Boutique owner wins Starke Tank entrepreneurship contest

A boutique owner won the Starke Tank Countywide Business Pitch Competition.

The Starke County Economic Development Foundation and Starke County government staged the annual contest, which is meant to spur entrepreneurship in the community.

Irelynd Fornelli, the owner of Irelynd Alexis Boutique in downtown Knox, won Starke Tank’s $12,000 grand prize.

She is a Knox High School graduate who launched her retail shop at 7 N. Main St. last August. She sells women’s, men’s and children’s clothes.

Fornelli aspired to open the store since her freshman year of high school. She worked multiple part-time jobs, including as a paraprofessional in the Knox Community School Corp., to raise the funds. She acquired inventory over time, building up a loyal base of customers.

Irelynd Alexis Boutique has developed a robust online business, including a customer from Tennessee who came to shop there in person while visiting Peru, Indiana.

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“I love meeting my customers, and I encourage them to stop into other downtown businesses like Rabbit Coffee Roasting Co. 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.”

Local outdoorsman Dalton Tunis, who founded Bone Boss Game Calls, was the first runner-up, taking home the $6,000 prize.

Tunis long wanted to turn a lifelong love of hunting into a business. After some experimentation and tinkering, he started selling handcrafted and personalized hunting calls fashioned from Indiana walnut wood. Among is products are a deer grunt call and a glass turkey pot call that’s used to mimic the sound of a hen to lure a turkey into range.

He plans to use the grant to buy a CNC machine to increase production and to establish a website for online orders.

Other contestants included the wellness studio Renew U, Quicks Car Service, Grand Central Grocery and Grand Central Perk Express, County Line Hobbies, Maggie Lu’s Market, Papa Farm Pizza, Indiana Feeder Factory and Hard Knox Gym.

“We had a fantastic group of contestants this year,” SCEDF Executive Director Lisa Dan said. “Our judges had their work cut out for them.”

Winners were selected by a panel comprised of Lorri Feldt from the Northwest Indiana Small Business Development Center, Chelsea Smith from 1st Source Bank and Jason Allen Williams from the Society of Innovators at Purdue Northwest.

Businesses, utilities and local governments contributed the prize money.

“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 to the awards ceremony brought donations of food and toiletries that the Community Services of Starke County Food Pantry uses to 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.”

Katheleen Knopf

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