High school student wins full scholarship to Rider based on her business idea
Before this weekend, the idea of going to college for Jayla Armani Swann seemed like a dream. Now, after winning a full four-year scholarship to Rider University, Swann's dream is becoming a reality.
On Saturday, Jan. 25, Swann was named the winner of the Norm Brodsky Business Concept Competition at Rider. Upon hearing her name announced, the 17-year-old burst into tears. Until that moment, she didn’t think college would ever be within reach.
The competition challenges high school entrepreneurs to present a business idea that they've thought of to a panel of judges, Shark Tank-style. This year, nine students were given four minutes to present their ideas on stage in the Bart Luedeke Center Theater and then faced questions from three judges.
The stakes are big — in addition to the full scholarship for a senior, runners up win cash prizes and, in the sophomore/junior division, the winner is automatically granted entrance into the finals when they are a senior.
Some of the ideas presented in this year’s competition addressed practical problems, while others sought to tackle life and death scenarios, like saving pets trapped in hot vehicles. Some were technology-based, like making the exchange of textbooks easier on college campuses. Most grew out of the presenters’ own life experiences, such as treatments for ailments suffered by loved ones.
Swann calls her winning idea the Luxe Brush Co., whose innovation is to consolidate makeup brushes into one device.
The competition is sponsored by husband and wife Norm Brodsky ’64 and Elaine Brodsky. Norm, a long-time entrepreneur who is the namesake of Rider’s Norm Brodsky College of Business, founded eight successful businesses, including Citi Storage, the largest privately owned archive business in the country.
"I strongly believe that anyone can be an entrepreneur," Brodsky says. "Just because you work for a company doesn't mean you can't be an entrepreneur within that company. It's a way of thinking."
Rider, which offers a major and minor in entrepreneurial studies, received more than 300 submissions for this year’s competition. To enter, applicants were required to submit a brief summary of their business concept, which was reviewed by a group of judges and winnowed down to the nine finalists. For the live presentations, students were split into two divisions — the Sophomore/Junior Competition and the Senior Competition.
Last year's senior winner, Eric Voros, who recently completed his first semester at Rider, was in attendance along with family members, faculty, staff and others. He says winning the competition changed his life. "It's allowed me to focus on my studies, my inventions and my business plans.”
At the event, Voros shared that he now has a U.S. patent for a device called Orion's Belt, a product in which a traditional-looking belt transforms into a tourniquet during emergency situations. A global supply chain management major, with a minor in entrepreneurial studies, Voros won last year’s competition based on the idea for Orion’s Belt, which was inspired by the experiences of his brothers, who are Marines.
Brodsky, who was also in attendance, has devoted himself to supporting Rider students. Last summer, he was instrumental in the development of Rider’s Innovation Intensive Program at the University of Oxford, a collaboration between the University and St. Stephen’s House, a permanent private hall of Oxford University. The program gave 25 Rider students and recent alumni the extraordinary opportunity to interact with and learn from CEOs. In 2018 and 2019, the Brodskys sponsored a student trip to the Inc. 5000 Conference. The invitation-only event has exposed more than a dozen Rider students to the nation’s rising business leaders.
This was the third year Brodsky has sponsored the business competition. Before this year’s winner was announced, he praised all the participants. “This takes a lot of energy and a lot of guts. It's really hard to stand up in front of your peers and do what you did today.”
Lisa Teach '02, '09, the director of Rider's Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and a visiting assistant professor, emceed the event. This year’s live finale judges were Bill Cunningham of Encompass Media Company; Jeanne Gray of American Entrepreneurship Today; and Joe Lopez of Uncommon Individual Foundation. Ziegler World LLC sponsored the competition.