For the first three years of its existence, the Rider University Idea/Business Concept Competition was a local affair, an opportunity for New Jersey high schoolers to showcase their entrepreneurial aspirations for the prize of a few thousand dollars, a plaque, and a trophy for their school.
For its fourth go-round, however, Rider’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies decided to up the ante.
The school approached entrepreneur Norm Brodsky, a famous Rider alum, who started eight businesses and authored two books on entrepreneurship. The plan was to convince Brodsky to back the competition with funds to offer a heftier prize for its winner: a $10,000 renewable scholarship to attend Rider University.
“No”, was Brodsky’s direct reply. Then after what seemed like an interminable pause, he said, “That’s not enough.”
“He insisted it be a full scholarship for all four years because he wants the name of Rider to get out into the world,” said Dr. Lee Zane, an entrepreneur and professor at the school.
With a more enticing prize, hopefully the word would spread to potential entrants and, even better, future students.
As a result, the competition was named for Norm Brodsky and it grew quickly. This year’s competition had well over 200 entries from 50 high schools, with applications coming in from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, Connecticut, and as far away as California and Canada. The number of applications more than doubled last year’s total, while the number of schools quadrupled last year’s count.
The premise required students to present a holistic businesses concept. Not only did that entail coming up with a service or product, but also explaining exactly who it is for, what the potential value would be, and how best to deliver it to the customer.
“The students have to think about what problem they’re actually solving and who they’re solving it for,” Zane said.
The competition was coordinated by Dr. Zane as an event hosted by the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and its director, Dr. Ron Cook, who is also the Associate Dean of the Business School. The competition was open to any high school sophomore, junior or senior. The sophomores and juniors competed for $750, a plaque, a trophy, and an automatic ticket to the finale when they become a senior, while seniors competed for the full 4 year scholarship along with a plaque and trophy.
For the first round, students were required to write a 400-word submission that explained the details of their idea: how it would make money, who would buy it, distribution, etc.
From these entrants, ten were chosen: five from the sophomore/junior group, and five from the senior group. For the second round, finalists had to present their concept in front of a panel of business experts, whom then asked questions to make sure students understood all aspects of their business idea. “In addition to knowing the product or service, the ability to present with poise and answer questions became very important as well,” Zane said.
The winner of the senior group, and the full scholarship, was Aniruddha Srinivasan from Metuchen High School, who presented a tourism app called Omamori. Srinivasan’s family was in attendance for the finals, and there were smiles by all at the announcement of his name.
For Rider, however, their hopes for the competition last far beyond the crowning of the winner. They plan to use the contest to recruit bright, entrepreneurially-minded students from across the country, as well as spread Rider’s reputation for having an experiential focused academic program. The competition dovetails with their summer entrepreneurship boot camp for high school students, the program’s venture fund, and small business consulting course that has won national recognition.
In addition to the full scholarship, each finalist received a $250 discount to attend the summer camp and all seniors received a special partial scholarship if they choose to attend Rider.
For those attending the boot camp, they will take classes, develop a business concept, practice prototyping, research the concept, and finally, present it at the end. As they experience life on campus, the school hopes they can turn boot-campers and competitors into future students and for some…future entrepreneurs.