VIDEO: Tacoma teen biz wiz wins national award
Facing a panel of investor-judges during a preliminary round of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy national competition, Maxx Stewart asked for $1,200 to fund the company he’d created.
The panel offered $1,750 instead.
And when Stewart addressed the panel judging the national finals Monday in Washington, D.C., things got better.
Maxx won a $30,000 college scholarship.
He’s 14 years old.
On Friday, he finished eighth grade at Meeker Middle School in Tacoma.
Then he found time to catch with his dad.
Maxx joined the YEA program last fall.
If he was going to start a business, he figured, he needed a business to start. A few early ideas didn’t quite measure up. The fabric that turns color when warmed by the sun, and the two-spout water bottle fit for sharing, and “the Band-Aid for the inside of your mouth,” and the product that takes a bad taste away, and the dog harness that could accommodate tennis balls — they didn’t measure up when tested against a viable business plan.
“Every time I think of something, I have a list of things that should be invented,” Maxx said.
He plays lacrosse and never did like the way the stick got slippery when wet. He’d tried to secure it with electrician’s tape and regular white athletic tape, but these didn’t work and they didn’t last.
Thus came the idea for his product.
At the dining room table in the Browns Point home he shares with his parents and three younger sisters, Maxx experimented, trying to find a way to secure the handle.
He settled on a material called polyolefin.
“I’d been trying for a really long time to find something better than tape,” he said.
“I remember when it worked,” said Mary, Maxx’s mom.
She remembers that Eureka moment for the call that went up from the dining room.
Maxx calls his product and his company Spyder Grypz.
The polyolefin comes in the form of a sleeve that fits around the handle of the stick. When heated, the stuff shrinks and creates a securely attached membrane that doesn’t slip when wet and lasts much longer than a few games.
Maxx has applied for a patent. He is CEO of the limited liability corporation he created for the product.
“Maxx presented, the judges deliberated and he was recognized as the winner,” said Lynette Buffington, who shepherds the YEA program at the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber.
The local chamber and the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce are the only groups in the state to sponsor the academy, which sets a rigorous 33-week course that meant Maxx was getting up about 5 a.m. to make a thrice-weekly meeting at Stadium High School.
“The judges were beyond impressed. They could not stop gushing about how impressed they were with him,” Buffington said. “They felt Maxx had the most potential for growth and acceleration as a business.”
When his name was announced, Maxx said, “I felt great. I felt good. It felt refreshing.”
WHAT COMES NEXT
“The thought of getting real money appeals to me,” Maxx said Friday. “I don’t really spend my money too much. Money is just fun. I don’t think it’s a sign of success, but it’s a way of measuring how well you’re doing.”
He credits “good time management.”
“I don’t play a lot of video games. I like playing catch,” he said. “I’m never really just sitting around.”
He plans to stay in the business world after college.
“I’m going to be doing business,” he said, “but I don’t want to be like Donald Trump — maybe a nicer version.”
He has earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and was student body president at Meeker. He plays on two lacrosse teams and has marketed Spyder Grypz to teammates. He has also sold the product at a booth he set up at a tournament, and he says at least one local college team has shown an interest.
Along with the $1,750 he earned from investors, he has grossed another $1,500 in sales (at $19.99 per unit), so he’s in the black. He figures that 150 players are using his product.
He credits the academy for the knowledge he gained. Beyond developing his idea, the class helped teach matters including niche marketing, profits, sales and marketing. The students visited local businesses, including Shake Shake Shake diner and JayRay, a Tacoma advertising and strategic communications agency.
Reflecting on the past year, he said, “I think this business could have gone down quickly if I didn’t market it. I had to work a lot. I really think anything is possible if you work hard enough.”
It’s the hard work, and something else.
“If I really had to describe it, there’s a fearlessness he has in pursuing an idea,” said Maxx’s father, Ed. “There’s an internal drive he just has.”
“I ask him if he’s taking time to just be a kid,” said Mary. “I could tell stories of how he is uniquely hard-working. And the creativity.”
“He is relentless in the pursuit of what he wants to do,” said Ed.
Along with self-confidence, Maxx offers an absence of hubris.
“I thought I’d get runner-up at the regionals,” he said. “I didn’t think I was the best-best.”
At the finals Monday in Washington, D.C., Maxx said, he was up at 6:30 a.m. to practice his presentation.
“I had two minutes and 30 seconds,” he said. “I think I got it to 2:25, just to have a cushion.”
“I would have been grateful for third place,” he said. “Second would have been good, but I was always aiming for first place.”
He’s looking for an endorsement from a professional lacrosse player.
He’s planning the next step.
“Now I think I should start pushing it out there, doing more marketing,” he said.
After all, it’s been nearly a week since he was named as the national champion young entrepreneur.
“This is when people are noting it more,” he said. “I need to take advantage of this opportunity.”
C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535
For more information:
Spyder Grypz: spydergrypz.com
Young Entrepreneurs Academy: Lynette Buffington at the Tacoma-Pierce Chamber at tacomachamber.org. Classes are open to all area students. There is a tuition fee (Tacoma Public Schools students earn a scholarship upon acceptance). Classes this fall will be held after school.
Maxx Stewart’s Tips for Success:
▪ Quality beats quantity.
▪ Branding is everything. You need to have a brand that people know.
▪ You should take advice from people you trust and who have already been successful.