As a young child, Julia Luetje was scared of storms.
But the Leawood fifth-grader would never have guessed that a personal solution for coping with her fear would put her in the top 5 in a national contest for kid inventors that received more than 13,000 entries.
Now, the 10-year-old is competing for America’s votes to become a grand prize winner — for a $250,000 prize.
Julia, 10, said when she was younger, she’d run to her room and cover her head with pillows to escape the thunder that seemed to shake the house.
Last year, when she received a school assignment to come up with an invention, she knew what she wanted to do.
A Storm Sleeper.
Using pillows and Royals fabric that her mom purchased from Target, Julia put together a pillow fort using hot glue and Velcro. The fort covered her head and had a pocket for a reading light and a portable speaker that could drown out the sound of a storm.
But it wasn’t until Julia watched an Ellen DeGeneres Show clip mentioning the Frito-Lay’s Dreamvention Competition — a challenge for kids to invent a solution to an “everyday problem” — that Julia revisited her idea.
“She has always wanted to understand how things work, and solve puzzles,” Chucker Luetje, Julia’s father, said.
Not wanting her to miss an opportunity, he let use his email address so she could submit an online application, complete with a drawing of her Storm Sleeper and a description of why it was useful.
Chucker Luetje, and his wife, Susan Bernstein, learned their daughter was a finalist almost six weeks before Julia did.
But because contest organizers wanted to surprise five kid finalists with a special reveal hosted in Austin, Texas, the couple had to keep the news a secret from their daughter.
This past September, Julia and her parents flew to Texas.
If Julia didn’t have any inkling of what was to come before, she did when she and her parents were picked up in a car with a GoPro and dropped off at a warehouse where cameramen followed them up a red carpet.
“I was excited,” Julia said. “And not nervous, but it was almost weird cause it was so crazy.”
Inside, Julia and four other finalists were met with a celebration of their finalist status. They learned they’d earned $10,000. And a product development firm had designed a prototype of their designs, including a Storm Sleeper with a microfoam base, a soft fabric covering and a real Bluetooth system.
“It was like Willy Wonka,” Susan Bernstein said.
A grand prize winner determined by the kid inventor with the most number of online votes by Nov. 27 will earn $250,000.
“If I won $250,000, I would give some of it to my parents,” Julia said. “I would donate some of it and I would save some of it.”
Though she wants to win, Julia is already making plans to expand and improve her product.
A Storm Sleeper 2.0? A Storm Dog model for frightened canines?
She already has a go-to mentor when it comes to business and inventing.
Her grandpa is Kansas City businessman Bob Bernstein, co-founder of Bernstein-Rein, founder of Beauty Brands and creator of the Happy Meal.
“When he heard about Julia inventing the Storm Sleeper and becoming a finalist, he was just ecstatic and over the moon and so proud,” Susan Bernstein said.
Though she keeps busy with gymnastics, Student Council and a school play, Julia says she’s excited for December, when the grand prize winner will be announced.
But she’s also satisfied with what she’s already accomplished.
Regardless of the outcome, the 10-year-old has a patent pending and a trademark application in.
To vote for Julia, visit: www.mydreamvention.com. Individuals can vote one time per day per device.