Jayla Armani Swann knows how tough it can be to organize makeup, especially with all those brushes. So she came up with an idea to make it easier: one device, several brushes that pop up one at a time as needed.
“The Luxe Brush Co. is the innovation that the makeup market needs,” the high school senior from Baltimore told a panel of judges Saturday at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J.
At stake was a full, four-year tuition scholarship to Rider, worth about $176,000.
It’s the third year that Rider has offered the lucrative scholarship prize at its High School Business Concept Competition, courtesy of entrepreneur and alumnus Norm Brodsky, who in October gave Rider $10 million, the largest gift in its history, and had the business school named after him.
Swann, 17, had competition. Other finalists proposed a vibrating device to advance doughnuts in a display rack as customers buy them (she works at Dunkin’ Donuts); a computerized insurance card that tells a doctor everything covered under a patient’s plan; and a fashionable headband with an ice pack for migraine sufferers, dubbed the “migraine magician.”
But in the end, Swann beat them all. Judge Jeanne Gray, founder of American Entrepreneurship Today, said Swann’s “poise, passion, and a very real-world-based model” put her over the top.
“We really felt she could make this a business,” Gray said.
Swann wept as her name was announced. Until then, she said, she hadn’t planned on going to college because she didn’t think she could afford it.
“College is very expensive and I didn’t want to give all of that debt to my parents,” she said.
Now, she’s got her heart set on going to Rider.
Several other local colleges contacted said they also host competitions for high school students. Wharton’s Baker Retailing Center this weekend held a Shark Tank-type competition where teams of students worked 24 hours straight on business challenges for cash and technology prizes.
But the others, including Drexel and Temple, don’t offer a full tuition scholarship as a prize.
Rider, a private college that accepts about 71% of applicants and has an undergraduate student body of 3,763, started the contest in 2015, but with much smaller prizes. Then Brodsky heard about it and asked university officials what they were trying to accomplish. They told him they hoped to attract more applicants to the university and lure the winner to enroll.
But none of the prior winners had come.
“I have an idea," Brodsky told them, “where we can enhance this contest, get more people to apply. How about a full scholarship?”
Brooklyn-born and Long Island-raised, Brodsky, 77, was never much of a student himself, as he tells it. But he got his accounting degree at Rider and went on to become a successful entrepreneur, having founded more than half a dozen businesses. He has a restaurant chain and several hotels and a company that helps develop entrepreneurs.
He’s been on the cover of Inc., a business magazine, several times and has written for the publication. He’s known failure, too, having had a ground delivery business he founded go bankrupt.
He passes on lessons to students at Rider, where he co-teaches a class.
“I tell them that everybody fails at something in life, and not to let that put you in a place where you can’t recover,” Brodsky said. “If you don’t learn what you did, you’re destined to repeat the same kind of mistake. What I learned is that I pledged the assets of one really great company to buy another company, and that company was the one that dragged me down. So the lesson is any time I want to start something new, it has to be with outside money, so I don’t jeopardize what I have.”
Last summer, Brodsky spearheaded a trip to Oxford University for 25 Rider students and a group of entrepreneurs who covered the tab for the group.
His idea of offering a full scholarship for the high school competition worked. More students have submitted entries — this year, there were 300, up from 85 when it started — and last year’s winner, Eric Voros, 18, of Medford, was the first to enroll at Rider. His winning idea? A traditional-looking belt that doubles as a tourniquet.
“The idea was people could carry it or wear it wherever they go,” said Voros, a global supply chain management major who was motivated by his brothers, both Marines.
Saturday’s competition brought back memories for his parents, who, along with their son, attended the event.
“It was mind-blowing,” Steve Voros, an anesthesiologist, said of his son’s win last year. “It was an incredible opportunity and an incredible day for all of us.”
Each year, judges whittle applicants to about a handful of finalists who compete in the live finale. (There’s a separate division for sophomores and juniors, which yields about the same number of finalists and offers smaller prizes.) All senior finalists must have applied to Rider and been accepted by the time of the live competition.
“Most of them are kind of making improvements on existing products,” said Lisa Teach, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at Rider, “which is great. Businesses are built on that every day.”
On Saturday, the four senior finalists, all female, got four minutes each to present their concept, then faced questions from judges, including two business owners and a nonprofit director. Finalists were judged on worth of concept, market identification, method of delivery, the potential return, creativity, innovation, and passion.
Swann had an answer for every question the judges posed, and she left no doubt about how serious she was. When Teach asked her what her plans were for the summer, she said: “Start this business.”