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Meet 7 former Grow Your Value contestants who are surviving and thriving amid Covid-19

Covid-19 has destroyed many livelihoods. But these women managed to pivot, adapt and succeed in their new environment. Here's how.
Barbara Ginty (left), Tiffany Hamilton and Jen Scherer were the Grow Your Value bonus competition finalists in 2017. Hamilton made the winning pitch to Mika Brzezinski and a panel of judges.
Barbara Ginty (left), Tiffany Hamilton and Jen Scherer were the Grow Your Value bonus competition finalists in 2017. Hamilton made the winning pitch to Mika Brzezinski and a panel of judges.

While nothing could have prepared former Grow Your Value bonus contestants for Covid-19, they know all about pivoting at a moment’s notice. And that has helped them weather the current storm with confidence.

Many apply to be contestants while facing massive shifts in their careers. If they’re selected as finalists for the annual event, hosted by Mika Brzezinski and Know Your Value, they receive professional coaching, styling, network opportunities and more. While the first place winner also receives a cash prize, everyone leaves being able to present their strengths clearly and effectively, which is an essential tool for knowing – and growing – your value.

Know Your Value recently caught up with seven past contestants and winners of several previous Grow Your Value contests, including in San Francisco, New York, Orlando, and Philadelphia to find out how they are surviving and thriving during a global pandemic.

Jennifer Scherer, 2017 Grow Your Value finalist in NYC

Jennifer Scherer of Magnified Events.Courtesy of Jennifer Scherer

When Covid-19 hit, Jennifer Scherer initially laid in bed with depression for days. She had recently launched her team-building business, Magnified Events. All of the company’s programming was on-site and in-person.

“My business brings people together,” said Scherer. “It allows them to interact and have fun. I kept thinking, ‘where am I going to go now?’”

Scherer started to cheer up when she remembered a lesson she learned during the 2017 Grow Your Value contest in New York.

“I remember [coaches] saying that hardship and struggle is when you have your biggest growth. So, I started trying to be optimistic,” said Scherer.

Scherer decided to retool Magnified Events from the ground up and go completely virtual.

The revamp eventually paid off. A major financial institution hired Magnified Events to help build an engaging five-week virtual internship program. It was the turning point Scherer needed. The company has been thriving ever since.

“The idea is, when you see an obstacle, instead of being fearful, look at it as an opportunity to be creative,” said Scherer.

Kaylenne Brown, 2015 Grow Your Value winner in Orlando

Kaylenne Brown, owner of Plant-Based Eatz.Courtesy of Kaylenne Brown.

Kaylenne Brown was managing her vegan personal chef business Plant-Based Eatz when Covid-19 hit. Her work was based almost entirely inside peoples’ homes and depended on face-to-face interaction with clients.

Brown is used to pivoting, however. Now she’s a chef and nutritionist, but previously had a military career and a fitness business.

Due to the pandemic, Brown moved all of her cooking classes online and started shipping her vegan baked goods for the first time. It has been a huge success, she said. As it turns out, people in confinement crave sweets.

“We've all been at home eating grandma’s cakes and cookies,” said Brown, who won the Grow Your Value bonus competition in Orlando in 2015. At the time, she ran fitness company Sweat N Swag.

Brown said she is also creating customized meal plans and pivoted her nutrition advice to cater to these strange times, emphasizing items like vitamin D and immunity boosters. Many of her clients, she said, have experienced the “Covid-20,” referring to the pounds they’ve gained during the pandemic, she said.

“People are asking how to keep themselves healthy,” Brown said. “We just need to eat better.”

Joanna Schwartz, 2015 Grow Your Value winner in Philadelphia

Joanna Schwartz, founder of Toolbox for Teachers.Courtesy of Joanna Schwartz.

Joanna Schwartz is a schoolteacher in Philadelphia and founder of Toolbox for Teachers, a training program focused on trauma-informed, neurodiverse education.

When Covid-19 hit, Schwartz had to go fully virtual. She now teaches the third grade online. Unfortunately, Toolbox for Teachers has not adapted perfectly to the virtual platform, she said.

“I have done some virtual workshops, but a lot of the positive energy and excitement is missing when teachers are not in the same room together,” said Schwartz, who won Grow Your Value in Philadelphia in 2015.

As she works to improve the training experience, Schwartz has a side-pivot up her sleeve. She is writing her first book, which is inspired by the Toolbox for Teachers program. It will hit shelves in nine months under a U.K. publisher, Schwartz said.

Tiffany Hamilton, 2017 Grow Your Value winner in NYC

Mika Brzezinski with 2017 Grow Your Value bonus winner Tiffany Hamilton.Anthony Scutro

Tiffany Hamilton works in the diversity and inclusion industry as a business owner, coach and as chief diversity officer at Pace University.

Like many industries, diversity and inclusion went virtual during Covid-19. Hamilton said it was initially challenging for the business, which is dependent on human connection.

“Many of the clients miss the presence of community. It pushes me to leverage engagement opportunities and keep attention all under 55 minutes,” said Hamilton, who won the New York Grow Your Value contest in 2017. “... It’s been difficult. We have to manage the expectation of being present against the very real emotions of employees.”

On the positive side, Hamilton said she has witnessed a cultural and mental shift during Covid-19 that has made people more receptive to diversity and inclusion conversations. She expanded her virtual offerings in order to meet the moment.

“What Covid-19 has done is a beautiful job of doing is neutralizing the distractions and forcing us all to see more of the world around us,” said Hamilton. “We have taken advantage of the captive audiences...Ultimately, we are benefiting from the virtual space.”

Barbara Ginty, 2017 Grow Your Value finalist in NYC

Barbara Ginty, founder of Planancial.Courtesy of Barbara Ginty.

Although she didn’t know it before Covid-19, Barbara Ginty’s personal finance education business Planancial was well-positioned for a pandemic.

“I have been fortunate that my businesses have grown and also that, operationally, we were prepared to work remote,” said Ginty, a certified financial planner and contestant in Grow Your Value in 2017 in New York.

Planancial offers fun, accessible personal finance classes online. Ginty also hosts a personal finance podcast called “Future Rich.” Since Covid-19, customers have needed her products more than ever, and she is working to meet the growing demand.

The pandemic “really highlighted the importance of having control of your finances and being prepared for any sort of emergency,” said Ginty.

Jennifer Nixon, finalist Grow Your Value contest in San Francisco

Jennifer Nixon, a finalist in the Grow Your Value contest in San FranciscoCourtesy of Jennifer Nixon.

Jennifer Nixon recently graduated from UC Berkeley’s business school. She was all set to start a new job at the management consulting firm Deloitte in October. Due to Covid-19, her start date is on hold until January.

Nixon is taking advantage of the time off by spending it with family. After touring the world for 13 years in the Army as a helicopter pilot, she said she is making up for lost time.

“It has actually been a blessing for me,” said Nixon, who competed in Grow Your Value in San Francisco in 2018. “I was able to be present for the birth of my best friend's twins, my two new godsons, which is amazing. I've missed all of her other kids' births because I've been all over the world with the Army, so this is really great for aunt Jenny.”

Nixon said she plans to stay at Deloitte for many years, but that down the line—post-pandemic — she hopes to start a heli-skiing business.

“Covid-19 changes the face of things but doesn’t change my trajectory,” said Nixon.

Emily Reeves Dean, 2015 Grow Your Value contest winner in Chicago

Emily Reeves Dean, a 2015 Grow Your Value contest winner in ChicagoCourtesy of Emily Reeves Dean.

Emily Reeves Dean runs a digital marketing business, which has exploded during Covid-19. Everyone is glued to their computers, she said, and online advertising has skyrocketed. Dean said her clients have needed additional support and around-the-clock communication.

“I haven’t had to pivot so much as work harder and expand my skill set to meet the needs of my clients,” said Dean, who won Grow Your Value in Chicago in 2015.

Dean has also pursued humanitarian side projects. In May, Dean and her friend Amy Hester launched a podcast called “Conversations, Cocktails and Connections” where they interview small business owners and local businesses based in their hometown, Little Rock, Ark. They hope to revitalize areas in crisis.

“We want to highlight people who are struggling during this time,” said Dean.