In April, the LA Tank program wrapped its fourth successful year by awarding students an opportunity to collaborate and present their ideas to a panel of Loyola alumni entrepreneurs.
The program is structured such that students are grouped into teams and tasked with identifying an existing problem to solve with a new product or idea. At regular check points throughout the product development phase, alumni and volunteers served as guest speakers to deliver workshop-style presentations to the teams of students.
“It’s a program modeled on Jesuit ingenuity,” says Principal Charlie Heintz. “While exposing our students to real-world business concepts, we’re also encouraging them to use the gifts and talents that God has given them to create new business models, solve problems and improve lives.”
What started as a simple idea to give students a jumpstart on their career paths has evolved into a type of thought-laboratory where students can navigate complex life and work environments under the guidance of alumni experts in their fields.
The fourth season of LA Tank began in January, and 77 students arrived at the first meeting with business ideas in mind. Students met in small groups to share and improve their ideas together. The night ended with the formation of sixteen teams, each having a unique idea to work with.
Accompanying each team is a Loyola Academy alumnus or alumna who advises the group along the way.
Greg McDonnell '14 advised Team Waste to Wonders, which proposed making affordable housing out of recycled material in developing nations or in places recently devastated by a natural disaster. "It was inspiring to see the Waste to Wonder concept transform from a broad idea to a specific business plan," he says. "In the beginning, we wanted to collect plastic waste from the ocean and then build recycled bricks. By the end, we had a partnership with a plastic waste aggregator and had the specific objective of molding these bricks for home construction in third world countries. Through this project, it became clear that LA Tank is merging entrepreneurship and social justice, which will have extraordinary impacts on our world."
Before the second workshop, each team tackled a list of tasks. They hosted a team meeting, conducted research, completed problem/solution sheets and assigned roles and responsibilities to team members.
In February, LA Tank students welcomed Terry Maday and Oscar Ayala from Maday Productions. Maday and Ayala shared with students the components of a compelling video, and students were then tasked with creating a 90-second video showcasing their products. Then in March, each team presented its video to a panel of judges, including faculty members Colleen Whelan and Brian Padden as well as alumni Dylan Remick ’09 and Connor Detjen ’06, that decided which teams would progress to the final round.
A finale event occurred on April 11 at Northwestern University’s Nona Jo’s Dining Center, a world-class nutritional hub with panoramic views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline located within the new Walter Athletics Center. The finale featured the top nine teams: Accel You, advised by Isabella Raynal ’14; Hedge Phone, advised by Mary Catherine Mortell ’01; Scanlet, advised by Kate Tess ’03; Sea Box, advised by Brendan Egan ’07; Silent Sleeper, advised by Erin Murphy ’00; Sleep Safe, advised by Mark King ’96; Something Borrowed, advised by Michelle Sanks ’11; Spoiler Alert, advised by Jonathan Kaminski ’14; and Waste to Wonder, advised by Greg McDonnell ’14.
The teams presented their business proposals in a format inspired by the reality show Shark Tank, which gives contestants an opportunity to pitch their ideas to a panel of business leaders and field a series of questions.
“Each group had three minutes to explain how their business model was unique and viable, who their target audience was and how they planned to make money,” explains Assistant Director of Alumni Relations Ashley K. Sanks ’10. “Following the pitches, our judges had the opportunity to ask questions.”
Judges included Loyola Academy Principal Charlie Heintz; Jamie Baisley ’92, managing director at Frontage Search Partners; Christine Post ’98, assistant director of admissions–executive MBA at the Kellogg School of Management; Sarah Sargent Strichau ’00, senior principal customer success manager at Salesforce; Rory Kenny ’06, vice president of Shore Capital Partners; and Teddi Weigel ’12, national pricing manager at Vienna Beef.
Acting as potential investors, the judges evaluated each business proposal on the following five criteria: innovation, differentiation, business plan, viability and presentation.
Team Spoiler Alert, which addressed the issue of wasted food with an easy to use scanner and app that indicates to users the shelf-life of their refrigerated food, took first place. The team consisted of Grace Cutler’20, Eden Kavanagh ’20, Kathleen Wannemacher ’21, Erin Sheahan ’21 and Megan Berti ’20 and was advised by Jonathan Kaminski ’14, business analyst at McKinsey & Company in Atlanta. The group will take a two-day trip to New York City where they will meet with members of Loyola’s alumni network on the east coast. This "NYC Power Internship" will include a meeting with Fr. Eric Sundrup, SJ, of America Media, breakfast at the Harvard Club of NYC hosted by David Wagner '72, and an all-star internship team project.
“Working with the Spoiler Alert team was energizing and inspiring,” says alumni adviser Jonathan Kaminski ’14. “The team’s ability to shape all of their thinking and analysis into a succinct, compelling story on the social need for this product was particularly impressive and persuasive. It takes a distinctive level of empathy to build and package an idea the way the team was able to, and so I’m very excited for the future of Spoiler Alert, but perhaps more so for the futures of the team members that brought Spoiler Alert to life.”
Receiving honorable mentions were teams Atlas Spice, a voice controller spice cabinet that distributes that precise amount of spice to any dish, advised by Kate Tess ’03; Chi Loan, a secure donation system that enables individuals to gift microloans to those in extreme financial need, advised by Erin Daly ’06 and Brian Daly ’10; College Connect, an app that helps students become comfortable at college, advised by Mary Catherine Casey ’05; goguru, an electric trail map situated in one’s goggles, advised by Andrew Nigh ’09; H2Low Light, a product that reduces the wait time at a restaurant for water refills, advised by Blase Viti ’09; School Ways, an app that assists new, transfer and existing students with their schedule and location of classes, similar to GPS, advised by Bill Sommerschield ’01; and Squatters, an app that enables students to reserve tables and seats in the library, advised by Tim Mahon ’81.
Notably, Patrick Lawler ’19 from team goguru was awarded the Willer Family Accelerator Award, which recognizes the commitment of a student to the program. Lawler was chosen for his superior demonstration of the entrepreneurial spirit.
“I have invested more time into the LA Tank Program than I have in other clubs,” Lawler wrote in his student reflection. “By giving a platform for students to pursue their creativity, the program allows students to grow in an entrepreneurial setting…There is really no other club or program like LA Tank.”
We want to recognize our dedicated student leaders: Jack Amrol ’20, Grace Cutler ’19, Franny Hill ’20, Michael Kadus ’19, Patrick Lawler ’19, Ellen Naughton ’19 and Catherine Power ’19.
Special thanks to Kevin Willer ’92 and our alumni advisers: Mary Catherine Casey ’05, Brian Daly ’10, Erin Daly ’10, Brendan Egan ’07, Jonathan Kaminski ’14, Mark King ’96, Tim Mahon ’81, Greg McDonnell ’14, Mary Catherine Mortell ’01, Erin Murphy ’00, Andrew Nigh ’09, Isabella Raynal ’14, Michelle Sanks ’11, Bill Sommerschield ’01, Kate Tess ’03 and Blase Viti ’09.
For more information about Loyola’s LA Tank program or to get involved, contact Assistant Director of Alumni Relations Ashley K. Sanks ’10 at 847.920.2466 or firstname.lastname@example.org.