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Bloomfield grad to be part of reality TV seriesPosted Friday, July 17, 2009, at 5:54 PM
It never hurts to think outside the box.
And it sure doesn't hurt to think like a kid sometimes.
Sawyer Sparks is a prime example.
The rural Bloomfield agriculture economics student, who is a budding entrepreneur, will soon be featured in the ABC television reality series "Shark Tank."
Sparks, a senior at Purdue University, is headed to Los Angeles in a couple of weeks to film and pitch his newest product "Soy-Yer Doh" -- a kid's modeling clay.
It's similar to the Play-Doh products that have been on the kid's market for years, but the Soy-Yer version is gluten-free, non-toxic and safe for children and parents to play with and touch if they are allergic to wheat-based products.
Sawyer introduced the product last year and was featured in a Greene County Daily World story in June 2008.
I talked to Sawyer briefly this week at his booth in the commercial building at the Greene County Fair.
The 22-year-old explained that he is restricted -- because of contract rules -- from talking about details of his upcoming television debut, but said he was excited about the opportunity.
Sparks, the son of Ron and Sue Sparks, and a 2005 graduate of Bloomfield Junior-Senior High School was selected in a nationwide search by show producers who hope to discover the next successful -- and possibly wealthy -- entrepreneurs, inventors, dreamers, promoters, creators, and innovators.
In each episode, budding entrepreneurs are given the chance to make their business ideas come true.
The show will premiere Aug. 9.
The entrepreneurs will be asked to pitch their breakthrough business concepts, products, properties and services to moguls in hopes of landing investment funds. If selected, five real-life, tough investors could be willing to part with their own hard-earned cash and provide the funding needed to jumpstart their business idea.
But the investors, also known as "Sharks," aren't just out to invest. They too have a goal -- to own a piece of the big ideas.
Sparks' new modeling dough has drawn attention in the national media and he's won an award.
In December 2008, Sawyer got mention in the New York Times.
In the story, Sparks revealed that his new modeling dough compound was actually the result of a beer making project that surfaced when one of his professors at Purdue told him that she couldn't drink beer because an intolerance to wheat gluten.
As a result Sparks and two college buddies began to experiment to see if they could make a gluten-free beer for their lager deprived professor.
They borrowed some beer-making equipment from a neighbor and set up a brew pot on a stove in his apartment.
The concoction of soy flour, gluten-free yeast and water turned out to look a lot more like "Play Doh" than it did beer.
That experience sparked an idea in the young entrepreneur and prompted a lot more experimentation until the final kid's play product was perfected.
Interestingly, the product comes in a dozen different colors -- each corresponding with a specific fruit or food scent.
For instance, red colored smells like cherry or strawberry. Dark orange is tangerine, tan is root beer, pink is watermelon, and orange is orange.
With a laugh, Sparks told me it's safe to eat.
In March, Sparks placed third and earned a $250 prize in a competition staged by Purdue University's Discovery Park's Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship.
Soy-Yer Dough is produced by Sawyer's own company, BioGreene, LLC, which started in 2007.
You might remember Sawyer launched an innovative bio-fuels operation using sunflowers as a base source to produce B-100 fuel and animal feed meal.
Sparks saw his sunflower crop grow from 20 acres in 2007 to about 500 acres in 2008.
The struggling economy and market prices have put the sunflower fuel operation on the back burner, but his soy dough product is picking up plenty of marketing steam.
He's been contacted by a distributor for Hong Kong, who sells to major retail chains like Wal-Mart and Toy R' Us. He's even been talked to by the Play-Doh folks who want to purchase his product, but so far, that's not something he's looking to do.
Sawyer has always been loyal to his home county and his first sale of the Soy-Yer product -- then known as Soy-Doh -- last year went to Susie Goodman for her elementary school class at Bloomfield Elementary School, where his mother works in the office.
Sparks sold 100 eight-ounce containers to the class at $1 a can.
Other schools have purchased hundreds of cans of his product for their classrooms.
Soy-Yer Doh now sells for $2 a can.
Recently, Sawyer's been busy attending conference and trade shows demonstrating the new product.
It's amazing how a beer making venture went bad, resulted in something with this kind of business potential.
It's the classic story of making lemonade out of lemons.
Learn more about Soy-Yer Doh by visiting the Web site www.Soy-Yer.com.
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