Two years ago, Toheeb Okenla and Jesus Fernandez-Ortiz enrolled in NFTE as a senior and junior, respectively, Thornwood High School in South Holland, Illinois. They eventually designed a new soccer sock that featured a sewn-in pocket to allow players to insert the shin guard of their choice. From there, T&J Soccer was born. As the winners of NFTE’s 2013 National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge, Toheeb and Jesus have demonstrated their passion for soccer and business development.
Before they met and became co-founders and CEOs of T&J Soccer, both Jesus and Toheeb arrived in their NFTE course from very different backgrounds. Jesus’s parents left the strawberry fields of Michoacán, Mexico in search of better opportunities for their children. Because a language barrier exists for them, they have always motivated him and taught him to work hard and be resilient. Toheeb came to the US from his native Nigeria at the age of 8 to reunite with his father who had immigrated earlier. Sadly, Toheeb would lose his father a few years later. But his father’s incredible strict work ethic became a model for how Toheeb lives his life.
Since winning the national competition, the co-founders are furthering the development of their business using their earned venture capital. They are currently in the process of meeting with a textile manufacturer to develop the first iteration of their soccer sock. T&J Soccer would like to patent their technology to become the official sock used by youth soccer leagues in the Chicagoland area.
Currently, both are attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Toheeb is a sophomore majoring in Information Systems and minoring in Computer Science Engineering at the School's College of Business and Engineering. Jesus graduated Thornwood High School as the class Valedictorian and has become the first person in his family to attend a 4 year University, majoring in Computer Science. Both Toheeb and Jesus believe that, “thinking like entrepreneurs has helped us by strengthening our problem-solving and critical thinking skills. It has made us very competitive, which, in turn, has made us determined to be successful.”