Clothing for challenged kids wins at Startup Weekend

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Sherryl Johnson feels hopeful after receiving this check from the Colorado Springs Startup Weekend. Attached to the check is a rendering of shorts she has designed.

Sherryl Johnson feels hopeful after receiving this check from the Colorado Springs Startup Weekend. Attached to the check is a rendering of shorts she has designed.

Sherryl Johnson’s 6-year-old son often fidgets.

He has a rare chromosome disorder that affects his sensory processing. It means he’s always looking for things to touch, and that can make him anxious and distracted.

Johnson came up with an idea for a clothing line specifically for children with sensory processing disorder, autism or attention deficit disorder. The clothes would have extra textures in the pockets, or extra strings to hold or chew. It would help calm down children whom she calls sensory seekers.

Her idea for a line called Tacky Threads won over a panel of judges, and a $500 prize, at the first Colorado Springs Startup Weekend on April 12-14. A group of entrepreneurs pitched startup ideas and then spent 54 hours developing business plans for the future companies.

Startup Weekend was launched in 2007 by Andrew Hyde in Boulder and quickly was duplicated in other cities. In 2009, Marc Nager and a business partner bought the program, moved it to Seattle and converted it to a nonprofit. Since then, there have been nearly 700 Startup Weekends across the globe — and 5,000 startups created.

An estimated 36 percent of the startups created during Startup Weekends are still going three months later, and 80 percent of the participants have said they plan to stay with their newly formed team, Nager said.

At the Colorado Springs Startup Weekend, 14 entrepreneurs pitched their best ideas. Teams formed around six of those ideas. At the end of the weekend, judges decided which team had created the best startup.

“My first thought was getting through the Friday night pitch and just being proud of myself for that,” said Johnson, a certified nursing assistant. “When I was one of the six — that was amazing.”

Some children with sensory processing disorder or autism often wear weighted vests to help calm them, Johnson said. But the clunky vests draw attention to the child in the classroom.

“The clothing line I want to put out will put the weighted vest inside regular clothing,” she said. “The teacher can slip on a hoodie and it looks like everyone else.”

Johnson said she will begin work on market validation and more designs for the clothing line. She hopes soon to present her idea to investors.

“It’s incredible,” she said. “I already believed in what I was doing … to have all these people give and want to help and share their knowledge was amazing.”