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She’s a winner! Local girl’s creation wins Dreamvention contest

Julia Luetje shows off the prototype for her Storm Sleeper invention along with her father, Chucker Luetje, and her mother, Susan Bernstein.

It’s been an exciting few months for 10-year-old Julia Luetje. Just this week, she learned she had snagged a grand prize in Frito-Lay’s inaugural nationwide Dreamvention contest with her Storm Sleeper invention.

The Storm Sleeper is a specialized pillow fort with a custom fabric cover and Bluetooth speakers, designed to block out the sights and sounds of scary storms. The inspiration for Julia’s idea stems from her fear of thunderstorms — she used to put pillows around her head to comfort her during loud Midwestern storms. She invented the Storm Sleeper to help others who share the same fear of thunderstorms sleep soundly and relax, as well. It is a mini fort that you lie in that covers your head, plays soothing music and blocks the sights and sounds of scary weather.

Julia, the daughter of Susan Bernstein and Chucker Luetje, entered the contest last spring after seeing it promoted on the “Ellen” show. In October she learned she was one of five finalists, which earned her a $10,000 prize. Each finalist’s submission was judged on creativity, storytelling, feasibility and fun factor. The winners were determined by nationwide vote that took place on the website mydreamvention.com. Some votes were also cast by using a code on some specially marked packages of Frito-Lay products.

The grand prize earned the elementary-school student $250,000. Winning the contest, Julia said from her home in Leawood, “is crazy.”

“There were 13,000 entries, and then they picked the top five and now I’m a grand prize winner,” she said. 

When asked if she ever thought in her wildest dreams that she’d be a winner, Julia answered with a simple “no.” 

Her mother said she and her husband “were shocked Julia was a finalist.”

“Then once we started reaching out to the community to get votes, it was so well received, and we had so many people that were excited about the Storm Sleeper that we thought she had a chance. But we never thought we’d be in this situation where she’d win the grand prize,” Bernstein said.

A member of The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah, Julia will celebrate her 11th birthday next week. She attends religious school and Hebrew school at the Reform congregation and will become a Bat Mitzvah on “4-4-2020.”

Julia was a fourth-grader and had just competed in her school’s invention fair, where she didn’t even finish in the top 10, when she decided to enter the Dreamvention contest. 

“Since I already had an invention and a really good idea, I just decided to enter,” Julia said.

Although she didn’t do well at the school fair, Bernstein said she and her husband are proud that Julia believed in her invention enough to continue to pursue it.

As a finalist in the contest, Julia’s Storm Sleeper came to life last year when MAKO Designs + Invent, a full-service consumer product development firm, developed a prototype of it. Julia was consulted in the prototype process.

“When I saw the one that they made, I was really excited,” she said. “We had come up with ideas that we liked, and they made exactly what I wanted.” 

The Storm Sleeper belongs to Julia, not the contest. The family has been working with a patent attorney and is making plans to produce and market the product. While Julia originally created the Storm Sleeper to help her and others feel comfortable during storms, the Luetje family has learned that the product is attractive to people with other problems, such as snoring parents and noisy siblings. It may also be used as a therapy aid for people with sensory issues, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

“We’ve heard from many people who have sensory issues and who had ADHD and autism who want to use it. We also have veterans who have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) who want to use it. There are many people who want to use it to block out sights and sounds, not just storms,” Bernstein explained.

As the family learns more about manufacturing, Julia, who is now in fifth grade, is transitioning from inventor to entrepreneur. While this is her first real invention, she has always liked doing things with her hands, especially arts and crafts.

“I feel like she’s always inventing. She’s always experimenting and creating,” Bernstein said. 

Inventing and creating run on both sides of the young entrepreneur’s family. Julia’s maternal grandparents are Bob and Dr. Phyliss Bernstein, and Bob is credited with creating the McDonald’s Happy Meal. Her paternal grandparents are Dr. Charlie and Sandy Luetje. Dr. Luetje helped develop the cochlear implant, which is an electronic device that can help to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing. 

Julia has other interests besides inventing. She and her sister are competitive gymnasts. She has two brothers, as well.

The prize money, after taxes, comes from Frito-Lay with no strings attached. Julia said she plans to save it for college.

Following the announcement that Julia was a Dreamvention contest finalist, she received a lot of local and national publicity — including being featured by all the local television stations, as well as the Kansas City Star and Forbes magazine, thanks to Forbes regular contributor Jeff Fromm. Friends also helped promote the voting, which lasted 35 days, on Facebook.

Yet Bernstein said the little article about Julia in The Chronicle was what they heard about the most as they were promoting the contest.

“We heard from so many people who learned about voting for Julia from the Jewish Chronicle,” Julia’s mother said. “We’d really like to thank the Jewish community for their support.”

Julia’s Dreamvention video, which was posted on YouTube before the voting, is still available on YouTube. See it by searching Julia Luetje or visiting this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqQ1--G_e1E.

Submissions are currently being accepted for the 2018 Dreamvention contest. Families with an idea for an invention can create a simple drawing and short explanation of it and upload both to mydreamvention.com until Feb. 26 for a chance to win. Five finalists will be announced in October, when Frito-Lay will pass the baton to America to vote for its favorite Dreamvention. The winning invention, based on votes, will be announced in December.

“We were inspired to launch the Dreamvention program because we saw our fans being creative and problem-solving with life hacks in their daily lives,” said Jeannie Cho, vice president, marketing at Frito-Lay. “Dreamvention is a celebration of creativity and imagination and an opportunity for people to make their dreams come to life as innovations that could change how we all live. We received so many creative submissions.”