Squirrel Hill girl to pitch idea for LED clothing to Buffett
By Kim Leonard
Published: Wednesday, May 9, 2012, 7:06 p.m.
Aria Eppinger will meet legendary investor Warren Buffett later this month to pitch a business idea that came to her after a frustrating experience making light-up clothing.
The fourth-grader from Squirrel Hill is one of five individual finalists in the billionaire's nationwide Grow Your Own Business Challenge, based on his "Secret Millionaires Club" animated TV and online series that teaches kids about financial literacy. More than 3,000 entrants ages 7 to 16 submitted ideas.
Aria, 10; her father, Jeff Eppinger; and math teacher DeAnna Kwicienski of The Campus School of Carlow University in Oakland will travel to Omaha. There, Aria will have 15 minutes on May 21 to present her idea for a children's light-up craft kit she calls Shine So Bright.
Buffett will listen to the finalists and, "He'll be chatting with them about their business plans," said Judy Klym, spokeswoman for marketing agency By Kids For Kids Co., which works with the "Secret Millionaires Club.
Buffett won't be one of the eight judges who'll assess the ideas. Points awarded through public, online voting at www.smckids.com/vote through Monday also will help choose the winner. The top prize is $5,000, and runners-up will get $500.
Even if she doesn't win, Aria said she's thrilled to travel to Omaha and meet Buffett, who appears in cartoon form on the show. "So many people would just love to meet him and shake his hand," she said.
Count her father among them. "It's a great opportunity for Aria," Eppinger said. "Warren Buffett is such a well-known person in the field of investing -- and he seems like such a nice guy, too."
He said he hopes to take photos of Aria meeting the Berkshire Hathaway Inc. CEO and philanthropist, often called the Wizard of Omaha. Buffett is ranked No. 3 on Forbes magazine's list of the world's billionaires.
Aria loves crafts and has embellished sweatshirts, T-shirts, headbands, purses and tennis shoes using LED, or light-emitting diode, lights. But the process involves soldering, or fusing metal pieces to the garment.
"Soldering is messy, dangerous and has wires everywhere," she said. "And the thing is, your dad has to do it. But if you want to make light-up clothing at a sleepover or something fun that girls do, you don't really want a parent to be hanging around the party" with the metal-melding equipment.
Also, "If there's like 15 T-shirts to be made and only three soldering guns, it's going to take hours," Aria said, adding each shirt takes about an hour to assemble.
Francesmary Modugno, Aria's mother, balked at her time estimate.
"If Daddy were here, he would paint a very different picture," she said, recalling that the activity at one of Aria's get-togethers with her cousins took much longer. Aria also has a brother E.J., 13.
Aria's concept is a kit that would contain LED lights, colored conductive thread that carries electricity, switches, batteries and her own LED Snap Caps -- decorative pieces that fit on top of the lights. The kits could be sold online or at craft stores. She demonstrates Shine So Bright in a video on the contest website, as one of the family's two dogs, Patch, quietly looks on.
A mockup of her product wasn't required for the contest, but Aria made one anyway. "People can get a better vision if you make a prototype," she said.
The other individual finalists are from New York, Nebraska, Wisconsin and California. The grand prize winner's teacher will receive $1,000. Teams of youngsters from New York, Connecticut and Washington state will compete for a separate prize.
Voting under way in business contest
Aria Eppinger, 10, of Squirrel Hill, and four other finalists are competing for the top prize in the Grow Your Own Business Challenge based on Warren Buffett's "Secret Millionaires Club" show. She describes her idea for the Shine So Bright craft kit at www.smckids.com ; visitors to the website can cast votes through Monday.
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