Adam Lyons was in elementary school when he started his first business. He competed with the school librarian for the attention of his classmates by starting a candy stand.
“I think it was just about seeing a problem and figuring out how to solve it,” said Lyons, a 2009 risk management and insurance alumnus. “I couldn’t get candy and I really wanted candy, so I figured out a way to make that happen.”
Now Lyons is the CEO and cofounder of The Zebra, a comparison website for car insurance quotes, and one of three former Temple students to make this year’s Forbes Magazine’s “30 under 30” list. The list includes 600 young professionals in 20 sectors like media, education and science. Lyons joined Jamira Burley, a 2012 international business major, and Quinta Brunson, a former communications major who dropped out and became a development partner at BuzzFeed.
Burley, 28, is a youth and social justice advocate and was a National Deputy Millennial Vote Director for Hillary for America during the election.
Brunson, 27, created three shows last year and sold two of them to YouTube Red — a branch of YouTube which requires a paid subscription — including “Broke,” in which she stars with fellow former communications major Maurice Williams.
Although she works in a different field than Lyons, Burley also sees the importance of problem-solving. She grew up in a family of 16 children. After seeing all 10 of her older brothers become incarcerated and losing one of them to a shooting when she was 15 years old, she decided she wanted to improve the conditions in her community and help end gun violence.
“I think it’s a struggle every single day,” she said. “My motivation was recognizing that I have five younger brothers and sisters and unlike them, for a long time I didn’t have good role models. You can be better than your predecessors, you can be more than what the situation around you allows.”
Burley became the first person in her family to graduate from high school and college.
“I knew the only way I could become successful, at least in America, was to expand my education,” she said. “Additional education would allow me to be more impactful in my community.”
“But the process of getting there was hard just because no one knew what was the process,” she added. “It was a burden, I think, for most of the people in my family because we don’t have a lot of money, but I think a lot of people in my family made sacrifices to allow me to get that whole college experience.”
Her main priorities are working with young people and giving people the resources they need to make sure their voices are heard, like voting information, she added.
“My frame of mind has always been, ‘How can I learn as much as I can in order to improve the conditions of where I come from?’” she said. “I think that’s the true meaning of leadership.”
Unlike Burley, Lyons dropped out of school when he was 15 years old because he was frustrated by “not really being able to pick as much what [he] wanted to learn” and moved out to enter the “real world” and learn how to take care of himself.
“There’s not a guide or a book to tell you exactly what you should be doing and how you should be doing it and how to survive,” he added. “And for me, I was excited to start navigating that world myself. Exploring and making mistakes gave me a big advantage.”
By the time Lyons was 18 years old, he realized his interest in business could grow if he went back to school, so he decided to enroll at Temple. He paid his way through college by fixing up old cars and selling them on Craigslist.
Norman Baglini, a former risk management professor, taught Lyons’ senior capstone class and recalled multiple times that Lyons came to his office hours just to talk about careers and the future, which made him stand out among other students.
It was during college, Lyons said, that he gained the experience and skills necessary to start a business that simplifies insurance. His inspiration behind the business, he said, was a desire to solve a problem he noticed with car insurance in the United States while he was studying abroad in London: car insurance comparison was far more simple abroad than in the United States.
“I think Temple, what stands out to me, is that it was a really diverse school,” Lyons said. “I think that really inspires students and people to think differently and shows people that there’s not just one way to do something, there are multiple things that could work.”
Other alumni and students who have been on the list include Olivier Noel, 28, who is spending three years of his eight-year medical school education at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine as a visiting graduate student and Jessica Hische, a 2006 graphic and interactive design alumna who made the list in 2011. Noel was listed in the Science sector and Hische was listed in the Art and Design category.
Of the alumni on the list this year, both Lyons and Burley were in the Fox School of Business and said their educations at Temple contributed to their success.
“We are the only insurance company on that Forbes list, which is really cool, and we see insurance differently than everything else, which comes from wanting to innovate and think differently,” Lyons said. “And that comes from being in a place with different people [like Temple].”
Baglini said Lyons’ story — and his success in Forbes’ “30 under 30” — is best encapsulated by the quotation Lyons put in his email signature.
“His read, ‘What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t fail?’” Baglini said. It kind of [sums it up], doesn’t it?”
Erin Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ernmrntweets.