16-year-old business owner makes her pitch, comes up a winner

Chronicle Media Staff

Ellee Crawford

When Ellee Crawford was in the seventh grade, she wanted an iPhone just like her friends had.

Crawford’s parents told her that she needed to earn the money to purchase one. So she decided to do just that. But instead of finding a part-time job, Crawford decided to launch her own business.

Now the 16-year-old College of DuPage student from Wheaton has won the inaugural Pitch Contest sponsored by COD’s Entrepreneurship Club and E2 business mentoring program. She is using the first prize of $1,000 to continue funding her business, Small Pets and Company, which she operates online through Etsy and has now expanded to Amazon Prime.

In addition to Crawford, Stephen Schroeder of West Chicago finished second and received $500 while William Storm of Naperville finished third and received $250.

Peter James, Assistant Professor of Business at COD, said the Entrepreneurship Club helps students get excited about pursuing their own ventures. During the recent Pitch Contest, which was part of a business and career day funded through the College of DuPage Foundation’s Resource for Excellence program, participants had five minutes to describe their ideas to a panel of judges. The pitches included such information as target audiences, supply and demand, and how the prize money would be used if won.

“It didn’t matter whether participants already had established a business or were planning something new. We just wanted them to be excited about their ideas and have the opportunity to explain them to a group of people,” he said. “The Entrepreneurship Club and E2 program are places where students can discover that they don’t have to work for someone else the rest of their lives to be successful.

“As for Ellee, her pitch was excellent. She demonstrated a maturity and a detailed knowledge of her business and customer base.”

Crawford developed her entrepreneurial spirit at an early age and would read books about starting a business, daydreaming about what she would own someday. Her father, Bill, provided inspiration as he has begun several businesses, including his current enterprise, Rainmaker Internet Marketing.

The idea for Small Pets and Company came from Crawford’s own experiences with her pet rabbits. A few years ago, she had one that was having problems with its hind legs and was creating a mess in its cage.

“I had recently learned to sew and decided to make a washable fleece liner to put inside my rabbit’s cage,” she said. “I came up with the idea to produce custom-made reusable cage liners for small pets.”

The desire for an iPhone motivated Crawford to launch Small Pets and Company through the online site Etsy. Although business was slow at first, sales took off in spring 2016, and last summer she spent 40 hours every week making cage liners. In fact, sales increased so much that in August Crawford needed to hire employees.

“When I interviewed candidates, I had my Dad there with me because I was worried they would not take me seriously,” she said. “I now have four employees who custom-make the liners. We meet once a week to discuss upcoming orders, sizes and materials. However, I’m still so busy that I’m hiring two more people.”

During the fall, Crawford decided to offer a standard size cage liner on Amazon Prime. She filed the necessary paperwork and was approved, including the ability to ship through Amazon fulfillments. This January, she sold out her first supply of liners on Amazon within 48 hours.

Crawford is already thinking about new products to offer through her company. She also is focused on her education. Because of her age, she applied to College of DuPage as an Early Admissions student and took one class in spring 2016. She enrolled in three more this past fall and is now taking a full schedule of classes.

“I took Intro to Business last semester, and it was really fun to learn about new topics, especially ones that I could apply right away to my own business,” she said.

After earning her associate’s degree, Crawford is interested in pursuing the 3+1 in Management through Benedictine University and finishing an MBA immediately after that. She is excited about increasing her knowledge as she grows her business.

“College of DuPage offers so many opportunities to students interested in business,” she said. “I’m really excited to be a part of the Entrepreneurship Club and know that I’ll carry the education I receive here well into the future.”

For more information about the Business/Management/Marketing program, visit www.cod.edu/programs/business, email carlsonb@cod.edu or call (630) 942-2140.