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OCM BOCES nursing student wins two business innovation contests


May 3, 2024

OCM BOCES nursing student wins two business innovation contests


Anahja DeLee is an OCM BOCES nursing student with big aspirations.

The 21-year-old Syracuse woman recently won two back-to-back “pitch” competitions for her growing eyelash extension business, Skyla Esthetics, and took home nearly $18,000 to boost it to the next level.

DeLee most recently pitched her business to a panel of judges at the eighth-annual “Dolphin Tank” competition at Le Moyne College. Held in a packed auditorium, judges awarded regional entrepreneurs varying amounts of money from a $50,000 pot. Like the famous “Shark Tank” television show, the idea is to help promising entrepreneurs.

DeLee won first place at Dolphin Tank, taking home $12,950 for her beauty business. That money followed another first-place prize, $5,000, in a similar competition sponsored by The Good Life Foundation — a Syracuse non-profit that supports the entrepreneurial aspirations of high-risk youth. DeLee qualified for Dolphin Tank by taking first place in The Good Life Foundation event.

As an aspiring businesswoman and full-time practical nursing student at OCM BOCES, DeLee is constantly on the go. She hopes the money will allow her to buy inventory and hire staff, giving her more time to study. She recently opened a retail space at Jefferson and Warren streets—right in the heart of downtown Syracuse—and meets clients most evenings after a 7-hour day at school. She also uses the space to sell eyelash beauty supplies.

For DeLee, an experienced technician, attaching semi-permanent eyelashes to a client takes about 1 ½ hours. They usually return in a few weeks for “fillers” that maintain the eyelashes’ fullness. DeLee charges about $95 for a classic treatment and $70 for fillers. She is booked out for the next two months. For most clients, it’s a relaxing process.

“People lay down with their eyes closed and take a lash nap,” she said. “They usually fall asleep and wake up pretty.”

DeLee picked her middle name for the business, Skyla, because “it flows off the tongue” and is easier to spell than Anajha. She hopes it becomes a familiar name to everyone.

“I want to make Skyla Esthetics a national brand,” she said.

So why is she studying practical nursing at OCM BOCES?

That, too, is part of her business plan.

DeLee hopes to eventually own a medical or “med spa,” where women can get cosmetic treatments such as Botox or lip fillers. DeLee says you must be a nurse to provide those techniques legally and safely. She plans to become a licensed practical nurse through OCM BOCES and then work for a medical spa in the Maryland area, which could eventually help her with tuition to become a registered nurse.

Throughout this process, she plans to keep her storefront in Syracuse for eyelash supplies and extensions and open a second storefront in Maryland to cover expenses. “Phase 3” of her plan is to open stores in three large metropolitan areas — Miami, Houston and Atlanta — “which are all top-grossing in lashing sales,” she said.

DeLee can’t say where she gets her drive, but she’s had it from a young age. During high school, she sold eyelash strips from her grandfather’s front porch in the Valley section of Syracuse. It allowed her to save for her first car, a 2013 Chevy Impala. She continued her business at the University of Maryland in College Park, obtaining certification through a three-day course in Prince George's County and building a loyal clientele from her suite on campus. 

“I just want to be fulfilled with life,” she said. “I don’t ever want to feel like I haven’t done what I want to do. Some people are like, ‘Oh, one day …,’ and I think, why not today?” 

She was a good student at college, majoring in biology and hoping to become a dentist. She even got a year’s headstart in credits because she was part of the international baccalaureate program at Corcoran High School. Her dentistry dream faded after learning from a client about the med spa business, which seemed a perfect fit for her passions. Still, she didn’t have the money to attend nursing school. That’s when she came home, went to CNY Works and received tuition support for the 11-month OCM BOCES practical nursing program. DeLee expects to graduate in August.

“Sometimes it feels like your head will explode with all the knowledge you need to be a nurse,” she said. “But more than anything, outside of the curriculum, it’s teaching me about discipline, time management, staying true to your word, veracity. It’s even teaching me how to take losses gracefully.” The latter occurs, she said, when she studies for a test and still feels surprised by some of the questions.


“I underestimated BOCES, quite honestly,” she said.


One of her clinical instructors, Shaquana Jones, said Anaja obviously desires to be successful and always takes steps “to understand lab and clinical skills to prepare effectively.”


“She goes the extra mile to understand the information, which is important in providing great patient care and education,” Jones said.


DeLee recommends BOCES to others.


“If you can go to this school for a small amount of money and not rack up loans, do it,” she said. “ It’s a stepping stone for anything.”