Phil Castle, The Business Times
Nick Silzell was frustrated — nearly to the point of giving up on his ambitions to create a new product and launch a business, not to mention continue participating in an instructional program for young entrepreneurs.
The 12-year-old Grand Junction boy says he learned a lesson in the process about the value of perseverance.
He changed his product from a pillow to a pillowcase. He won local and regional competitions in pitching his plans. He was selected as one of just four finalists in a national competition and won a people’s choice award and $20,000 in college scholarships for his efforts.
“I’m really glad I did not give up,” Silzell says.
Silzell serves as chief executive officer of Sleepy Sheepy, a company that makes pillowcases from bamboo fiber. With one side made with smooth fabric and the other side made with fleece, the pillowcase offers both hot and cold sides designed to promote comfort. He’s the first participant in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy in Grand Junction to advance to the finals of the national YEA competition.
Darcy Weir, YEA program manager for the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, says she’s excited to watch all of the participants develop their businesses over the eight-month course. But Silzell turned an idea into a unique product, Weir says. “Nick’s idea essentially started with him saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if you had a pillow that could help regulate your body temperature whether you were hot or cold at night. He then took that one idea and through tons of research, experimenting with different prototypes and hard work made it into a product he has now.”
Tom Silzell says he’s proud of his son and his efforts. “It’s just very impressive that he’s been able to stay the course.”
Nick Silzell says he didn’t expect to fare as well as he did — or at one point, to even make it. But he’s grateful now for the opportunity. “It’s definitely an experience not many people my age get to have.”
A sixth-grade student in the challenge program at East Middle School, Silzell says he considers himself organized and good at math — attributes he thought would help him in the Young Entrepreneurship Academy.
He says he wasn’t prepared, though, for the difficulty he’d encounter in developing a product — or associated frustration. He enjoyed something of a breakthrough, though, when he abandoned plans to make pillows and decided instead to make pillowcases.
He came up with a plan to make one side of the pillowcase with bamboo fiber that’s smooth and cold and the other side with bamboo fleece that’s fuzzy and warm. He discovered there was no direct competition in the marketplace.
Silzell won a competition against the other seven students in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy program in Grand Junction in pitching his idea to a panel of investors.
Silzell competed against more than 70 students from across the United States in the national YEA competition in Rochester, N.Y. and was selected as one of four finalists. While Silzell didn’t win the title, Sleepy Sheepy won the people’s choice award as determined by voting. Silzell received $20,000 in college scholarships.
Weir says the YEA classes in Grand Junction tend to be smaller than those in other programs, but remain competitive. “It’s really cool to say that now our class of eight students has the 2018 YEA Saunders Scholar Competition people’s choice winner in it.”
Silzell says he’s received encouragement from his customers. “People are really liking it.” He says he’s sold 23 pillowcases — including 16 at a trade show staged at the Mesa Mall in Grand Junction. He’s got orders for five more and he’s accepting additional orders on www.sleepysheepyproducts.com.
So far, Silzell has assembled pillowcases himself with the help of his family. But he says he’d like to find a company to take over manufacturing. He says he’s also considering selling Sleepy Sheepy pillowcases through the Amazon.com online retailer. He expects to continue with his business.
Silzell says the thing he most enjoyed about the Young Entrepreneurship Academy was the experience of getting to know the other participants.
The most important lesson he learned from the program? “If you want to do something, you have to work really hard.”