Monday, Oct 3, 2022
Attendance gave students opportunities for networking with successful entrepreneurs
by Adam Grybowski
This summer, 20 Rider students traveled to the University of Oxford to network with successful entrepreneurs during the five-day Moonshots & Moneymakers conference. The experience helped land at least one of the students a full-time job.
Hosted by the entrepreneurial coaching organization Birthing of Giants, the invitation-only conference helps companies discover ways to scale their businesses through new business models, technology and other innovative methods. Attendance gave undergraduate students the opportunity to meet, network and work side-by-side with successful entrepreneurs seeking to grow their businesses.
“This was one of the experiences where you wake up and think, ‘Wow, I’m in Oxford, England, prepared to speak to business owners, some of them who own multimillion-dollar businesses,” says Zachary Fernandez, a junior finance and marketing double major who attended the conference.
Kaitlyn Wong, a senior dual major in marketing and sports management, was offered a job not long after she returned home from the trip. Not a week into the start of her final year at Rider, she is now the director of digital marketing at GameRX Sports, which produces a line of topical treatments for athletes. She is only the second employee hired by the new company. The first, entrepreneur Robert Nickell, met Wong at the Moonshots conference.
“One of my goals on the trip was to make genuine connections with the entrepreneurs,” says Wong, a business honors student who played soccer for three years at Rider. “For me it was about building a connection as a good person, and if a business opportunity fell in line after that, then that would be a great way for it to go.”
I’m thinking about how I can apply what I’m learning in the classroom directly to my job."
Rider offered the experience as a short-term study abroad program, with alumnus Norm Brodsky ’64 sponsoring the full travel and program costs for two students, as well as an additional $1,250 each for the remaining 18 students.
“I was excited to be exposed to entrepreneurs of this magnitude,” says Fernandez, who had never been on an airplane before the trip, “but also because of the traveling aspect; I was excited about the cultural aspect of studying abroad as well.”
In addition to being able to network and gain hands-on experience in entrepreneurship workshops, some students were selected to write and deliver introductions to conference speakers.
On the conference’s first day, Fernandez introduced Lewis Schiff, the chairman of the Board of Experts for the Birthing of Giants Fellowship Program and the executive director of the Moonshots & Moneymakers conference. He is also a longtime business partner of Brodsky, the namesake of Rider’s business college who launched eight successful businesses before becoming deeply committed to the students of his alma mater.
“The first time I met Norm, it was like meeting a celebrity,” Fernandez says, “but he has no problem taking time out of his day to help you. By being so involved, he makes Rider that much better. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Even though he is only beginning his junior year at Rider this fall, Fernandez has been nursing his own entrepreneurial dreams for years. As a sophomore, he placed third in the Rider Collegiate Business Concept Competition (also sponsored by Brodsky), claiming the $500 prize for his business idea that would allow vendors and customers to track the inventory of specific vending machines via an app.
At the Moonshots conference, he was able to discuss the idea with the attendees, who, he says, were gracious with their time and insights, helping him to understand that when it comes to launching a product into the marketplace, perfect can often be the enemy of good.
“I understood the magnitude of this opportunity, and I wanted to make the most of it,” Fernandez says. “The entrepreneurs were warm and receptive, and before long I realized we were speaking together like old pals.”
Fernandez and the other students not only benefited from exposure to the conference attendees; a variety of people connected to Rider were also present. Rider President Gregory G. Dell’Omo, Ph.D., attended the conference alongside Dr. Ron Cook, a professor; Lisa Teach, an adjunct professor and the former director of Rider’s Center of Entrepreneurial Studies; Liz Carrion, executive assistant to the dean; and Stephen Gerard ’84, an author and entrepreneur, as well as Rider's ambassador to the Birthing of Giants program who made a gift to help students pay for the costs of attending.
Oxford is a familiar destination for Rider students. For years, Rider has offered two residential programs in partnership with St. Stephen’s House, the Permanent Private Hall of the University of Oxford.
In addition to the Moonshots conference (formerly advertised to students as the Innovation Intensive at Oxford), the Choral Institute at Oxford is regularly offered to Rider students, primarily those of Westminster Choir College. The program began as a music collaboration between composer Dr. James Whitbourn of Oxford and Dr. James Jordan, a Rider professor of conducting. It has led to acclaimed performances, the publication of scholarly manuscripts, books and choral works, and a Grammy-nominated recording.
Now that she’s back from Oxford and has already accepted a job offer nine months before she will graduate, Wong is approaching her classes differently. “I’m thinking about how I can apply what I’m learning in the classroom directly to my job,” she says. “It’s changed my perspective.”