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LA Tank Encourages Future Entrepreneurs

In April, the LA Tank program wrapped its sixth 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, such as Paul Detjen ’02, to deliver workshop-style presentations and guest judges—Matt Castellini ’12, Claire Dooley ’08, Tim Devine ’88, Sarah Bennet, Charlie Brault ’10, Elizabeth Canning ’15 and Zachary Aldana ’12—to provide feedback 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 sixth season of LA Tank began in January, and 68 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 fourteen 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.
 
A finale event occurred at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie on April 22. The finale featured the top eight teams: ASL Translator, advised by Steve Conway ’09; Coffree, advised by Mary Kate Vanecko ’13; Jump Star, advised by Mike Mulroe ’10; MediLock, advised by Katina Burke ’14; Safekey, advised by Kate Valenti Tess ’03; Shocker, advised by Melody Ogoke ’16; Trailblazer, advised by Miguel Mereles ’18; and Wryer, advised by David Blobaum ’06
 
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 Executive Assistant to the President Ashley K. Sanks ’10, who helps manage Loyola’s Tank Program. “Following the pitches, our judges had the opportunity to ask questions.”
 
Judges included Loyola Academy Principal Charlie Heintz; Paul Detjen ’02, filmmaker and creative director at PCD Production, Emily Mohr ’10, founder and CEO of Nine Times Bakery; Kristen Jones ’01, director of legal diversity, equity and inclusion, senior counsel at McDonald's Corporation; and Shawn Kohli ’00, owner of City Volkswagen. 
 
Acting as potential investors, the judges evaluated each business proposal on the following five criteria: innovation, differentiation, business plan, viability and presentation.
 
Different this year, three teams received cash prizes for their efforts: 
  • Third Place: Receiving $500—Team Shocker, a high-tech mouthguard that detects concussions. Congratulations to Elizabeth Cherf ’21, Olivia Kennedy ’22, Isabel Nold ’22, Riley Purdy ’22 and alumna advisor Melody Ogoke ’16
  • Second Place: Receiving $1,000—Team Wryer, an interconnected washer, dryer combination designed to place clothes into the dryers immediately and automatically after the wash. Congratulations to Hayes Flanagan ’21, Connor Garrigus ’22, John Hession ’22, Mikey McCarthy ’22, Sheila Stanton ’22 and alumnus advisor David Blobaum ’06
  • First Place: Receiving $2,500—Team Coffree, a commercial-grade coffee maker which would remove the methane from coffee grounds, reducing our carbon footprint. Congratulations to Claire Hoepfner ’22, Eden Kavanagh ’21, Adrienne Markee ’22, Sophia Sohigian ’22, Kathleen Wannemacher ’21 and alumna advisor Mary Kate Vanecko ’13
 
 
“I've participated in several collegiate Shark Tank-style competitions and I was blown away by the caliber of Loyola students. So many already carry themselves at a college level,” says alumni advisor to the first place team, Mary Kate Vanecko ’13. “My team stood out in their immediate expertise on the science behind their climate-focused product. They knew exact calculations of Coffree's carbon reduction potential and could talk in detail about the carbon sequestration process. I loved working with them to translate this knowledge to an innovative product pitch that speaks to potential investors and consumers and gets them excited about reducing their carbon footprint by drinking coffee. It's one thing to have a good idea; it's another to convincingly sell it as a massive business opportunity with major benefits for the planet. Coffree was able to accomplish all of this. I hope they can continue to pitch this product!”
 
Receiving honorable mentions were teams Bag Jockey, an app that matches golfers with caddies at public courses, advised by MJ Puch ’09; Do it Yourself, an app that provides the knowhow of a professional, allowing individuals to perform maintenance on their homes on their own, advised by Mariette Bahati ’14; Rose Colored Glasses, a pair of glasses that physically make color more vibrant, boosting an individual’s mood, advised by Tanea Crawford ’16; Urbini, a service that would provide cost effective, small scale apartments in large cities, advised by Liz Gambacorta ’14; and Winfrin, a website that would reduce realtor fees and donate a portion of the commission to those in need of housing, advised by Brittany McCray ’12.     
 
Notably, Kathleen Wannemacher ’21 from team Coffree was awarded the Willer Family Accelerator Award, which recognizes the commitment of a student to the program. Wannemacher was chosen for her superior demonstration of the entrepreneurial spirit.
 
“I am very thankful to be acknowledged for the Willer Family Accelerator Award and for their continued support to the LA Tank Program at Loyola Academy,” says Wannemacher, who has been involved with the program for the past three years. “It has not only been an entertaining competition, but also an innovative way to explore how to solve problems across the globe, whether they be environmental, economic, or educational. Through the opportunities provided by LA Tank, such as internships, alumni career guidance, and professional skills development, I have discovered a passion for business that I will continue to explore in college and my career. LA Tank is a great balance of collaboration, educational enrichment, networking, and social impact that I highly encourage students to participate in.”  
 
We want to recognize our dedicated student leaders: Jack Garrigus ’21, Kathleen Wannemacher ’21, Eden Kavanagh ’21, Nick Simonds ’21, Grace LaFramboise ’22 and Anne Leinenweber ’22
 
Special thanks to Kevin Willer ’92 and our alumni advisers: Katina Burke ’14, Mary Kate Vanecko ’13, Mariette Bahati ’14, David Blobaum ’06, Brittany McCray ’12, Liz Gambacorta ’14, Kate Valenti Tess ’03, Tanea Crawford ’16, MJ Puch ’09, Mike Mulroe ’10, Kay Dosu ’09, Greg McDonnell ’14, Melody Ogoke ’16, Miguel Mereles ’18 and Steve Conway '09.

To view each team's video, click here
 
About LA Tank
During his senior year at Loyola, Sam J. Serio ’16 hatched Loyola Academy’s LA Tank program to inspire students to explore entrepreneurship while building relationships between Loyola students and alumni. His vision was to bring students and alumni together in a dynamic career program that encouraged Ramblers to embrace innovation and think differently about their future career paths. For more information about Loyola’s LA Tank program or to get involved, contact Executive Assistant to the President Ashley K. Sanks ’10 at 847.920.2421 or asanks@loy.org.
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