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High school sophomore turns homemade holiday gift into profit

Adam Liszewski, a Wayland High student, has turned his fire starter project into a business with $125,000 in annual sales.
Adam Liszewski, a Wayland High student, has turned his fire starter project into a business with $125,000 in annual sales. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

When the holidays rolled around four years ago, 11-year-old Adam Liszewski needed a good idea for cheap holiday gifts.

What about a less toxic fire starter, a friend suggested. They are relatively simple to make using dryer lint, candle stubs, and egg cartons, and are much better for the environment than the traditional fluid starters.

Liszewski called the all-natural lighters “egg-nighters” and they were a hit with family and friends.

When an aunt later asked if she could pay him to make a few more of the chemical-free kits, Liszewski was all too happy to oblige.

“Obviously, I made them,” he said.

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The business took off from there. With $3,000 in seed money from his parents, Liszewski refined the materials, replacing the lint with hardwood sawdust from a family friend who owns a mill.

He changed the name to Stokes Natural Firestarters and fashioned the ingredients into small cakes of sorts, which can be placed on the grill or in a fireplace and lit with a match to help ignite a larger fire.

The business moved from a kitchen assembly line, to the basement, to the garage before Liszewski rented a 2,200-square-foot commercial warehouse.

Stokes is expected to do $125,000 in sales in 2015. The kits are sold in 230 stores across eight states, including in Whole Foods Market and Shaw’s.

Now 15, the Wayland High School sophomore juggles the business responsibilities between chemistry homework and lacrosse practice.

He still doesn’t have a driver’s license. His parents chauffeur him to the warehouse to take inventory on Wednesdays after school and on the weekends to local businesses to demonstrate and sell the fire starter kits. Sunday nights include a trip to the warehouse.

While his age has not proven to be an obstacle, Liszewski said his biggest hurdle was gaining Whole Foods’ business. Stokes was originally sold in a brown paper bag – not conducive to stacking on shelves.

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So Liszewski said he changed the packaging to cube boxes, and Stokes is now sold in about 70 Whole Foods locations.

“I’ve always liked to try to invent things or try to think about inventing things,” he said. “It was in my nature to be curious and figure it out.”


Jessica Geller can be reached at jessica.geller@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessicageller57.