Collegiate business competitions launch student entrepreneurs into industry success

Jacob Goldman presenting at Lion's Cage competition
February 2, 2024
By Anna Boone
“Have you ever been laid off?” Sophomore Jacob Goldman, clad in suit and tie, asked a judges panel of business leaders. "It's terrifying to get that hand on your shoulder- the boss needs to see’s almost like you know what’s coming. But what if you actually did?”
Jacob Goldman

These were the opening lines of Goldman’s April 2023 Lion’s Cage Competition pitch for Layoff Lookout, an innovative company intended to promote “layoff transparency.” Co-founded with his cousin Noah Schwartz, their business model functions through an early alert email system notifying users of upcoming mass layoffs planned by their employer or affecting their area.

From the inspiration and initial idea to development and expansion in less than a year, Layoff Lookout ( has seen marked growth as a legitimate company with hundreds of members to date taking advantage of the free sign-up. 

An article about the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act) piqued Schwartz’s interest during the beginning of his freshman spring semester at The University of Vermont. This set of overarching federal and varied state regulations requires, with certain qualifiers, employers to publicly report planned mass layoffs well in advance- the key to Layoff Lookout’s business model. 

“We saw a gap and we both knew we had the ability to fill that gap,” Goldman said. 

Layoff Lookout homepage screenshot

In February of 2023, Goldman’s Principles of Microeconomics professor, Allison Roberts, put the Lion’s Cage Competition on his radar. This Shark Tank-adjacent business pitch competition is held as a part of Flagler’s annual Business Week, a unique channel in which the cousins saw an opportunity to expand their ideas on WARN notice uses. 

“Business Week has proven to be immensely beneficial for Flagler students to test out their entrepreneurial ideas and skills,” Director of the Brown Innovation Center and Freytag Associate Professor of Economics Allison Roberts said. “It’s yet another advantage that our students enjoy from being at our small college with a dedicated faculty and highly engaged advisory board members.”

Jacob standing with the Advisory Board

After Roberts presented information about the competition to her class, it didn't take long for Goldman and Schwartz to start cooking up their pitch. 

“While he had the idea before entering my course, Jacob was able to capitalize on the opportunity to incorporate the concepts from our class, more fully develop his endeavor, and compete in the Lion’s Cage for prize money to help launch his venture,” Roberts said. “Working with such motivated, talented students is one of the many joys of teaching at Flagler.”

They both agreed, “alright, let’s get it done!” And they did. In less than three months, they went from an idea to a launched website accepting sign-ups.

“I slept on the Innovation Center couch,” Goldman said, recounting many late-night work sessions. 

Especially during those “late-night brand design [sessions] and all-day software meetings,” FaceTime was integral to the company’s liftoff. Collaborating from opposite ends of the eastern seaboard, Schwartz was up in Vermont simultaneously preparing a Layoff Lookout pitch for his university’s similar business pitch competition.

Noah recieving competition award

The UVM competition, also held in April, varied slightly from Lion’s cage with multiple prizes and awards, two of which Schwartz won for his Layoff lookout pitch: the "Most Innovative Technology" title and grand prize seed money. Both helped to provide the validation and capital their company needed.

“What I think really helped us [in the competitions] was... our ability to have something kind of already available,” Goldman said, referring to Schwartz’s win and his own third-place prize earned at the Lion’s Cage Competition.

“It wasn’t just a personal achievement,” Schwartz said. “It was a validation of our shared dream.”

From silly “little videos” on iMovie to Schwartz’s lemonade stand that developed into a full-fledged beverage company, the pair has always been “very agile,” in their collaboration and ability to learn alongside budding ideas.

“For as long as I can remember, Jake and I have been pitching ideas to each other, whether it be business ideas, places we want to visit, or lifestyles we want to live- our visions are aligned,” Schwartz said. 

Jacob and Noah dressed in suits when they were much younger.

Goldman and Schwartz may be on the same wavelength, but their differing academic interests have proven to complement each other quite well.

“He is really great at understanding the whole system and understanding why things are not working...” Goldman said, describing his cousin’s mechanical engineering studies and internship with Beta Technologies. “He definitely has it in the technical sense, when we're setting up different things online, and then I'll have it more in our business sense.”

Their compatible skillsets, combined academic resources, and dual prize money gave the co-founders a nice launch into business. But one major piece of the puzzle had yet to be situated- the software program that is the backbone of their business. 

“We had an idea of how we wanted the system to work,” Goldman said. “We had an idea of how we wanted it to flow.”

While was live for sign-ups at the time of their competition pitches, the backend program was not. A major chunk of their seed money went “straight to developers, building out the scrapers, the program, all the back-end stuff,” a job they contracted to a couple of Schwartz’s friends. 

“They did a great job building out the foundation of what we have,” Goldman said. “Neither of us could build what was built on our own.”

Goldman considers the WARN Act notices, and the valuable information they provide employees, a relatively unexplored “stream of information.” This untapped quality was something that excited the duo in the early stages.

“We’ve had some ‘competitors’ who do similar things, trying to track layoffs,” Goldman said. “But no one does everything that we are, for free.”

Among this slim racket of competitors, Goldman said Layoff Lookout’s automated email alerts that are personal to your employer and State, its continuously updated nation-wide WARN notice data, and the free platform are what sets them apart. 

But with waning capital, Goldman said any marketing for the company has been organic. In addition to “cold-calling and cold-emailing media publications,” which landed Layoff Lookout a feature in the Q3 Saratoga Business Report and podcast spot, Goldman has been leaning into the company’s TikTok account since he believes it has the best “generation of organic growth.”

Visit Layoff Lookout's TikTok Channel

He said the primary focus of the past few months has been expansion within their business structure. 

As far as the layoff email alerts go, Goldman said they have “no plans,” to charge user fees in the future. But that doesn't mean they aren't hard at work mapping other possible revenue channels, like a free newsletter with ad-revenue.

“We're also working on our premium tier,” a paid membership subscription giving users premium search, filter, and download tools on the platform’s database.

“There're a million use cases, and I’m obviously not going to come up with all of them,” Goldman said. “What can you do with a new data set? A billion things. I think it'll be interesting to see how people take this and run with.”

Off-hand, Goldman listed industries like HR consulting and stock-trading that could greatly benefit from access to this data in an easily analyzed and manipulated CVS file form. They even aspire to partner with big-name players in the employment industry, like Indeed and ZipRecruiter. With an overwhelming portion of this industry focused on the job search, Goldman pointed out the niche their company could fill. 

A recent photo of Jacob and Noah standing together

Imagine getting a notice, he said, that “you might be affected in this next layoff,” and in that same message, listings of job openings within the industry matching your current role or skillset. 

“Like every venture, we are always innovating and expanding,” Schwartz said. “All while being very passionate about empowering employees to take control of their futures, one alert at a time.”

While he humbly credited most of their success to “a lot of things just kind of lining up,” it seems like passion also drives his motivation and success. 

“This excites me,” Goldman said. “This is not work to me. This is fun.”

Share This Story