Cyndrom Apparel founders Andrew and Joe Strafaci won the $20,000 top prize in the annual business plan competition at Rutgers Business School, the school announced May 2.
Rutgers Business School doled out $50,000 in prizes to participants in the 2022 Business Plan Competition, which included university alumni, current undergraduates, and MBA students.
Andrew Strafaci, who completed a dual MBA and law degree at Rutgers in 2020, created the Cyndrom name and logo while he was an undergrad studying civil engineering at The College of New Jersey. He and his brother grew the idea into an action sports apparel company that generates about $20,000 in annual revenue selling its “Ride On” line of hats, hoodies and beanies popular among skateboarders, snowboarders and cyclists across the country.
The Strafacis were one of five teams that took part in the April 22 competition for funding provided by the Sales Executive Club of Northern New Jersey Foundation.
The judges awarded a $15,000 second prize to MBA students Jason Miller and Matthew McQueeny, co-founders of Big League Pillows; and $10,000 to a team of Rutgers undergraduates, including Anna Zhang and Iris Zhorov, who are building the Smart MS3 device to help patients improve the effectiveness of their physical therapy.
The judges awarded two smaller prizes as well: $2,500 to Rutgers MBA student Kathryn Ruhno, whose early-stage startup Raw Paw Life sells dog food and treats; and $2,500 to Andrew Zambrowski, an alumnus of the Rutgers Business School undergraduate program who pitched for Monkey Business, a company that offers small businesses an app to help them compete more effectively against established brands.
Each team a made short pitch describing their companies, highlights of their strategy and performance, and projections for future growth.
The Sales Executive Club of Northern New Jersey Foundation sponsors the business plan competition annually to encourage entrepreneurship in Rutgers Business School students and alumni. Over the past 20 years, Rutgers’ announcement said that Richard Romano, president of the foundation and a member of Rutgers Business School’s board of advisors, has helped make more than $1 million in funding available to student and alumni founders.
“The business plan competition is significant in a couple of ways,” said competition organizer and professor Doug Brownstone. “Student entrepreneurs are able to win money to get their businesses accelerated and the top five teams also get mentoring.”
“These are full-time students or alumni who have jobs, and they are also working on starting up businesses so it’s extremely valuable,” he said.
The competition has awarded funding to such Rutgers student-started companies as Playa Bowls; Emma’s Premium Services; Bibi Beverages; the Turf, Surf and Earth restaurant; Perfect Life Nutrition; and the Zwiren Title Agency.
Andrew Strafaci will use the prize money to grow his company. He grew up skateboarding along the Jersey Shore and said the funding will allow him and his brother to expand Cyndrom from a casual clothing line to an active wear brand that offers more technical sports gear like rash guards for surfers and gloves for snowboarders.
“The money will be a catalyst for growing Cyndrom,” Strafaci said. “The money also says Rutgers believes in me. Having that support is important because it’s such a great school.”
Cyndrom products currently sell at a Belmar surf shop and a Red Bank skate shop, as well as online and at pop-up stores at the Jersey Shore. Stafaci said he plans to use the prize money to increase inventory and marketing; his goal is to increase sales to $1 million by 2025.
In addition to Romano, the judges for this year’s competition were John Wilson, who also represents the Sales Executive Club of Northern New Jersey Foundation; Sharon Lydon, Rutgers Business School’s associate dean of alumni and corporate engagement; and Carolyn Lange, chief financial officer of the Community Foundation of New Jersey.
Mayuresh Pandit, a Rutgers MBA alumnus and senior product manager at Amazon, mentored students alongside Brownstone. He helped to judge the teams as well.