In April, the LA Tank program wrapped its seventh 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, like Sarah Hamilton ’99, managing director at Kivvit, who shared with students the importance of clearly articulating one’s mission and purpose. Others served as judges for the elevator pitch round: Michael Meyers '67, former president at Michael Meyers & Associates; and Loyola Academy teachers Tim Devine '88 (social studies) and Alex DeWitt, SJ, (language and social studies). Malcolm Weaver ’12, Maeve O’Connor ’10, and Madison Banas ’16 served as judges for the video round.
"It's a program modeled on Jesuit ingenuity," said Principal Charlie Heintz at the program’s inception in 2015. “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 seventh season of LA Tank began in January, and 51 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 twelve 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 Writers Theatre in Glencoe on April 5. The finale featured the top seven teams: On the Table, advised by Katina Burke ’14; Planet Produce, advised by Evan Swenson '13; Love Unmasked, advised by Claire Dooley '08; Check Inn, advised by Lane Ehlman '15; Water Lock, advised by Dara Laja '16; MicroHeart, advised by Peri Ehlman '17; and Climate Race, advised by Elizabeth Kyle '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 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 Maddy Bednar '12, social media manager at Verano Holdings Corp.; Stephen Conway '09, senior enterprise account Executive at Salesforce; Danny Gardner '13, founder and CEO at Mesh ++; and Betsy Webb '08, owner at Grit Physical Therapy
Acting as potential investors, the judges evaluated each business proposal on the following five criteria: innovation, differentiation, business plan, viability and presentation.
First place went to MicroHeart, a filter cartridge that attaches to your washing machine to help catch microplastics before they enter the water supply. The team included: Helena Kavanagh '23, Avery Miller '22, Emmy Panagakis '23, Jose Sango '22 and Mia Swanson '24. For their efforts, these Ramblers will embark on a summer power internship in Washington, DC, where they will have the chance to meet with various LA alumni and explore a number of career paths over a whirlwind two day trip.
"The MicroHeart team is such an impressive group of students. They came to every meeting equipped with big ideas and unique skill sets," says MicroHeart’s alumna advisor and PLC member Peri Ehlman '17. Ehlman, who participated in LA Tank during her time as a student at LA— and was on the winning team in 2017– had a lot of insight and experience to offer her group. "LA Tank was by far my favorite extracurricular at Loyola. It sparked my entrepreneurial spirit." After Loyola, Ehlman studied Economics at Northwestern University, where she was involved in numerous entrepreneurial activities and competitions. Today she works in sales at Goldman Sachs. "So much of my role revolves around delivering a strong pitch. I can't help but think of LA Tank as the way by which I was introduced to this newfound passion of mine."
The following teams tied for third place: On the Table, a service that would help bring produce not sold in stores to food deserts: Brendan Colgan '22, Tommy LaFramboise '22, James Lombardo '23, Felix Ricketts '24, Jasmine Rivera '24, alumni advisor Katine Burke '14; Check Inn, an app designed to assist in one's mental health: Maggie Braasch '23, Anya Cominos '23, Ellie Grammas '23 and Julia Swanson '22, advised by Lane Ehlman '15; and Climate Race, an social media network that challenges communities of people to take action against climate change: Madeleine Alshouse '23, Sarah Daniel '23, Hope Donnell '23, Riley Purdy '22, Emma Rempe '23, advised by Elizabeth Kyle '14.
Water Lock, a luxury shower system that aims to help make individuals more conscience of their water usage and waste, came in second place: Aubrey Conlon '23, Michaela Heintz '23, Annie Leinenweber '22, Sammy Mackey '23 and Jada Vazquez '23, advised by Dara Laja '16.
Notably, Annie Leinenweber ’22 from team Water Lock was awarded the Willer Family Accelerator Award, which recognizes the commitment of a student to the program. Leinenweber was chosen for her superior demonstration of the entrepreneurial spirit.
"I truly loved being a part of the LA Tank program for three years. It has always been something that I looked forward to," says Leinenweber, who joined LA Tank as a sophomore, when she was one of only three sophomores in the program. "I was pretty intimidated by my older classmates," she recalls. "I made it my goal to create an environment that was accepting and encouraging of everyone and their ideas. I have never loved to talk in front of people and I get nervous presenting. But through the countless exercises we have done during LA Tank, I have been able to become much more confident and comfortable public speaking. Throughout my three years on LA Tank, I have been in groups with a variety of different people. That is one of the best things that I love about LA Tank—the connections that you make with people you otherwise wouldn't know. This year my team and I met at the library once a week for a few hours to go over everything and prepare. Soon enough we became a really close group of friends. Even though this season of LA Tank is over, I still have a close connection with all of my teammates. At LA Tank you gain three things: the skill of public speaking, connections with alumni, and countless unexpected friendships."
We want to recognize our dedicated student leaders: Luke Hughes '23, Annie Leienweber '22, Connor Garrigus '22, Grace LaFramboise '22 and Julia Swanson '22.
Special thanks to Kevin Willer ’92 and our alumni advisers: Evan Swenson '12, Dara Laja '16, Elizabeth Kyle '14, Peri Ehlman '17, Katina Burke '14, Lane Ehlman '15, Claire Dooley '08, Evan Fay '10, Lissy de la Chapelle '13, MarcAnthony Walker '12, Mariette Buleke-Bahati '14 and Patrick Tata '16.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.