Wheaton’s Shark Tank program concluded on March 22, with two freshmen, John Jones ‘21 and Elliot Young ‘21, receiving first place for their project, d!apack, a diabetes pack that debuts safe storage and a tracking device in order to protect expensive insulin equipment vital for the continued well-being of many diabetics. The audience was packed with Wheaton parents, students and alumni, as well as prominent entrepreneurs in the Wheaton community. Students presented their novel ideas before facing deliberation from a panel of qualified judges. The judges were drawn from the business community and included Rebekah King ’12, executive director and co-founder of Hope Works Community Development Corporation in Chicago, Mark Phillips ’83, chief distribution officer at United Healthcare Medicare Solutions in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Mark Phillips ’13, management consultant at Point B in Chicago, Morgan Jacob ’17, associate consultant at Bain & Company in Chicago and Laef Olson ’90, advisor at Apax Partners in London, United Kingdom.
The distinguished judges used a prepared rubric to evaluate students’ business ideas, focusing on the practicality of their business pitches. Joshua Tjahjadi ‘18, one of the organizers of the Shark Tank event, called this a “’baptism of fire’ experience of what pitching to real world investors will be like.” The winnings went to first, second and third place teams, with Jones and Young taking home the grand prize for their project, d!apack. Maggie Gieler ‘19, Grant Bollman ’19, John Bayer ‘19 and Daniel Small ‘19 claimed second place, and Curtis Howland ‘19 placed third. The first place winners received $1,500 in cash and a scholarship to Praxis Academy 2018, while second and third places received $800 and $500 in cash, respectively.
“’I’m a type 1 diabetic, which means I need to carry around an insulin bag,” said Jones. “The first week of school I lost the supply bag, and it was just terrifying because all of this costs about $500, and then I need it within 24 hours to check my blood. And so Elliot and I developed a system for keeping track of supplies. has a tracking system that connects to your iPhone, and it has a cooling system for insulin pens.”
Jones also described how the new diabetes pack, which is smaller and more streamlined than the typical diabetes pack, minimizes the stigma that is associated with diabetes. “I’ve been hanging out with friends, and I pulled this out, and it looks medical. And diabetes is one aspect of my life, but I feel like that when I carry around a bag that looks medical, others may see me in that way,” Jones stated. “Having a case that’s … sweet looks space age … it helps to fight that stigma.”
Jones hopes to use the money to go towards a patent for d!apack. “They gave us 1500 … we have some money to do more research … The judges encouraged us to pursue a patent, and that’s something we’d like to look into in the summer,” Jones said. Jones related how Wheaton’s emphasis on entrepreneurship, specifically with the Shark Tank program, was a factor in his decision to attend Wheaton. Ultimately, he concluded that the opportunities he had this semester through the Shark Tank program have set him well on his way to pursuing a patent for his innovative idea.
The Student Alumni Board students in charge of this event described the turnout in glowing terms. “On all three metrics, Shark Tank 2017-2018 exceeded all our expectations: student-alumni engagement, quality of business pitches, campus wide engagement,” said Tjahjadi. “Campus engagement is unquantifiable, but there was palpable ‘buzz’ in the air.” As one of the co-leaders of this event, Tjahjadi described his relief at how well the event went. Although he acknowledged “a lot of hidden vulnerability and messy nuts and bolts during the whole process,” he emphasized the incredible bridge-building potential of the Shark Tank program. Connections between students and alumni, organizers and contestants as well as sponsors and organizers served to spotlight and challenge Wheaton students with “an entrepreneurial bent and a good idea.”