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Young ISU entrepreneur wins with idea to help kids with autism

Pantagraph - 11/4/2018

Nov. 03--BLOOMINGTON -- Emma Schoth of Mount Pulaski watched the struggles her sister had finding appropriate toys for her son, Drake, who is on the autism spectrum.

Wanting to help her nephew and other children with special needs, the freshman in psychology at Illinois State University founded Drake's Toys, a subscription box service in which families get a box of toys tailored to their child's needs and interests.

Schoth started her business while in high school as part of a Logan County program called Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities. Her idea got a big boost Friday when she won the the ISU Startup Showcase.

She will receive $6,000 in support to help with such things as getting her business incorporated and building her inventory.

The contacts she made with successful entrepreneurs during the event, which included a dinner on Thursday, were also valuable, she said.

"To be around so many successful people in one place is really cool," said Schoth.

She uses a survey of each family to customize each box with toys that are "age appropriate and also fun."

Second place, receiving $4,000 in support, was Daniel Kogan of Computer Kid, which provides personalized in-home service repairing or setting up computers and other technology and tutoring on their use.

Kogan is a sophomore in marketing from Glencoe.

Third place went to Abbey Testin of Simply Sugar.

Testin, a sophomore from Downers Grove, has been baking cakes and other things in her parents' kitchen for about five years and said, "I'm ready to move up."

Her idea for taking Strictly Sugar to the next level is to have "a tiny house bakery" where the business is on the first floor and living quarters are above. The advantage of the tiny house concept is the ability to move it from place to place -- and a shorter "commute," said Testin, who is majoring in family and consumer science teacher education.

Thirty-five students initially entered the competition, with 15 reaching the Startup Showcase at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Bloomington. This is the eighth year for the Startup Showcase, which evolved from Entrepreneurship Day.

Terry Lowe, interim co-director of ISU's Means Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, said, "It was a more rigorous process this year." Participants had to attend regular meetings and rehearse their presentations.

"We hope they're more prepared and know what they're getting into," said Lowe.

Senior Ty Tucker, one of seven finalists, gave credit to his mother, Kelly Tucker, a registered nurse.

Noting she always worked long hours and many holidays, Tucker said: "My mom instilled a good work ethic in me. ... A lot of this is just to make her proud."

Tucker, an agribusiness major from Middletown, competed with his company CT Powerwashing, a business he started with his friend Levi Curry.

They started out doing auto detailing in high school, then focused on "finding things that people want and don't want to do themselves," said Tucker, who transferred to ISU after getting an associate degree at Lincoln College.

Another transfer student in the competition was Ryan Strange, a junior in business management from Bloomington and a Heartland Community College graduate.

He wants to start a business installing and maintaining solar power systems on the roofs of homes.

He got the idea for Sol Vis Solar Systems when he gave a talk on environmental sustainability in a speech communications class at Heartland.

"It just felt so right," said Strange, who won one of two people's choice awards.

Among speakers at the event was Corey Ferengul, a 1993 ISU graduate who was named Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year.

Ferengul told the entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs in the audience to remember that "failure doesn't mean you failed. It's a step in the process." The key is to learn from it, he said.

One mistake entrepreneurs make is sticking too long with something that's not working.

"You have to have passion" for your idea, he said, but "you have to listen to the market. ... You can't stick to your guns forever."

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Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota

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