Professor Doug Brownstone poses with Leslie Silva, who completed a Rutgers MBA in 2021.

MBA alumna wins top prize in business plan competition to grow year-old home decor start-up

Tenacity is what made Leslie Silva a standout MBA student at Rutgers Business School — and the winner of the 2024 RBS business plan competition.

After her third submission in five years, Silva, who graduated as part of the Class of 2021, won the top prize of $25,000 for her glass dispenser home organization business.

Leslie has a stick-with-it, if you fail, get up and try again attitude,” said Doug Brownstone, an assistant professor who has organized the annual Shark Tank-style contest funded by the Sales Executive Club of Northern New Jersey Foundation for more than 20 years. A total of $50,000 is awarded annually.

Silva said her company, Homelistic, grew out of a challenge from her husband, Jon. The coffee aficionado bought glass syrup dispenser bottles for her kitchen coffee bar, in keeping with her passion to maintain an uncluttered, stylish home. When the product arrived, her husband, whom she described as a quality control guy,” gave it a once-over. He said, `You could do [this] so much better!’” she recalled.

While working full-time as director of Professional Strategy for Bausch + Lomb, Silva began investigating how to build a better-quality glass coffee syrup dispenser that would meet her aesthetic standards, and finding a manufacturer to produce it.

Last June, the Branchburg couple launched Homelistic, selling sets exclusively on Amazon.

Leslie Silva with the products she sells through her startup.
Leslie Silva with the glass coffee syrup dispensers she sells through her startup.

The product “was something consumers would want, and really aesthetically pleasing,” Brownstone said. It gained some real traction on Amazon.”

The problem, Silva found, was the heavy fees charged by the multinational online marketplace. In her business plan pitch for the competition, Silva sought funding to produce a second product and to attract customers to buy from the company website, which would increase the profit margin.  

Within the first year, the Silvas recouped their initial investment. The prize money from the Rutgers business plan competition will allow Silva to expand her product line to include glass bottles for soaps, shampoos and conditioners, she said.

Silva set her sights on becoming an entrepreneur long ago, looking to her mother as her role model. Her mother emigrated from Cuba to escape Communism, and worked in factories and then took odd jobs to make a living. She eventually started a successful plastic manufacturing business that served big-name clients including Estée Lauder. Entrepreneurship runs through my veins,” Silva said.

A group photo showing all contestants who competed in the 2024 Rutgers Business Plan Competition.
First place winner Leslie Silva poses with all of the contestants who competed in the 2024 Rutgers Business Plan Competition.

Silva attended the Rutgers MBA program part time for four years part-time while working her way up the ladder at Bausch + Lomb. Her studies focused on marketing. She said she chose RBS because she wanted to be surrounded by like-minded, driven people. Silva insisted on an in-person education, so her choice had to be easy to drive to after work, she said.

Rutgers gets really great press, and as a large school, it offered more opportunities and connections, which was really important to me,” she said. She credits RBS with helping develop her business acumen. But what most impacted her was the RBS community and the mentors like Professor Brownstone who believed in me.”

Brownstone had Silva as a student in several classes, including Rutgers Integrated Business Applications, also known as Team Consulting. Students work with multinational companies to help solve real-world challenges the businesses face. Silva was undaunted. “She was always like, Let’s Go. Let’s figure this out!” Brownstone recalled. 

Silva is hopeful that Homelistic will take off, as other business plan competition winners have. Juan Salinas, the 2018 victor, appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank two years later and scored a $400,000 offer from billionaire Mark Cuban for his P-nuff Crunch healthy snack. The 2015 winners used the prize money to build their first Playa Bowls kitchen. There are now more than 200 Playa Bowls eateries across the nation.

The Rutgers Business Plan Competition is open to alumni as well as current RBS graduate and undergraduate students.

Silva continues to work in the contact lens division of Bausch + Lomb, traveling extensively in her role as conduit between eye doctors and the company. Her goal is to move Homelistic to its own space — the couple’s basement and garage are currently stacked wall-to-wall with product — and one day run the business full time. “Am I going to compete again?” she said. “A thousand percent!”

Members of the Rutgers community will receive a half-price discount when they use the coupon code Rutgers50 on the Homelistic website.

-Margaret McHugh

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