DECATUR - Evan File's late Uncle Clarence was undoubtedly a character. Soon, he might also be a cheese.
File and Kayla Vogel, both seniors at Millikin University, recently won $4,500 to develop their small business, Black Sheep Cheese (so named for Clarence, the family "black sheep"). A total of $3,000 came from the university's Business Creation Competition, in which the pair won first place April 29.
The two also learned recently that they were selected to receive $1,500 from the Larry & Ann Haab Seed Fund to continue their project.
According to their 46-page business plan, Vogel and File would make and market artisan cheeses in Central Illinois, specifically Champaign County. Each cheese would be modeled after someone they know.
For example, Uncle Clarence would be a type of cheddar. The cheese named for him would be wrapped in twine, which Clarence used for a belt when he showed up at family reunions and talked about his gun collection.
"We were shooting for a family tree of cheeses and �" File paused and looked at Vogel. "Who came up with the idea?"
Perhaps a mark of their seamless partnership, neither can remember. The two have been dating for a year and a half and decided to explore cheese making after attending a class on the subject earlier this year.
Both said they have no problems slipping into professional mode when necessary and actually find it convenient to align personal and business relationships.
That they work well together is immediately obvious.
"Even when we're just spending time together, like taking a walk or whatever -," File began.
"- It's a great time to brainstorm," Vogel added.
"Yeah," he said. "We're still coming up with ideas and -,"
"- bouncing them off each other," she said.
Sharon Alpi, director of the university's Center for Entrepreneurship, said File and Vogel won the competition based on the completeness of their plan, their demonstration of the market's viability, their financial forecast and their desire to get going.
Millikin has sponsored the competition for five years. Alpi said most students do not start their businesses right away, but taking part in the activity prepares them to pitch and start a business in the real world.
"The most important part is that they know they can do something and they can make it their own," she said.
Vogel and File hope to launch Black Sheep Cheese at farmers markets next year. Before then, they must register their business, find a suitable kitchen and most importantly, perfect the art of cheese making.
After all, as File said, "We're nothing without a good product."