When Julia Luetje’s parents surprised her at school with news that her Storm Sleeper invention won Frito-Lay’s $250,000 Dreamvention grand prize, the 10-year-old Leawood girl was excited, but told them she needed to get back to work.
“Julia seemed to be stunned,” said her mother, Susan Bernstein. “She had the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on her! Then it was business as usual and she immediately told us she had to get back to class.”
“When she came home from school, she was jumping up and down with excitement,” Bernstein added.
Among five finalists — out of more than 13,000 entries — Julia’s invention earned her $10,000 and participation in a round of online voting in October and November. From there, a winner was selected to receive an additional $250,000.
“After a long wait, Frito-Lay called us to tell us that Julia is a grand prize winner,” Bernstein said Monday. “I cried tears of joy and could barely talk.”
The family celebrated the “exciting and crazy” turn of events in muted style.
“My mom had a little party for me at home, and I ate cookies and got some balloons,” Julia said.
The Barstow School student invented her Storm Sleeper device to help people who are afraid of storms cope with the sights and sounds of extreme weather, she said previously. The product already is gaining traction with members of the Kansas City community and beyond — many of whom helped propel the Storm Sleeper to victory, Bernstein said.
“We heard from various groups who asked when they could get one — including the autism community and those who are sensitive to sensory issues including people with ADHD — who want to use the Storm Sleeper as a therapy aid,” she said. “We also heard from veterans and others who have PTSD who also think the Storm Sleeper will help them.”
And some fans of the device hope to use it — or perhaps another version of the Storm Sleeper — for their pets, Bernstein said. But four-legged barkers aren’t the only potential for an expanded market.
“In addition to those who are scared of storms, we heard from a lot of people who (try to) sleep next to snorers and who can’t wait to get one,” she said.
Julia and her parents, Bernstein and Chucker Luetje, currently are working on a business plan and hope to begin manufacturing soon, they said.
“We have a trademark and a patent pending,” her mother said. “Julia made some revisions to the Storm Sleeper since submitting her entry into the Dreamvention contest, including an inside pocket for an iPad, book or phone, as well as a reading light.”
Invention could be in Julia’s genes. Her grandfather, Bob Bernstein, founded Kansas City’s Bernstein-Rein Advertising, Beauty Brands and once was the largest Blockbuster video rental franchise owner, Susan Bernstein said.
“He is the inventor of the Happy Meal for McDonald’s,” she added. “He also invented other premiums for McDonald’s including the Sippy Dippy Straw and the Happy Cup.”
Active in student government, Girl Scouts, gymnastics, theater, ballet, volleyball and diving, Julia — who turns 11 next week — will soon add a new title to her growing list of achievements, her mother said.
“She is so excited to market her winning Storm Sleeper Dreamvention and transition from kid inventor to kid entrepreneur in the near future,” Bernstein said. “We have been attending some startup events around town, and we are so impressed with all of the resources for entrepreneurs in Kansas City. It is truly an exciting time for not just us but the entire entrepreneurial/startup community.”