Last year, Julia Luetje learned she had placed in the top 5 of a national contest for kid inventors that drew more than 13,000 entries.
This month, the fifth grader learned she is a grand prize winner in the Frito-Lay Dreamvention Competition — and will take home $250,000 for a product she designed to help those who are afraid of thunderstorms.
“We found out a couple weeks ago, and we announced it this past Sunday,” Julia’s mother, Susan Bernstein, told The Star.
Bernstein, and her husband, Chucker Luetje, broke the news to Julia at school. Shocked, Julia hurried back to class. The Barstow School student felt more excitement by the time she got home for a small celebration with her family.
“My mom had a little party for me at home, and I ate cookies and got some balloons,” Julia told Startland News.
More excitement was in store later this week, when Dave and Buster’s in Overland Park hosted a surprise party to celebrate her win and Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn honored Julia during her State of the City speech.
Julia’s Storm Sleeper invention was inspired by a fear of thunderstorms she harbored as a younger child.
During that time, Julia would build a fort of pillows to block out the flashes of lightning and sounds of thunder.
The Storm Sleeper started off simple. Using pillows and Royal-blue fabric purchased from Target, as well as hot glue and Velcro, Julia constructed a fort that covered her head. She included a pocket for a reading right and room for a portable speaker.
But the Storm Sleeper got a huge makeover after she was named a finalist this fall. A product development firm made a prototype of her idea that was presented to her at a surprise reveal for the top five finalists in Austin, Texas.
The new and improved Storm Sleeper has a microfoam base, a soft fabric covering and a Bluetooth system. It competed against inventors who had designed an alarm clock that uses feathers, not sound, to wake you up, a chalk drawing tool that attaches to your feet, a purse that attaches to shoes and a toaster that shoots bread onto a plate.
Julia has a patent pending on the Storm Sleeper. And she and her parents are looking at next steps to make the Storm Sleeper available to consumers. Bernstein said Julia is working on a business plan, and then will look at manufacturing options.
“Julia’s going to go from a kid inventor,” Bernstein said, “to a kid entrepreneur.”