North Judson, Indiana – A woman entrepreneur is the winner of the 2022 Starke Tank Countywide Business Pitch Competition presented by the Starke County Economic Development Foundation and the Starke County Government.
Irelynd Fornelli, owner of the Irelynd Alexis Boutique in downtown Knox, won the grand prize of $12,000. The Knox High School graduate opened her shop in August 2021 and is looking to expand her 7 N. Main Street store to include additional sizes of women’s clothing, men’s and children’s clothing.
Fornelli told the crowd at the Sept. 17 event that she’s wanted to open her own shop since her freshman year of high school. She achieved this goal by holding several part-time jobs to supplement her income as a paraprofessional at Knox Community School Corporation and using this additional income to purchase inventory.
Fornelli has a loyal customer base both at their physical location and through online sales. She posts videos of new products on social media and said it has led to significant deals, including a Tennessee customer who was recently in Peru, Indiana, and came to Knox to see the boutique in person.
“I love meeting my customers, and I encourage them to stop by other downtown businesses like Rabbit Coffee Roasting Company and Papa Farm Pizza,” Fornelli said. “We have a great, supportive community and I want to provide a place for people 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 the founder of Bone Boss Game Calls. Tunis said he has had a strong passion for hunting since childhood and always told himself he would find a way to turn that love into a business.
Tunis started 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 call that is among the most common types used by turkey hunters to mimic the sound of a hen to lure a hangover within reach.
The “Buck Boss” is a deer grunt that Tunis says is a must-have for all hunters.
He plans to increase production and build a stronger online presence. Tunis said he will use the prize money to buy a CNC machine to make and cut the turkey’s wooden pot and set up a website for online orders.
Other nominees included Renew U, a downtown Knox women-owned wellness studio that offers massage therapy and other services; Quicks Car Service, LLC, another women-owned company that provides safe, reliable, and friendly transportation services to Starke County residents; Grand Central Grocery and Grand Central Perk Express, which are converting a former retail store in downtown North Judson into a laundromat, internet cafe and drive-through coffee shop; County Line Hobbies, a vintage hobby shop in downtown Knox that sells model trains, train sets, and remote control cars; North Judson-based catering company Maggie Lu’s Market, looking to expand into the production and distribution of its sauceome condiment; Papa Farm Pizza in downtown Knox; Indiana Feeder Factory, which hopes to increase its rat farm to meet demand from reptile owners; and Hard Knox Gym on the south end of Knox.
“We had a fantastic group of participants this year,” said SCEDF Executive Director Lisa Dan. “Our judges had their work cut out for them.”
That panel included Lorri Feldt of the Northwest Indiana Small Business Development Center, commercial lender Chelsea Smith dated JanSt Source Bank and Jason Allen Williams of the Society of Innovators in Purdue Northwest.
Starke Tank prize money was donated by local government agencies, utilities and other small businesses.
“Starke County is a wonderful, supportive community,” said Dan. “Our existing businesses understand that they also benefit by helping other entrepreneurs succeed.”
Attendees were encouraged to bring donations of food and toiletries to Starke County Food Pantry’s community services to continue helping neighbors in need.
“The community has responded to this request in a large way as well,” Dan said. “We appreciate everyone’s generosity and look forward to an even bigger Starke tank next year.”