When Rider University made a commitment to find the best young entrepreneurial talent through a student business concept competition, they had high goals. But those goals have already been surpassed through the surprising involvement of Rider alum Norm Brodsky.
Last year Brodsky, who is a highly successful serial entrepreneur and columnist for Inc. magazine, was approached to contribute to the competition’s grand prize by the then Executive Director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies Dr. Ronald Cook. Dr. Cook was hoping for a few thousand dollars, but what he received was not just a phenomenal multiple year commitment of a full four-year scholarship, but Brodsky’s personal ongoing involvement in the Center.
“This is our second year of hosting the high school business concept competition with Norm sponsoring the full four-year scholarship,” said Cook. “Just from one year to the next we have seen a significant increase in contestants and quality of the submissions, but we are also seeing the stature of our program rising with Norm’s other contributions”.
Now titled The Norm Brodsky Business Concept Competition, the finals crown two first prize winners, one from each of the two tracks based on the participant’s year in high school. The winner of the senior track receives a full 4-year scholarship to Rider University thanks to Brodsky. The sophomore-junior first place winner is guaranteed a spot in a future final round when they become a senior. Each finalist gives a five minute pitch of an innovative business concept to a panel of three business experts who select the winners.
In January Eric Voros of Shawnee High School won the senior track with his idea for a pants belt that readily converts into a tourniquet. Voros identified a need for his product in industries where there is a potential for serious injury. His insight was gained from a family member who served in the military.
It was an exciting moment when Voros with his family around him was announced as the scholarship winner during the post competition dinner. Parents and grandparents are encouraged to attend the competition and awards dinner that is held on the Rider campus.
Rider President Gregory G. Dell’Omo praised the students for their determination, pro-activeness, and ability to implement a creative idea. He recognized their passion that spurred them to compete and the importance of experiential learning that Rider places great emphasis on.
"What really excited me about seeing the students present their ideas today was their willingness to step forward and communicate them. It's very evident that these are students who are very engaged individuals,” Dell’Omo said. Then directly addressing the students, he said, “You're taking what you've learned in a classroom and trying to apply it to outside environments, and that's really important."
The scholarship winners also gain the opportunity to directly engage with Brodsky who is now personally involved at school. He teaches a class with the Director of the Center, Lisa Teach, and this past fall, he sponsored six students to attend the Inc. 5000 conference where he was given a lifetime achievement award by Inc. magazine.
Five of the six students who accompanied Brodsky to the conference attended the dinner as ambassadors and spoke to the dinner guests about the important lessons they learned there. One student gained insight about personal values, stating, "I learned about the power of giving back, always being generous, and doing random acts of kindness.”
Brodsky, acknowledging and addressing all of the finalists, offered them advice to continue learning and to pursue higher education. He placed emphasis on meeting new people.
“Networking is the most important thing someone can learn in college. The only difference between you and someone going to Harvard is maybe they have better networking, but you’re going to catch up really quick. Learn as much as you can,” said Brodsky.
He also positioned the students for the arena they all soon would be entering following their high school graduation.
“One of the most important things in this world, when it comes to business or life, is to never, never give up, no matter how tough things get. Don’t give up. Face your greatest fears, that’s one of the most courageous things a person can do.”