Kansas City entrepreneurs are known for their Midwestern hospitality, collaborative nature and humility.
And each of those traits are expressed by 10-year-old inventor Julia Luetje of Leawood, whose entrepreneurial spirit is now on the national stage as part of a Frito-Lay’s Dreamvention competition.
“I invented the Storm Sleeper because I used to be afraid of storms,” she said. “I would put pillows around my head when there was a storm to try and protect me, but that didn’t work out so well.”
Luetje recently beat out more than 13,000 other competitors to be named one of the top five finalists, putting her in the running to win $250,000.
Humble yet confident, Luetje said she can hardly believe the Storm Sleeper beat out so many other competitors.
“It feels crazy,” she said. “The craziest part is that there was 13,000 entries and I am one of the five that they liked. When I first entered the contest, I thought they would just pick the first one they saw and be like, ‘We have a winner.’ … There were so many other entries that they could have picked, and they actually looked through every single one, they said.”
Luetje spends a lot of time on YouTube, which is how the precocious fifth-grader said she discovered the Frito-Lay Dreamvention contest. Without hesitation, she submitted an idea.
“You had to show them a picture of the invention,” she said. “I draw a picture online and send it to them on their thingy. I asked my dad for his email address so I can enter and he said, ‘Sure, go ahead.’”
Frito-Lay flew Luetje, her parents and the other Dreamvention finalists, to Austin, Texas, in September and surprised the young inventors with a prototype of each of their ideas.
“I was excited that they knew exactly what the Storm Sleeper should look like just from a picture,” she said. “It feels weird. It doesn’t feel real all the way.”
If she wins the competition, Luetje said, she plans to save some of the money for college, give some to charity and give some to her parents for supporting her. Members of the public can vote once a day from now until Nov. 27 for their favorite invention on the Dreamvention website.
Luetje serves as the student body president for the Barstow School’s lower school. She is also involved in Girl Scouts, gymnastics, theater, ballet, volleyball and diving.
She has always been creative, curious and a self-starter, said Susan Luetje, Julia’s mother.
“We’ve never pushed any of our children,” said Susan, a mother of four. “We try and let them decide what direction they want to go in and support whatever direction that is. Julia is very creative by nature and is always inventing different slime concoctions. She is very driven. Everything she does, she seems to do it well. I’ve never seen anyone like her.”
Chucker Luetje, Julia’s father, believes she is more emotionally intelligent than most adults, he said.
“The thing that makes me the proudest of her is that she is a kind person,” Chucker said. “Not only has she done all these amazing things and is a great athlete and good at school, she’s worried about people’s feelings, too.”
When asked why collaboration is important, Julia had a simple, straightforward answer.
“Because it’s mean if you don’t,” she said. “And being mean is not a good trait.”
Whether or not Julia wins the competition, the Luetje family plans to take the Storm Sleeper to market, with a trademark already filed and a patent pending.
“I realized that I could help other people,” she said. “I knew there were other people out there afraid of storms, or they at least live with snoring people in their household, loud siblings, barking dogs and meowing cats and could use a Storm Sleeper.”
Being recognized by Dreamvention is not only a win for Julia, but a victory for Kansas City, Susan said.
“We would love to bring home a win for Kansas City,” said Susan. “But we need the help of the community in Kansas City, especially the entrepreneurial community, to get behind Julia and vote.”
To learn more about the Storm Sleeper and to vote for Julia, click here. You can also view the video below to learn more.