Seymour senior wins Jackson County Maverick Challenge, advances to regional

A Spanish-speaking customer walks into Polley Building Supply in Seymour to order a specific color of metal.

The employee who only speaks English accidentally orders the incorrect color.

That’s a problem.

“We’re not going to make them buy the wrong metal, and we can’t send it back because it’s a special order, so it’s a loss for the business, and the customer has to wait longer to get the right metal,” said Alexus Morris, who works at the business her parents own.

With the goal of preventing a language barrier, Morris came up with a solution: No Borders.

The translation firm would be available to local businesses so they could have access to translators by making a phone call.

Morris, 18, a senior at Seymour High School, made a presentation on No Borders for the 11th annual Jackson County Maverick Challenge on Jan. 19 at the Community Foundation of Jackson County in Seymour.

She was among 10 finalists in the business planning competition for high school students, including seven from SHS, two from Brownstown Central High School and one from Trinity Lutheran High School.

Eight of the presentations were made by individuals, while there was one duo and one trio.

A panel of five judges chose Morris as the winner, awarding her $2,000.

In total, the judges had $7,400 to split between the finalists thanks to funding sponsors JCBank and Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. Workforce Partnership.

Morris said she was very stressed before the presentation, but it was like a weight off of her shoulders once she was finished.

The next morning when she walked into Dawn Jones’ accounting class at SHS, she learned she had won the competition.

“It was definitely a really great experience,” Morris said. “Obviously, I had tons of business people helping me, but I feel like it was mine. I came up with the ideas, I designed the presentation and I put a lot of work into it.”

The Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce started the Maverick Challenge in 2008. Jackson County began competing in 2011, and since then, students have been awarded $76,225 at the county, regional and state levels. JCIDC is a sponsor of the county program along with the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and Brownstown Ewing Main Street.

This year, written plans were submitted by students from the three county high schools, said Jackie Hill, workforce partnership director for JCIDC.

Local business professionals helped narrow it down to 10 business plans — from 13 total students — to be presented in person or virtually with a limit of 10 minutes apiece.

With the quality of finalists this year, along with the top prize, the judges chose to award $900 to each of the four Tier I winners, $500 to the three Tier II winners and $150 to the other two participants.

Morris advances to the regional competition Feb. 19. Students from Jackson, Bartholomew, Dearborn, Franklin/Ripley, Jennings, Monroe and Scott counties each will have 10 minutes to pitch their idea via Zoom. Judges will award money to the top three.

Morris said the Maverick Challenge was a required assignment in Jones’ marketing fundamentals class in the first semester of the school year.

In October, she recorded her 3-minute pitch video and submitted an executive summary. She then met with mentors after fall break and turned in a 10-slide, 5-minute presentation in early December.

“As we kept going, we got to see how the business plan was going to lay out,” Morris said. “I kid you not, it was a week before the contest when it actually made sense to me before the first pitch video and I was like, ‘Oh, I think I am going to actually try and win this.’ That’s when I started really seeing the whole picture of it.”

Once she learned she was a finalist, the presentation bumped up to 10 minutes and Morris could have as many as 20 slides.

That allowed her to go into more details with her business, including the mission statement, membership options and employee rates.

The mission of the business is to end the barrier between native and non-native speakers in Jackson County. In her presentation, she shared the story about the wrong metal being ordered and how her business could prevent that from happening.

“I just saw that there’s not really anything anybody’s doing to help it,” Morris said. “Then I looked at those statistics and it said there had been a 159.4% increase in Hispanic-speaking residents in Jackson County in the last decade. Looking at all of the stats and then seeing it myself, it just showed that there is an actual problem, and I feel like it’s overlooked a lot.”

For membership, Morris calculated the total work hours in a month and took 10% of that and came up with 15 hours, so that would be the lowest level offered at $90 per month. She did the same thing for 25, 50 and 100%. A business would choose the 100% level if a majority of its customers don’t speak English.

Morris said to promote her firm, she would visit businesses, have fliers printed to distribute to businesses and have a website and social media pages created.

“I think once it starts to get out there, it will just spread. That’s my thought,” she said.

As far as translators, Morris said they would be paid a percentage of the minute rate and the membership rate. The translators could live in Jackson County or even be college students who want some sort of income.

“The goal is to have one business connected to a specific (translator),” Morris said. “Obviously, that’s not realistic because that person is going to shut their phone off at some point, so then if it shuts off for them, with Google Voice, it will just automatically transfer to somebody else.”

So what makes her service different?

“I think it’s just the fact that it’s local and it’s always a real person talking to you, whereas Google Translate is not a real person,” Morris said.

Jones said she’s proud of Morris and the other SHS students who participated in the Maverick Challenge. In all, she had 17 teams enter the competition.

“I had some that saw me constantly, asking lots of questions and things like that. (Morris) would ask one question, and whatever answer I gave her, she took it to the next level,” Jones said.

“Alexus is an excellent student. I’ve never really had to micromanage, ‘Get your homework done’ or any of those types of things,” Jones said. “My heart is happy because it’s that confirming moment that maybe I am making a difference, maybe I am planting a seed, but this is all Alexus. She took control over it and was not afraid, and I’m highly impressed with her and very proud of all of the work that she has done.”

As she prepares for regional, Morris plans to meet with the county judges to fine-tune her presentation.

“I feel like they are going to have very similar eyes on it as my regional judges are, so I am definitely thankful that they are willing to meet with me. I’m definitely looking forward to that,” she said. “I feel like that’s going to help me clean a lot of the small things up, and then just the regional contest in general is obviously going to be a good opportunity.”

The top prize at regional will be $1,000, and the winner of the state’s Innovate WithIN pitch competition receives $25,000 in seed funding for their business.

Morris said she plans to invest half of her county Maverick Challenge winnings at New Legacy Wealth Management in Seymour, where she has worked since the summer of 2021.

After high school, Morris is headed to Indiana University to major in finance and minor in political science. She hopes to get into the Kelley School of Business.

“I’m either going to be a financial adviser or go to law school,” she said. “Those are my two options at the moment. I don’t really know which one I want to do, but that’s why I’m doing finance and political science so they’ll both be helpful for either career.”

At a glance 

11th annual Jackson County Maverick Challenge 

First place: Alexus Morris, Seymour High School, No Borders ($2,000)

Tier 2 winners: Hudson Fritz, Brownstown Central High School, E Shuttle ($900); Laikyn Horton, BCHS, My Point ($900); Jaylee Baker, Kenny Kelly and Lilly Kelly, SHS, The Tendy Truck ($900); Aspen Rhodes and John Polbito, SHS, Ring Master ($900)

Tier 3 winners: Brooklynn Osborne, SHS, Brooklynn’s Brew ($500); Parker Windley, SHS, The Night-Light Fishing Plier ($500); Ruthie Bingham, Trinity Lutheran High School, Ruthie’s Volleyball Skill Training ($500)

Participation awards: Tabitha Sleppy, SHS, Fruit of Education ($150); Natalie Pena, SHS, Butterfly for the Elderly ($150)

On the Web 

For information about the Maverick Challenge, visit or