The Top Seven: Cog Togs Inc.

Cog Togs Inc.’s founders, siblings Shawna Sims, Melinda Ryan and Jeff Johnson, started their business with their children in mind.
“Our mission is to provide a fun way for kids to connect in person and a safe way for them to communicate online,” Sims said. “Instead of trying to keep out millions of strangers by blocking those connections, we’re creating a safe environment where children communicate only with people they know.”
CogTogs.com is a social networking site for children, who can create a personalized avatar, chat with their friends, blog, watch videos and read news and sports headlines in a safe location. At the same time, they (or their parents) can buy bracelets or key chains, which come with charms that the children can trade with their friends.
“Basically, everything my kids want to do on the Internet that I don’t want them to do, they can do in a safe, controlled environment,” Ryan said. “If they’re on the Cog Togs site, I know it’s OK to be there. If they’re on some other sites, it’s not OK because you can link out and go to other places.”
The bracelets act as tokens of friendship for the kids and provide revenue for Cog Togs’ founders.
The Web site and product will launch Nov. 15. Cog Togs’ founders said they’ll launch regionally at first and later try to sell their products on sites like Amazon.com and Yahoo.com.
Sims said when her team entered the Spirit Award, they weren’t sure what to expect.
“We’re all about getting information and improving what we know already,” she said. “Any avenue that can get us further to our goal, we’re going to take. The coaching has been great. And, of course, the media has not hurt at all.”
The team joked that they went after the award in pursuit of “media, money and education.”
“The timing of the Spirit Award has been right in line as our company has been taking off,” Johnson said. “Before the Spirit Award, it was a lot of concepts, a lot of ideas, a lot of legwork. But right about the time this started is when the ball started rolling quickly for Cog Togs. Each stage of this process to the next has been a dramatic difference for our company.”
They said the coaches encouraged Cog Togs, when marketing their product, to focus less on the safety aspect and more on the fact that it’s fun for kids.
“Sometimes you don’t understand how you’re expressing yourself until you listen to other people’s feedback,” Ryan said. “So even though we know we have this awesome Web site and really cool product, we were conveying the safety portion of that. They helped us understand we need help making sure everyone else knows how really fun and exciting this is.”
Johnson said if Cog Togs wins the Spirit Award’s grand prize, they’ll spend it on inventory and some Web site enhancement.
“We plan to parlay that $30,000 Spirit Award prize into $100,000,” he said.  



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