February 19, 2020

High School Senior’s Business Concept Wins Her Full Scholarship to Rider

A FULL RIDE: Norm Brodsky, left, with Jayla Armani Swann, who won Rider University’s Norm Brodsky Business Concept Competition. Her Luxe Brush Company concept won the high school senior a full, four-year scholarship to Rider. (Photo by Peter G. Borg/Rider University)

By Anne Levin

The first time Jayla Armani Swann heard of Rider University was a day before the deadline for the 2019 Norm Brodsky Business Concept Competition, which the University holds to reward high school students’ enterprising business ideas. Her guidance counselor, who knew about Swann’s interest in entrepreneurship, told her about the program.

But it was too late to enter. So Swann, a high school senior at Owing Mills High School in Maryland, got busy on a concept that she entered in this year’s competition. On January 25, she was one of nine finalists for the top prize: a full, four-year scholarship to Rider. To her complete shock and amazement, she won.

“It was just the best moment of my life,” Swann said during a phone conversation this week. “I burst into tears. I just couldn’t believe it. I’m just so excited for what my experience will be at Rider.”

Swann’s concept for the Luxe Brush Company, which combines several makeup brushes into one, has earned her a place in Rider’s class of 2024. She and her fellow finalists in the senior division presented their ideas to a panel of judges: Bill Cunningham of Encompass Media Company, Jeanne Gray of American Entrepreneurship Today, and Joe Lopez of Uncommon Individual Foundation. Each contestant was given four minutes to speak on stage at Rider’s Bart Luedeke Center Theater, and then faced questions from the judges.

“I had to present it in front of the judges and everybody’s parents. I was a little nervous, but I tried my best to keep everybody interested,” Swann said.

The competition is sponsored by husband and wife Norm Brodsky ’64 and Elaine Brodsky. Norm Brodsky, for whom the school’s business college is named, is the founder of eight successful businesses including the archive firm Citi Storage. This was the third year the couple has sponsored the business competition, which is split into two divisions and designed to recognize and promote exceptional effort, skill, and creativity. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors at any high school are eligible to enter. Runners up win cash prizes and entry into the finals when they are seniors.

Swann was sitting in engineering class when the idea for the makeup brushes began to take shape in her mind. “They were showing these tools for cars, but I was thinking about makeup brushes,” she said. “I wasn’t bored — I really like engineering — but I sometimes tend to think outside the box.”

The concept consolidates ten makeup brushes into one device. “It uses a retractor to push the one you want,” Swann said. “It’s hard to describe. I haven’t made it yet, but I’m building it in my engineering class right now. It’s going well.”

Other finalists at the competition proposed a way to save pets trapped in hot vehicles, a vibrating device to advance doughnuts in a display rack, and a fashionable headband with an ice pack for migraine sufferers, among other ideas. The winners were announced at a banquet following the presentations.

A member of her school’s engineering club, Swann also belongs to the Society of Women Engineers, is president of her chapter of Future Business Leaders of America, and is a member of the National Engineering Honor Society, among other organizations. “I’m in a lot of clubs,” she said. “I’m really involved when it comes to school.”

Rider received more than 300 submissions for this year’s competition. Applicants had to submit a brief summary of their business concept, which the judges reviewed before narrowing the list down to nine finalists.

Swann has been an engineering enthusiast since ninth grade, and is currently studying aerospace and mechanical engineering. She is hoping to have a business started this summer. “I want to start more, or expand the ones I already have, through college,” she said. “I have too many great ideas for them to just sit in my head. I want to be an entrepreneur.”