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Business students swim with the sharks

A local version of the ABC reality show "Shark Tank" played out Saturday in Springfield as high school students from across Sangamon County pitched their business ideas to a panel of experts.

There was no cash prize on the line, but the 29 seniors in the Sangamon CEO program took competition seriously. There were 13 teams of students and each came up with an idea for a business. The top six teams pitched their ideas to a panel of five business experts and answered questions about their ideas.

The event was held at the Memorial Center for Learning and Innovation, 228 W. Miller St.

Ben Turner, an 18-year-old Springfield High School senior, pitched a business called Patient Tops. The idea is to supply hospitals with a T-shirt that is cut along the seams of both shoulders, down one side of the torso and held together with Velcro or snaps.

This would allow hospital patients to wear a normal-looking shirt as opposed to a hospital gown.

"They allow patients in the hospital to feel as though they are wearing normal clothing, but the doctors and nurses have easy access to their torso," Turner said.

Turner said he got the idea for the business when his father was in the hospital with cancer of the appendix. Like a lot of patients, he didn't like wearing a hospital gown and said he wished he could wear a normal shirt.

"Patients in the hospital feel separated because of the gowns. (Patient Tops) gives patients a feeling of being normal," Turner said.

Turner's father, Todd, was diagnosed in 2011. He was at Saturday's event and said he was proud of his son.

"He has a good idea and he's really worked hard," Todd Turner said. "He likes to do things for people. He sees this as a way to help people who have a need."

The Sangamon CEO program has been around for four years. The students participate in the program from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Mondays through Friday. They meet at various businesses and learn how each business was founded and some of the challenges they have faced.

The students then use that knowledge to put together a plan for their own business, said Rich Johnson, a facilitator with the Sangamon CEO program.

"The true test of intelligence is application of theory to environment," Johnson said. "What we do here is we bring in business theory, but then we have them apply it to create their own business. They learn through trial and error what works, and what doesn't work."

The students in the Sangamon CEO program come from a variety of high schools including Springfield High School, Buffalo Tri-City, Sacred Heart-Griffin, Riverton, Williamsville and Pleasant Plains.

Some of the other businesses the students pitched to the panel included Wildflower Lane, an arts and garden business; SnackThat.biz, a business that sells healthy snacks online; and Ability Marketplace, which helps entrepreneurs who are disabled connect to markets where they can sell their products and network.

The wining team was Tomatoes and Blankets, a business that connects non-profits with donors. The team members are Joseph Abe-Bell, Abby Tellez and Julia Gordon, all of Springfield High.

Ben Turner said he's enjoyed the CEO program.

"It doesn't even feel like work. I wake up and I'm excited. The program has given me a lot of opportunities and I've met a lot of people I never would have met otherwise," he said.

By: John Reynolds: john.reynolds@sj-r.com

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