North Judson, Ind. – A female entrepreneur is the winner of the 2022 Starke Tank Countywide Business Pitch Competition, presented by the Starke County Economic Development Foundation and Starke County Government.
Irelynd Fornelli, owner of Irelynd Alexis Boutique in downtown Knox, won the $12,000 grand prize. The Knox High School graduate opened her business in August of 2021 and is looking to add additional sizes of women’s clothing as well as men’s and children’s items to her store at 7 N. Main Street.
Fornelli told the audience at the September 17 event that she had wanted to open her own store since her freshman year of high school. She attained that goal by working multiple part-time jobs to supplement her income as a paraprofessional in the Knox Community School Corporation and using that extra income to acquire inventory.
Fornelli has a loyal base of customers in both her brick-and-mortar location and via online sales. She posts videos of new products on social media and said that has generated considerable business, including a customer from Tennessee who was in Peru, Ind. recently and came to Knox to see the boutique in person.
“I love meeting my customers, and I encourage them to stop into other downtown businesses like Rabbit Coffee Roasting Company and Papa Farm Pizza,” Fornelli said. “We have a great, supportive community, and I want to give people a place to shop locally for clothes and gifts.”
The first runner-up and winner of the $6,000 prize was Dalton Tunis. He is an avid outdoorsman and founder of Bone Boss Game Calls. Tunis said he has had a strong passion for hunting since he was a little boy and always told himself he would find a way to turn that love into a business.
Tunis began experimenting and tinkering, and in 2020 Bone Boss Game Calls was born. He creates handcrafted and personalized hunting calls from Indiana walnut wood. The “Strut Boss” is a slate over glass turkey pot call, which is among the most used types by turkey hunters to mimic the sound of a hen to lure a tom into range.
The “Buck Boss” is a deer grunt call that Tunis says is a must-have for all hunters.
He plans to increase production and establish a greater online presence. Tunis said he will use the prize money to purchase a CNC machine to create and cut the wood pot of the turkey call and to set up a website to accommodate online orders.
Other contestants were Renew U, which is a woman-owned wellness studio in downtown Knox offering massage therapy and other services; Quicks Car Service, LLC, another woman-owned business that provides safe, reliable and friendly transportation services for Starke County residents; Grand Central Grocery and Grand Central Perk Express, which are renovating a former retail store in downtown North Judson into a laundromat with an internet café and drive-thru coffee shop; County Line Hobbies, which is an old-fashioned hobby shop in downtown Knox that sells models, train sets, and remote-control cars; North Judson-based catering business Maggie Lu’s Market, which is looking to expand into the production and distribution of their Sauceome condiment; Papa Farm Pizza in downtown Knox; Indiana Feeder Factory, which hopes to increase their rat breeding to meet demand from reptile owners; and Hard Knox Gym on the south end of Knox.
“We had a fantastic group of contestants this year,” SCEDF Executive Director Lisa Dan said. “Our judges had their work cut out for them.”
That panel included Lorri Feldt from the Northwest Indiana Small Business Development Center, commercial lender Chelsea Smith from 1st Source Bank, and Jason Allen Williams from the Society of Innovators at Purdue Northwest.
The prize money for Starke Tank was donated by local governmental entities, utility companies and other small businesses.
“Starke County is a wonderful, supportive community,” Dan said. “Our existing businesses understand that by helping other entrepreneurs to succeed it benefits them as well.”
Attendees were encouraged to bring donations of food and toiletry items for the Community Services of Starke County Food Pantry to further help neighbors in need.
“The community responded in a big way to that request as well,” Dan said. “We appreciate everyone’s generosity and are looking forward an even bigger Starke Tank next year.”
2022 Starke Tank Sponsors
Door Prize Sponsors
Date Published: 2022-09-18 14:45:00