'Opportunity' is a new buzz word in the world of development. It extends beyond personal and into business as the key expression of a chance or pathway that was either missed, discovered, or taken.
For many, it's often the regret or hindsight that allows them to say opportunities that were missed or discovered, but never taken. Still, others often take the opportunity test the waters a bit, just to see what they can get out of the exercise.
Daniel Wendt, a graduate of Denham Springs High School and co-founder of 'Tonal Innovation,' never passes up an opportunity. To hear him tell it, it's not just about taking chances, either - he gives everything he's got after walking through ever door that opens.
And it all started with a 5th grade school switch that gave him his first taste of success.
Wendt was originally learning through 7th Ward Elementary, at the corner of Highway 16 and Juban Road, when his first opportunity occurred. Between his 4th and 5th grade year, Gray's Creek Elementary was completed and Wendt was a candidate to switch - and his parents decided he would make the move.
While Wendt missed his friends, he decided to take the new 'opportunity' as seriously as he could, ending up with the 'Student of the Year' honor.
"It was my first taste of success," Wendt said with a smile, "and I started to chase that feeling."
Later in life, Wendt often thinks about the chance he was given with the switch.
"I often wonder 'what if circumstances had been different?'" he mused.
"I knew the girl that was 'Student of the Year' at 7th Ward, she would have definitely beat me out," Wendt said, laughing.
The 'Student of the Year' accolade set the tone for the rest of Wendt's academic career, and beyond. Starting as early as his 6th grade year, Wendt's name began to appear in the Livingston Parish News as a high-grade student, as well as excellence at 4-H.
Habits he carried all the way through high school.
"I actually wanted to go to Catholic (High) originally," Wendt explained, "but I missed my appointment date.
"I'm glad I missed it," Wendt went on, "I decided I'd try (Denham Springs Freshman High) for a year and see how it worked out - I decided I wanted to stay in Denham."
During his tenure, Wendt was a member of band, 4-H, swimming, and student government. He graduated in 2012 with honors, although he lamented that the school system had not yet begun to expand their AP and honors courses offerings - compared to what they have now - Wendt still threw himself at every academic and extracurricular opportunity available.
That opened the door for two collegiate options - Hillsdale College in Michigan, or LSU. Wendt joked that he originally wanted to go to Hillsdale... until he received the bill.
"I told my mom at my commencement speech," he said, "I think she was happy because she got very emotional."
As many often do at university, Wendt pumped the breaks freshman year - sort of. Wendt joined the Tiger Band as a saxophone player and dove into his intended education path to be a Certified Financial Planner (CFP).
Something was missing, and Wendt realized that for the first time in almost eight years he was facing what amounted to his 'cruise control.'
"I've always been academically inclined because I'm hyper-focused in class," Wendt explained, "so I never had to study as much as my peers outside of the classroom.
"Introduction to Income Tax and Accounting 200 required a little more," he joked, "but school was never difficult for me."
That's when met the person who would open the door of collegiate opportunity - Dr. Fran Lawrence, who was a member of the CFP program at LSU. After meeting the good doctor when the school year was winding down, by Wendt's sophomore year he was back to his old ways.
Lawrence took Wendt on as her executive assistant and placed him in the student financial assistance program as an adviser.
"I went to 4-5 conferences per year and competed in several conferences," Wendt explained. "I ended up as a Graduate Assistant my senior year, too."
All-the-while, Wendt stayed in the band and worked his way to drum major - leading out the march at the beginning of LSU football games.
"I had really thought the saxophone was cool, but this was 100-times more terrifying," he said. "Eventually, it turns to euphoria.
"I always loved doing a little more each time, plus I went for height on my mace toss," he said with a laugh. "During one game I nearly hit the field-top camera."
Wendt used his focus to stay on task during a tumultuous time, because while he was drum major his band director got fired, Les Miles was fired, and the flooding in South Carolina turned that game into a home affair.
And yet, Wendt still had something else up his sleeve. During his junior year he and a friend of his, Garret Kessling, were participating in a band practice when suddenly another member joked by trying to 'pinch-and-expand' his sheet music, like zooming in on a phone or tablet, and Kessling's eyes lit up.
He was going to pursue mounted technology for easy-to-read sheet music. The concept would save schools thousands in paper and ink costs, while also making it easier for band members to read and play the music.
"I remember he told me he wanted to work on it before I got involved," Wendt said. "He played with it for awhile, doing a lot of concept work.
"That year he actually rolled out a prototype for the bowl game and it only fit an iPad mini in an Otter box case, but I think it was more a proof-of-concept than anything."
That concept turned into pay-dirt for Wendt and Kessling, as they placed 4th at an SEC Technology Symposium the following fall. The pair marketed the idea to several college bands directly, picking up the University of Illinois and LSU in the first year.
So, at the end of college Wendt had a choice. JP Morgan was pursuing him for a job in financial planning, which would require long weeks of work but it would be the result of his college education, or keep doors open by pursuing the company they created called 'Tonal Innovation' and also offering swimming facilities management on the side.
"It's obvious what I chose," he said with a laugh, "but I think I made the right choice."
Indeed, as Tonal Innovation has grown to include 25 bands in 2018, which includes 10 high school bands - the nearest to Baton Rouge being Jesuit. Even with the expansion, Wendt still finds time to teach swimming lessons and manage the University Club's swimming campus.
But, Wendt has learned that 'cruise control' is not his speed in life - he wants to create opportunity for himself. The 25-year-old is currently working with Kessling on other business ventures, and still considering financial advising should he want to switch careers - or someone offers he and Kessling the right amount for Tonal.
His five tips for life?
- Take a tax course.
- Take principles of accounting.
- Make connections.
- If you fail, tell the truth.
- Don’t go cheap.
"If you're not moving forward," he said, "everyone else is leaving you behind."