Neil Jones: A Case for the Social Good

By Sally Anne Flecker | Spring 2015

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Final exams were a little more harried than usual for Neil Jones (BBA FIN '17)this year. That’s because they coincided with Jones’ big push to ship out his new product in time for Christmas. Jones is a Notre Dame sophomore, but he wasn’t going to let the fact that he’s in school stop him from launching his first business venture. Engraved Traditions is the name of his store on Squareup, where he currently sells classy wooden cell phone cases with the Notre Dame fight song engraved on the back.

Jones came up with the idea when he wanted a Notre Dame- themed phone case for himself and was disappointed with what was available. He found a manufacturer to make a custom case. When so many people wanted to know where he got it, he felt he had stumbled into a viable business opportunity.

Now Jones is a go-getter. Quicker than you can say, “Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame,” he had worked out a deal with his manufacturer and had his online shop up and running. And this would be a nice story if it ended right here. But Jones has a social mission tied to this business venture. The ink is still fresh on a licensing agreement with the University that will allow him to develop a whole line of products. Ultimately, his purpose is to get his business to scale so he can hire individuals with special needs to handle packaging and shipping.

The Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship, in particular Entrepreneur-in-Residence Mike Vogel, has given Jones good advice along the way. But it’s his younger brother Dan who’s provided the passion for his ambition.

Dan, 18, is a high school junior in Cincinnati. “He is, hands- down, my best friend,” Jones says. “He’s got bright red hair — the only one in the family. I think it probably speaks to the fire within him.” Dan was born with Down Syndrome. His family made the decision early on to raise Dan like a typically developing child. “We were afraid if we gave him any special treatment, he’d recognize that, and we just wanted him to feel like a normal kid,” says Jones. “So we got him involved in sports. He’s a crazy athlete — an awesome baseball and basketball player. I played baseball in high school, and he makes me look bad. He’s just an amazing, special person.” Superlatives pepper Jones’ speech when he talks about Dan. He got a kick out of Dan deciding he wanted to be called “DJ” when he started high school, and is proud as his brother reaches typical teenage milestones such as having a girlfriend and going to the prom.

Another milestone that he’d like to see Dan reach when he finishes high school is gainful employment. Dan has lots of drive and promise as a worker. Limitations placed on earnings while receiving Social Security benefits would have kept Dan from working full time and making a tangible contribution. Luckily, the Able Act,for which Jones has been an advocate, was recently passed into law. It allows tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities to cover such things as education, housing and transportation. By the time Jones’ business can support employees, he’ll be able to hire workers like Dan and his friends. In the meantime, Jones is donating some proceeds from the sale of each Engraved Traditions cell phone case to the Logan Center in South Bend to provide scholarships for summer camp for children with special needs. And that’s something to phone home about. (