Carnegie Mellon University

Photo of Isaiah Rodgers

May 06, 2024

Disruptor with a Cause: Tepper School Student Converts Setbacks into Startup Success

By Sheila Davis

Sheila Davis
  • Associate Director of Media Relations
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Isaiah Rodgers' journey from selling candy in his school in Newark, New Jersey, to a promising business leader at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business is a story of resilience, innovation, and vision.

From an early age, Rodgers was destined for big things in business. He sold candy to his classmates when he was 10 years old and sold custom T-shirts when he was in high school — even working to get local stores to carry his product. But his entrepreneurial journey was anything but straightforward. 

While completing his high school studies at North Star Academy in Newark, NJ, Rodgers committed to Carnegie Mellon University in August 2019 to pursue a career in architecture. As a first-generation college student, and with the COVID-19 pandemic, the stark demographic differences of Pittsburgh compared to Newark, and the academic rigor and demands of the architecture program, he felt lost. 

The coursework was challenging and overwhelming — he wanted to drop out. His advisor suggested he take a leave of absence instead, which he did. 

“Honestly, I had no intention of coming back,” said Rodgers. “I agreed to take a leave of absence, but at that moment, I believed I wasn’t meant to go to college. Maybe it wasn’t for me.” 

While on leave, he returned home to Newark and began working for a food delivery service. While delivering orders, Rodgers noticed many stranded motorists in need of simple vehicle repairs while waiting for roadside assistance. This observation sparked the idea of tapping into the gig economy for quick, on-demand support for drivers stuck waiting for help, e.g. a food delivery driver who could change a tire after dropping off dinner. As the new idea swirled in his head, Rodgers decided he was ready to go back to school. 

Rodgers texted his contact at Tartan Scholars, a program at Carnegie Mellon that addresses the needs of high-achieving student leaders who come from limited-resource backgrounds. His contact called him back within an hour, and they figured out a plan to bring Rodgers back to school. 

In the fall of 2021, he returned to Carnegie Mellon with an undeclared major, but he enrolled in courses that would help him transfer into the Tepper School. 

A year later, Rodgers and his brother Zamir launched their start-up called Clutch. Their hard work paid off when they secured first place in the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship’s McGinnis Venture Competition, which validated their business concept and fueled their ambition to scale Clutch further. Clutch was also highlighted in the Poets & Quants 2023 Most Disruptive Business School Startups feature.


From left to right, Dave Mawhinney, Isaiah Rodgers, and Zamir Rodgers

 “Isaiah exemplifies the spirit of innovation and resilience. He didn’t just overcome challenges; he used them as stepping stones to innovate and lead in the business world."

- Dave Mawhinney, founding executive director of the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship and teaching professor of entrepreneurship at the Tepper School.


Reflecting on his journey to earning his bachelor of science in business administration and launching a startup, Isaiah appreciated the critical role of his support network at Carnegie Mellon and the practical learning experiences that shaped his entrepreneurial approach. As he looks to the future, he is committed to investing more time into Clutch, exploring accelerator programs around the country, and continuing to innovate within the gig economy.

But first, Rodgers will mark his graduation from the Tepper School with his parents, siblings, aunts, and hometown friends. The celebration extends beyond his academic achievements to honor a milestone for his entire family. As a first-generation college graduate, his commencement is a profound symbol of possibility, paving the way for others who dare to dream big.