By Kris Loew
Optimism. Laughter. Dreams. That is what thirteen-year-old Sydney Loew brings to the table at Poketti LLC. As the co-founder of the company, she also brings design, creativity and vision.
Inspired by her middle school entrepreneurial project, Sydney convinced her parents to launch a new family business based on her product: a square animal pillow with a useful pocket on the back. The entrepreneurial program at The Girls’ Middle School in Palo Alto, CA, requires 7th graders to develop a product, write a business plan, manufacture and sell the product, and ultimately pitch the ideas to real-life Silicon Valley Venture Capitalists. Sydney’s pillow-with-a-pocket idea raised more money and “buzz” than any other in the school’s fourteen-year history.
“Our hope with The Girls’ Middle School’s entrepreneurial program is that it plants a seed in the minds of our students that they have the potential to take a good idea and turn it into a business of their own. We expect that this will happen a little farther down the road, but if anyone can run a business at age 13, it is Sydney,” said Laura Reeve, Academic Dean of The Girls’ Middle School.
Poketti is truly a family business, and the Plushies with a Pocket bring together each of the Loew family’s expertise. Sydney and little sister, Toni, love to draw and are obsessed with stuffed toys, namely penguins and bunnies. Sydney’s parents, Chris and Kris, are both designers, and have each been involved in the development of many retail products, although never one of their own.
“Chris and I were inspired by Sydney’s simple and iconic designs, especially that the product combines cute with functional. The project has been a valuable learning experience for the entire family, one that allows us to work together on a common goal,” Kris said. “I’m blown away by Sydney’s creativity and how much she is engaged in the success of the company. When many early teens check out’ from their families, Sydney and I have become even closer. It has been a gift working with her.”
Kris runs the business side of Poketti while Sydney designs the products and Toni brings their personalities to life. The sisters created a stop-motion video to introduce the first Poketti characters: a penguin, bunny, puppy and kitty. The video, featured as part of their fundraising Kickstarter campaign, also illustrates the many uses of the plush-lined back pocket, which can store your mobile phone, eyeglasses, tooth fairy offerings, TV remote, or a notebook to capture those late night strokes of genius.
Each step of the way has been a learning experience for the Loew family, from establishing a new business to exploring manufacturing options to setting up distribution channels. With the many obstacles and details to overcome, Sydney’s happy presence has been the force behind the company. She plans to develop accessories featuring the Poketti characters, including a Poketti notebook that fits in the back pocket. At thirteen, the possibilities must seem endless when you have a full life ahead of you.
Sydney says the hard part has been to narrow down the choices, and understanding the “numbers” involved with large-scale manufacturing. The Loew family initially looked into manufacturing in the United States, but soon learned the only viable option for stuffed toy manufacturing is in China. This means a larger initial order, a bigger outlay of capital, and more pressure to sell and market their products, none of which deters Sydney and Toni. While “success” drives the young entrepreneurs, the Poketti experience is also a way to show the girls the importance of giving back. The Loew family intends to donate Poketti Plushies to children’s hospitals, and a portion of the proceeds will benefit institutions such as ASPCA who provide comfort to Poketti’s real-life counterparts.
Poketti Plushies with a Pocket are due to arrive in November 2013, which according to Sydney is where the real fun begins.
“When we started, I promised Sydney 1,000 penguins. I really can’t believe we are actually doing it,” said Kris. “I’m just not sure where we are going to put them all when they arrive!”