NORMAL — Brian Souza is hooked.
Well, not literally.
But one would think so after learning that the Illinois State University senior spends all of his free time — up to 80 hours weekly during breaks from class — cramped inside his father’s Arlington Heights garage molding soft plastic into thousands of fishing baits.
The six types of brightly colored lures are sold online and at convention centers in the Midwest through his business Bizz Baits, a company he launched three years ago. Prices begin at $3.45 per bag of 10.
He plans to continue the business after graduating next spring.
“I just love it,” said Souza, 23. “It’s the idea of using something artificial to trick these fish into eating it.”
That fervor for the sport and his new business landed Souza in first place at Illinois State University’s Entrepreneurship Day competition earlier this month. Souza beat out 17 other aspiring business owners at the competition and took home a $20,000 prize, including in-kind donations of services from area businesses including The Great Display Co. and Mavidea Technology Group and free office space for six months in downtown Bloomington.
“We were very impressed with the teams,” said Mike Somers, a coordinator for the competition. “We can say without a doubt that the entrepreneurial sprit is alive and well in Bloomington-Normal.”
This year’s competition also included aspiring entrepreneurs from Illinois Wesleyan University, Heartland Community College and Lincoln College.
Chad Ritchie, an attorney with Dunn Law, is among area professionals who will help Souza move his business forward. Ritchie will provide legal services to Souza such as forming a business entity and drafting an operating agreement.
“I try to do my best to limit their personal liability when they start their business,” said Ritchie, who is donating services to competition winners for the second year. “I help them to get started in the right direction from the beginning.”
Souza said the support from community businesses will augment the support he already receives from his girlfriend and parents, who accompany him to outdoor and fishing trade shows in the region, help him package baits and create promotional materials. “We bring about 700 to 800 bags of handmade baits, and it’s myself making the baits during winter break and my family and girlfriend packaging and bagging,” Souza said.