Judson debuts 'Shark Tank' contest Wednesday

  • Judson University "Shark Tank" contestant George Heller, center, and his business partner, Ian McNamara, right, both of Elgin, get advice from business coach Keith Tenbrook of Decision Innovation, Inc. Heller will pitch his team's idea to develop an autonomous fire extinguisher at Judson's first "Shark Tank" competition Wednesday.

    Judson University "Shark Tank" contestant George Heller, center, and his business partner, Ian McNamara, right, both of Elgin, get advice from business coach Keith Tenbrook of Decision Innovation, Inc. Heller will pitch his team's idea to develop an autonomous fire extinguisher at Judson's first "Shark Tank" competition Wednesday. Courtesy of Judson University

 
 
Updated 4/16/2015 5:18 PM
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that winning Judson’s “Shark Tank” would allow a team to enter Wheaton College’s "Shark Tank" contest next year. That contest is open only to Wheaton students.

An automated fire extinguisher and a meal prep service for gyms are among the business ventures debuting next week at Judson University's first entrepreneurial competition, dubbed "Judson Shark Tank."

Inspired by ABC Network's reality business pitch series, "Shark Tank," Judson's event aims to encourage those with startup ideas to seriously consider how they can elevate a concept to the next level.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Four current and former Judson students -- two from Elgin -- are finalists competing for a $1,000 grand prize that will serve as seed money for the best entrepreneurial venture. The contest is from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday in the Thulin Performance Hall at Judson's Elgin campus.

"I am nervous," said Helen Perez, 23, of Elgin. "I come from a family that has that entrepreneurship spirit."

Perez's parents owned grocery stores in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood; an aunt owns a bakery in Aurora.

A 2010 Larkin High School graduate, studying business management and marketing at Judson, Perez came up with the idea of creating an on-the-go meal prep service offering healthy alternatives at fitness clubs for people working out at the gym.

Meals would be prepared at gyms in the time it takes for the customer to work out. They would incorporate protein, fiber and carbs based on individual fitness profiles, diet specifications and preferences. "It caters to each customer's diet. Everyone has different fitness goals," Perez said.

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She hopes to pitch the idea to L.A. Fitness. The $10,000 startup cost includes getting permits for operating the service at a gym, she added.

The competition is the culmination of Judson's larger CREATE 2015 venture, which included a film series and speaker presentations.

During the past two months, contestants attended business plan development workshops and received one-on-one coaching from experienced business professionals.

"What better learning environment, really, than to actually practice what they are learning," said Judson Business Society President Ethan Adams, 21, a junior studying marketing, management and communication studies. "The experience itself of pitching, and getting critiqued and feedback from the entrepreneurs, is really more valuable than the cash prize."

Contestants will pitch ideas before an audience and panel of judges. Sharks are: Fred Broling, retired president and owner at US Precision Glass Company and a Judson University trustee; Glenn Earl, associate professor of entrepreneurship at Elgin Community College; Benjamin Glunz, founder and CEO of Anguleris Technologies, co-founder of Jerry's Café, and chairman of Judson's Alumni Association; Seth Temko, a seasoned business executive; and David Thompson, founder of Green Light National.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We're going to pitch our Phoenix home fire protection system ... it can automatically detect and put out a fire," said George Heller, 25, of Elgin, a Judson business marketing graduate who works as a sales rep at Brilliance Subaru in Elgin.

Heller's team -- including four University of Illinois mechanical engineering graduates -- already has incorporated the business, FireStrike Industries based in Elgin. They have a design patent pending on the system, which they tested at a facility on the University of Illinois campus, he said.

"It would be installed in the ceiling," Heller said. "We are focusing on residential homes, mostly kitchen and higher-risk areas. Smoke will initiate the system.

"It will scan the room with infrared sensors and detect the fire. We've been working on this the last two years. We are not making sales but we have taken in funds -- about $12,000. We have won a couple of awards."

Heller's team has been consulting with two firemen on the idea. "We need a little bit more money to get it fully functional," he said.

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