If you’re swimming in a pool or the ocean — or a water park — camping or just baby sitting, McDaniel College students Owen Long and Justin Arter want you to, “Be safe, be smart, be Sertified.”
The misspelling is intentional, and the name of the pair’s business, Sertified LLC, which provides lifeguard and other Red Cross-approved safety training wherever it’s needed, in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
“What the Red Cross did a few years ago is they took a hands-off approach to training. They said, ‘we are going to train the trainers and then from there, we are going to license different training providers across the country,’” said Long, who along with Arter, is licensed by the Red Cross. “Rather than teaching for other YMCAs and things like that, we became a pop-up business. We travel those four states teaching the Red Cross classes.”
Now Sertified is one of five finalists in this year's Carroll Biz Challenge that will compete in the Live Finale on Thursday, Aug. 9.
The annual Carroll Biz Challenge, sponsored by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, showcases Carroll entrepreneurs during a show similar to "Shark Tank" for local startups at the Carroll Arts Center. The winner will receive a $5,000 plus additional prizes worth thousands more to apply to their business costs.
“We are super excited to get into it. I love how it fosters so much entrepreneurial spirit and how all of the business that have entered it have wound up so successful,” Arter said. “I’m just excited to be a part of it.”
Long began down the path of teaching lifesaving skills while still in high school, first obtaining his lifeguard certification at 15 and working at a pool at a retirement community in New Oxford, Pennsylvania.
“In December of 2014, I took my lifeguard instructor class,” he said. “I was 17 and have been teaching lifeguarding ever since then. I have taught over 400 lifeguards in my time.”
Arter also began lifeguarding in high school, getting his certification as an elective course and then, at age 15, working at a system of pools in Charles County.
“At the end of my high school career, I moved to college at McDaniel and I actually stopped guarding for a year. I thought I would never go back,” he said. “Then I met Owen, and he was looking for someone who could work with him to start this business. I said, ‘Look man, I am all in.’ So I got right back into it.”
Today, Arter is the one of the lead guards at Ocean Pines Aquatic, in Worcester County. Long is the lead lifeguard and head of beach training at Assateague State Park on the Eastern Shore.
Despite being extremely busy in their day jobs, the two have also found time to train people in wide range of Red Cross approved courses — small craft safety, life guard instructor, CPR, waterpark lifeguarding, wilderness first aid and babysitting, among others — since they launched Sertified in February.
“Since February, we have certified about 230 different individuals,” Long said. “We have traveled to three different states and taught 40 some classes. So we are very much in business.”
In April, Sertified came in second place in the McDaniel Innovation Challenge, a performance Long and Arter hope to improve upon in the Carroll Biz Challenge.
“I think it’s a pretty good model,” Innovation Challenge Judge and McDaniel Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship Steve Chapin said of Sertified. “I think there is definitely a need there and they have a really good idea based upon their personal experience to fulfill that need.”
The one thing that held Sertified back from the top spot in that challenge, Chapin said, was a plan for growth and good, long-term financial indicators.
Having been in business for several months more, with customers to show, Long said he and his partner are more confident that Sertified can rise to the top in the Biz Challenge.
“One of the things we are really excited about the Carroll Biz Challenge is that it is a business challenge and not an innovation challenge. They told us last time that they think we would really do well it it was a business challenge because we are already off the ground and we are moving,” Long said. “That’s something we are very excited about and we think could be a competitive advantage for us.”