LAKE FOREST — Mat Obstoj and his brother attended six proms, and not once could their dates flawlessly pin a boutonnière to their tuxedos. Now a senior at Lake Forest College, Obstoj and his business partner, LFC junior Evelyn Johnson, are doing something to simplify the task, and they are $5,000 closer to achieving their goal of creating a business devoted to it.
Boulle, the business Johnson and Obstoj created through their entrepreneurship class at the college to affix a boutonnière to clothing, took top honors as six student businesses pitched ideas to a panel of five judges April 19 at the Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest.
Taking second place worth $3,000 was senior Rocco DiMatteo, who started IC Sleeves to manufacture therapeutic wraps for legs. James Winkler, a junior, took third place, worth $2,000, for developing All-Out Spray to maximize the liquids delivered through a spray container. All three ideas arose from a need experienced in the students’ lives.
Johnson and Obstoj began their presentation to judges acting out the scene that played itself out time after time in the Obstoj home over the years. Johnson tried unsuccessfully to pin a rose to Obstoj’s coat and he responded the way he did in the past at his Arlington Heights home.
“Mom,” said Obstoj in the dramatization.
“Between my brother and me we must have gone to six proms. Our dates couldn’t do it and we had to ask our mother for help,” he added in a DailyNorthShore.com interview after the presentation.
Boulle’s product is a small metal cup that can hold water if desired. It is placed on the jacket lapel while a magnet is on the other side holding the flower in place. As they moved around the stage during the presentation it stayed in place.
One of the judges, Don McNeill, a Chicago-based entrepreneur and investor who counts HBO, Warner Brothers and Netflix among his clients, said he was impressed with the company’s growth projections.
Johnson said a small portion of the potential market was enough to sustain their business. She said their research showed there are 6,000 weddings a week not to mention the countless school formal dances.
“If we can get five to 10 percent of the market that will make it worth it,” said Johnson.
DiMatteo, a Rosemont resident who has captained both the Lake Forest College cross country and track teams the last three years, said he got the idea for his sleeves after seeking relief from pain of stress fractures. He used ice wraps and they worked. His said his idea makes it simpler.
“It has jell beads that freeze in your freezer,” said DiMatteo. “You put them on (like pulling up like a sock). It gives you ice and compression. It’s a luxury recovery for the everyday runner. You can make them for $5 and sell them for $15.”
Athletes are not the only market, according to DiMatteo. He said they are also ideal for senior citizens. McNeill asked DiMatteo why he was developing sleeves only for the calf rather than adding arms and thighs. DiMatteo said there is a large market for just the one and he wanted to see how that did first.
Winkler, a senior from Madison, Wis., was the first to make a pitch to the panel. He demonstrated a slow start was not a barrier to success. As he went through his Power Point presentation he opened with a question and had to start making his second point several times before he was able to continue.
“Just relax,” said Niko Drakoulis, one of the judges as well as the founder and CEO of SurePeople. “Way to recover,” he added after the presentation was over. “Seriously, you did a nice job.”
Admitting he was nervous when he began as the first presenter, Winkler said it was a good lesson for him. He said he blocked the stumble out of his mind and continued.
“I’ve never done anything like this in front of a crowd before,” said Winkler.
Like the other winners, Winkler said his idea grew from a personal frustration prompting him to find a solution. He grew frustrated using pumps and sprays from bottles that left too much of the product, such as shampoo, in the container. He developed a spray capable to getting nearly everything out whether the container was at an angle or upright.
The other three students making presentations were junior Lindelo Dlamini, whose Power Clique is designed to create a network to help women in business and other professions, Sakhile Nkambule, a senior who created Swazi Jive Entertainment to stage music events in Africa, and Tyler Armentrout, a junior whose Virtual Events lets people stream a concert.