaft manufacturers. He operates like an entrepreneur and turns his passions into business opportunities.
After suffering traumatic injuries following a mugging at his previous college, Gelwicks was forced to take a medical leave of absence from school and stop playing lacrosse at the collegiate level. He said he previously identified as a student and an athlete, and felt lost when both labels were taken from him.
Once recovered, he completed an apprenticeship in fine woodworking and furniture design that grew into a great interest.
As a final goodbye to playing lacrosse, Gelwicks combined his newfound passion in woodworking with his enduring love for the sport to create wooden lacrosse sticks for his former teammates.
After observing their overwhelmingly positive reactions to the gifts, Gelwicks felt there was a business opportunity in wooden lacrosse sticks and founded his company, WoodGoods.
Chris Kauzmann, innovator-in-residence at the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation, helped Gelwicks with his business development and said his ability to see opportunities where others don’t is partially responsible for his success.
“He is a true entrepreneur in the sense that he sees problems as opportunities,” Kauzmann said.
Driving up to Niagara Falls to sell his sticks and lemonade at a lacrosse tournament, Gelwicks told himself he would be happy if he could just sell at least four sticks.
“I sold like 30 sticks and about $800 worth of lemonade,” he said. “And the next day I doubled those numbers and then the next weekend I doubled even the second day’s numbers, and then it just blew up to be this crazy huge thing.”
As the expansion continues, Gelwicks hopes WoodGoods becomes the largest wooden lacrosse shaft manufacturer in the world and to be the first wooden shafts sold in large retail locations.
Lisa Getzler, executive director at the Baker Institute, has worked closely with Gelwicks on his business. She said much of his growth as an entrepreneur has taken place as he further clarifies the value of his brand.
“It was a very momentous occasion anytime he was able to articulate the value WoodGoods is providing,” Getzler said.
Further highlighting his ambition, both Getzler and Kauzmann described him as tenacious.
Kauzmann attributes much of Gelwicks’ success to his tenacity. He said Gelwicks understands that sometimes his businesses will succeed and other times they’ll fail.
Gelwicks said he attributes his success or failure to his passion.
“All the businesses that I’ve started that I didn’t have my heart fully into have failed miserably,” Gelwicks said.
Aside from WoodGoods, Gelwicks has expressed a strong interest in real estate development, which he intends to pursue as a career.
Although he does not intend to work for WoodGoods full time after graduating from Lehigh, Gelwicks said his automation of the company’s functions will allow him to maintain the brand while working within a different realm.
He said entrepreneurs seeking to develop their own businesses have to be obsessed with what they’re doing.
“If you’re not obsessed with it, when you’re exhausted at three in the morning and still have more work to do, you’re not going to do it,” Gelwicks said.