Arlington Heights student developing sports mats

It was on the gymnastics mats as a senior at Hersey High School where Mark Van den Avont had the light bulb moment that led to his work as a budding entrepreneur.

While performing a back-flip dismount off a high bar, Van den Avont fractured two lower vertebrae in his spine, and landed on the foam-filled mats common to gymnasiums, schools and health clubs everywhere.

Now a sophomore at the University of Illinois, the 19-year-old Arlington Heights native - who is fine now - is behind a growing business to sell mats he believes will be safer, lighter and less expensive.

He's already developed a patent-pending polymer composite he hopes to use to make not only mats, but car and airplane seat cushions.

"Anywhere foam is absorbing an impact is where we want to go," said Van den Avont, who is majoring in mechanical engineering.

His company, HexNest, has space within a co-working center in downtown Urbana, where he also conducts tests in development of a prototype. He's taking preorders for the mats, expected to retail for $250, compared to $400 for traditional foam mats now on the market.

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