Seymour High School senior wins Maverick Challenge regional


Alexus Morris has earned more money to put toward her future, including making her business dream a reality.

The Seymour High School senior was declared the winner of the Maverick Challenge regional competition, which was conducted Feb. 19 via Zoom.

More than an hour after her presentation, Courtney Rushton, coordinator of the high school business planning competition for the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, returned to the Zoom meeting to announce judges’ choice, second place and first place.

“I was extremely excited, to say the least,” Morris said of hearing her name called as the winner.

She received $1,250 to add to the $2,000 she earned from winning the 11th annual Jackson County Maverick Challenge on Jan. 19.

“I plan to save most of my earnings for college. I am also investing some of it,” Morris said.

As far as getting her business, No Borders, started, she said she has a 90-day timeline created. The translation firm will be focused on hometown hospitality and bridging the gap between native and non-native speakers in the community.

“I am meeting with Jeff Lorenzo (a Seymour attorney) in the following weeks to discuss investors and more of the legal aspects of it,” she said. “Depending on how that goes will determine my next steps. There has been talk of grants, investors, loans and more.”

Morris also plans to compete in the Innovate WithIN statewide pitch competition, where students have the opportunity to collaborate with world-class innovators and compete for $25,000 in seed funding, up to $10,000 in tuition to any Indiana college and additional prizes worth $5,000.

To prepare for the regional, Morris said she looked at the comments from the judges at the county level and met with one of them, Michelle Schaefer, to change some of her finances. She also made a new logo, business cards and envelope labels and tried to increase the appearance of her slides, and Owl Manufacturing made a banner to hang behind her on the wall.

Two days before regional, Morris and Schaefer did a practice Zoom.

“I changed a few of the financials, but there wasn’t much content that needed changed,” Morris said. “I was really focused on adding things to try and separate myself from the rest of the competitors, such as the business cards and banner.”

On the day of the competition, nine students representing five counties in southeastern Indiana pitched their business plans.

Morris said several of the students who went before her had technology issues, so that made her very nervous. Her presentation, though, went pretty well, she said.

“I feel like one of my strongest assets at the county contest was my presentation and connection with the judges. To say I was disappointed when it went virtual is an understatement. We overcame it, however,” she said. “Having the nice camera and banner made me feel a lot better. Courtney also let me drop off my envelopes ahead of time so the judges had them in front of them. Obviously, the outcome was great.”

A few days later, she received the rubrics from the regional judges.

“They had some helpful comments and a lot of praise,” Morris said. “They seemed to really like the customer validation aspect of it.”

Coordinated and sponsored by the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, the Maverick Challenge is designed to give high school students hands-on experience in the practice of entrepreneurship, specifically launching a business. The online digital curriculum that teaches foundational business concepts and work with local mentors guide students as they take their ideas from a concept to a developed business plan.

This year, 300 students from Bartholomew, Dearborn, Franklin, Jackson, Monroe and Scott counties participated in the program. Since its inception in 2008, thousands of students have participated, and more than $100,000 has been awarded.

Jackson County began competing in 2011, and since then, students have been awarded more than $77,000 at the county, regional and state levels, said Jackie Hill, workforce partnership director for Jackson County Industrial Development Corp.

While county students have received awards at the regional level in the past, the last time Jackson County had a winner was Nigel Myers, Clay Brown and Noah Killey from Brownstown Central High School for the 2013-14 school year.

Hill was able to watch Morris’ presentation and also tuned in for the awards.

“Alexus did an outstanding job, very confident and professional and answered all the judges’ questions with ease and confidence,” Hill said. “I texted her after her presentation and told her no matter what the results were, we were very proud of her and she represented Jackson County very well.”

When they announced Morris’ name as the winner, Hill said she let out a scream and started jumping up and down.

“Very excited for her and proud of all the hard work she did in preparing for her presentation,” Hill said.

The program is student-driven, but Hill said a special thanks goes to the teachers who work alongside them making sure they complete their work and hit all of the deadlines. Those teachers are Dawn Jones at SHS, Robin Perry at BCHS and Bryan Schroer at Trinity Lutheran High School.

Morris also had high praise for Jones.

“None of this would have been possible without Mrs. Jones,” she said. “I was in her room every day, from the day before the county contest to the day after regional. She was always willing to let me bounce ideas off of her and direct me to whoever I needed to speak to about it. She was one of my biggest supporters throughout this entire journey. The passion she has for this program is really incredible.”

Morris also thanked Schaefer and the other county judges, Kathy Covert, Brett Bevers, Lance Gentry and Doug Prather, for providing feedback; Mat and Vanessa DuSablon for running through financials and giving tips; Tasha Rieckers for informing her about Google Voice; Curt Schleibaum for providing her with a camera and making the banner; Hill for ensuring she had all of the information about regional; and her parents for being “a huge help.”

“Whether it be giving me pointers about being a small business owner or watching me frantically pace around the house before awards, they were there every step of the way,” Morris said of her parents, Zach and Heather Morris.

Morris said she really enjoyed doing the Maverick Challenge, noting it was completely different from any contest she had done in the past.

“My favorite part was probably the networking with local business professionals. I met a ton of people and was able to take their advice and really take my presentation to the next step,” she said. “It was really rewarding to be working on a single presentation for so many months and then end up winning both county and regional. This contest has also helped me to see the startup of a business for myself.”

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