Stephen Billowitch, who turned 13 on Sunday, had been bugging his dad for months.

"Did you find a place yet?" he'd ask him. And, William Billowitch kept telling his son "Not yet," as he kept searching the Livermore area for the right place to manufacture parts for his son's product.

Stephen creates trivets made from discarded Livermore wine corks glued within a wood frame. A trivet is an object placed between a serving dish or bowl and a dining table to protect the table from heat or water damage.

Stephen has been hand-making trivets since 4th grade. It began as an entrepreneurial project for Aroyo Seco Elementary School 4th-graders, who had to develop a business idea.

Now in seventh grade at East Avenue Middle, Stephen has kept the dream alive with the help of his parents. They hope to put any revenue from the business into Stephen's college fund.

He has already sold about 30 trivets, mostly to family and friends, but local wineries have expressed interest in selling them in their wine-tasting rooms, or during festivals.

In order to start supplying trivets to dozens of local wineries, Stephen needed a way to ramp up production. He delegated his dad the task of finding a proper facility for that.

Little did they know that another young entrepreneur had recently leased just such a facility.


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Jared Hill, founder and production manager at Aloha Products, a startup snowboard and apparel company, leased a space from a cabinet-making business on Lindbergh Avenue that had just shut down.

With the help of his father, who owns a Silicon Valley manufacturing company called Tru-Tech Corporation, Hill has assembled all the equipment he would need to manufacture snowboards, which they plan on launching this fall.

"(Snowboarding) has been my passion since I can ever remember," said Hill. "With my father's mechanical and machinist background, he really worked with me over the last year in finding a spot and helping me get a team together."

When William Billowitch told Hill about Stephen's business, Hill offered up free use of his engineer's time, and his machinery, to help mass-produce the wood frames that Stephen will be gluing the corks into.

Stephen watched on Friday as a large machine precisely cut frames from a large slab of medium density fiberboard.

Matt Cummins, Aloha's engineer, showed Stephen how his computer drawings told the machine exactly where to cut.

Even as they scramble to launch their own products, the staff at Aloha has been pitching in to help Stephen out. Next they want to get him on one of their snowboards.

"Oh, we'll get him up there." said Gabe Schwartz, the creative director at Aloha Products.

"We are a family-oriented business, and it fits perfectly to be helping out Stephen," said Meghan Krick, Jared's sister. Krick is the marketing manager for Aloha.

With dozens of frames already manufactured, Stephen is going to have his work cut out for him this summer, when he will add a whole new meaning to "put a cork in it."

"My least favorite thing is putting in all the corks," said Stephen, who's wondering if there's some way to automate that task too.

"Maybe I'll just tell my friends I'm having a party, and when they show up, there will be bags of corks and frames," Stephen joked.

For now, Stephen's only partner in the corking process is Elmer's Glue.

Stephen said he plans to sell the trivets for $19 each, and has already learned the value of math when computing costs and potential revenue. He said starting a business has helped him learn a lot of real-world lessons.

Stephen said he probably wants to go to college on the East Coast because most of his family still lives in Pennsylvania.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@bayareanewsgroup.com.

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