On Sunday, Sept. 19, graduates from the Class of 2020 were honored in a Commencement ceremony in the stadium after an in-person Commencement in May 2020 had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rylaxing LLC team returns to SU to put scholarship into action
As incoming freshmen take their first steps on campus this August, four Syracuse University graduates return for an extra year of school as part of the Kauffman Entrepreneurship Engagement Fellowship (KEEF) program. Fellows participate in local projects or ventures that incorporate the principles of SU’s Scholarship in Action vision, allowing them to explore innovative ways to help create sustainable economic development in Central New York.
The KEEF program gives SU students the unique ability to create their own venture, while engaging with the surrounding community. KEEF was made possible through a five-year, $3 million grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in 2009. SU Associate Provost for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Bruce Kingma says, “The Engagement Fellows program has provided a great opportunity to showcase our student entrepreneurs. Those who start successful ventures as undergraduates are able to continue the growth of their business, and themselves, by living, working and contributing to the Central New York economy.” The yearlong fellows program also has a track for those who are not entrepreneurs, which helps to secure local employment and arranges remitted tuition for all students in graduate courses at the University.
In the fall of 2007, Ryan Dickerson ’11, Stephen Fox ’11, Michael Santaniello ’11 and Case Wayne ’11 took the same first steps on campus as today’s freshmen. Four years ago, KEEF did not exist, nor did Rylaxing LLC, and Scholarship in Action was just starting to be discussed on campus.
When Dickerson walked into his residence hall room for the first time that fall, he was struck with the realization of how little room he had. He spent months rearranging his heavy furniture in an attempt to create a more comfortable space to live in and hang out with new friends. “There has to be a better way,” he thought. That was the moment Dickerson first conceived of the Rylaxer, a bolster designed as a backrest that transforms any bed into a couch. The product promotes lower back health, while allowing a small room to be turned into a social hot spot. After returning to school, he became the only freshman in Flint Hall to actually have a couch in his dorm room. When his friends asked where they could buy one, an entrepreneur was born.
The Rylaxer is made from durable, eco-friendly foam and is manufactured by OneUp Innovations in Atlanta, Ga. The product comes in a 2-foot-long, 4-foot-long, and 6-foot-long versions.
As seniors, Dickerson, Fox, Santaniello and Wayne found themselves in a similar position as many who had preceded them. They had job offers with guaranteed salaries waiting for them, but they also had a company they had built with their own hands and a product in which they truly believed. Were it not for the generosity of KEEF, these hard-working and passionate students would have left the city they had called home for the past four years. Instead, they will stay in the city of Syracuse, try to grow their business, and help boost the economy.
Since 2010, Rylaxing LLC has been named one of Inc. Magazine’s “Coolest College Startups,” received second place in the Whitman School of Management’s annual Panasci Business Plan Competition and was placed on the cover of Orange Entrepreneur Magazine last year. This summer, the team joined forces with another group of Syracuse entrepreneurs in Ryan Cuvelier ’08 and Max Kimble ’08, founders of the social media consultation firm Metronome3.
“It’s great to be working with fellow SU entrepreneurs,” says Cuvelier. “This is one of the most dedicated and passionate teams that I have had the pleasure of working with.” Together, the team has created their own path that embodies the principles of Scholarship in Action.
The KEEF program has opened a whole new population of committed SU students to the objectives of the initiative. The Rylaxing LLC members are excited to be a pioneer company in the program, hoping to clear the path for future entrepreneurs to follow their dreams, while giving back to the city. Dickerson, who could not stand the thought of sitting behind a computer screen at an entry-level position, says of the program, “The greatest part is that you can make it whatever you want. If you have a dream, you just have to go out and do some work, but SU will give you help every step of the way.”
For more information on Rylaxer, follow Rylaxing on Twitter @RylaxingLLC.