Margo Thornberry saw the devastation Alzheimer’s disease wreaked on her grandfather and decided to do something about it with her project in the business incubator program at Lake Forest High School.
Thornberry recalled there were times Mel Raglin couldn’t dress himself, and occasionally he would be hard to locate.
“During the night, he would wander off for hours at a time by foot or by car and since he did not own any personal technology, we would have to rely on the kindness of strangers to bring him home to us,” she said.
Raglin died in November, about the time Thornberry and her classmates, Leonardo Castaneda, Connor Milliman and Sabrina Siegel, had to pick a topic to turn into a product during the school year that could be sold in the business world.
Their collective brainstorm was Dignified Designs, where clothes would be adapted for people with dementia and low mobility by placing an elastic waistband into the pants along with a magnetic button-down shirt. To allow a family to keep track of someone, the design has an option for a GPS tracking signal that can attach to a cell phone.
After all the months of study and research, the four juniors delivered a 20-minute presentation June 3 at the annual Business Incubator’s Pitch Night. They detailed how the clothes would be marketed, sold, the possible pricing and the target audience.
Their ideas impressed the judges who presented them with the Foundation Cup, awarded them $7,500 from the Lake Forest High School Foundation and an additional $6,000 from outside investors.
Thornberry said the idea originated when she discussed her grandfather’s situation with her classmates and they got a simple directive from Joe Pulio, co-director of the Business Incubator.
“Mr. Pulio always taught us to come up with a problem to solve, not a solution that no one needed. Knowing there was a problem out there to solve helped inspire us,” Thornberry said.
With their win, the Dignified Designs team will spend next year in the LFHS Business Accelerator program working on development of the product. With the funding, the quartet plans to spend $5,000 enhancing a website with additional money going for legal fees and marketing and the creation of an LLC.
Over the summer, the young entrepreneurs intend to meet with other potential investors, seek a manufacturer for the business and continue conversations with area nursing homes.
The team described themselves as “excited but nervous” about their triumph, and said they got little assistance from their parents, who are all in the business world.
“A lot of us had grown up around business and we wanted to do it without the help of our parents and we wanted to be as focused and independent as we could,” Siegel said.
Three other teams were finalists and showcased their inventions to the judges and the audience. A group called Pure Gear has a product intended to eliminate bacteria in sports equipment. They received $4,000 from investors and $2,500 from the LFHS Foundation. Solis UVC Purifications came up with a two-part water purification bottle that promises to kill bacteria. That group obtained $4,500 from investors.
This was the fifth year of the Business Incubator and Pulio marvels at the 70 students comprising 17 teams.
“The thing I enjoy the most is seeing how much they grow and change,” Pulio said. “It is their junior year but they are coming in at the beginning. They leave this class and you can see the work here and this is like looking at collegiate work.”