BATAVIA – When Padmini Sriman pitched the premise of her EmotiPlush line of dolls to the Fox Valley Entrepreneurship Center of Batavia, the team couldn’t resist the story behind them. She will have a chance to retell it on television April 21, when the next prime-time episode of ABC’s “The Toy Box” airs at 7 p.m.
To help her autistic son, the Naperville mom and former electrical engineer, created dolls whose faces can be manipulated to express the gamut of human expressions and emotions, something her child struggled to recognize.
She approached the center in late 2015 for their mentoring assistance for her fledgling business.
Mike Algrim of Geneva, vice president of the center, said people pitch their businesses to the team similar to TV’s “Shark Tank,” but angling for consulting support rather than capital investment.
“Every quarter, we hold a pitch night for two to three businesses [for] a 90-day accelerator,” Algrim said. “They get a very extensive, devoted consultant that digs into the company for 90 days and finds the best way to get from point A to point B. … She was asking for marketing support. She had a great product, but didn’t quite know how to go to market with it.”
He said the center engages trusted consultants who know how to execute. They work alongside the entrepreneurs, who commit to spending 10 to 15 hours a week working on the development of their enterprise and in sessions with the consultant.
“We usually take 10 or 12 businesses per year,” Algrim said. “Generally, we don’t do start-ups … [and] look for between $100,000 and $1 million of annual revenue.”
He said that once a year, the center will accept a start-up.
“That was kind of the case with EmotiPlush,” he said. “We saw such a great social purpose there to help kids with autism – a mission. We fell in love with her story. … She’s creating foundational emotional and social skills that will transcend her child’s life.”
Sriman praised the center’s work.
“The accelerator program really was just that,” she said. “It’s really accelerating your business, looking at all the different aspects … it’s a crash course in bringing your business up to the next level. They gave a lot of valuable input and feedback that I would not have gotten otherwise.”
And while she can’t divulge what happened at the taping of Friday’s episode of “The Toy Box,” she called the experience of being on television nerve-wracking but an exciting opportunity.
“I think, hopefully, it will help put the spotlight on EmotiPlush, as well as the special needs population that I cater to,” Sriman said. “I think my message is what caught their attention. I think I [have] one of the very few products that was catering to the special needs children with developmental disabilities.”
On the show, hosted by “Modern Family” star Eric Stonestreet, toy inventors pitch a team of children in hopes of attaining a deal with Mattel for its toy line.
Sriman developed the dolls after she left her career to work with her son at home.
“He’s a very sweet boy,” she said. “You learn a lot of things from having a special needs child. The benefit is mutual.”
To find out more about her doll line, visit emotiplush.com and emoti-plush.com/shop, and for details on the Fox Valley Entrepreneurship Center, go to fvec.org. For more on “The Toy Box,” visit abc.go.com/shows/the-toy-box.
For other young businesses looking for a leg up, the nonprofit center describes itself as a virtual collaboration of expert advisors and mentors who surround qualified entrepreneurs with the resources they need to achieve growth.