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Lake Forest ‘Shark Tank’ highlights college, city business partnership

Tom Horan, right, owner of 80/20 Business Solutions in Lake Forest, thanks Lake Forest College student Zhuowu Jiang for his work on an advertising campaign for his start-up business. | Linda Blaser/Sun-Times Media
Lake Forest College business students Rhiannon Miller, from left, Nicholaus Wauters and Lasha Bikashvili present their marketing plan during "Shark Tank" in Lake Forest City Hall on Nov. 26. | Linda Blaser/Sun-Times Media

Meg Barnhart bear-hugged the three Lake Forest College students who helped get her business, The Zen of Slow Cooking, on a new marketing track.

“This is phenomenal,” Barnhart said. “This is what I walk away with now, this whole analysis,” she said, showing a binder chock full of marketing research provided by her student team.

“These guys did such a great job,” Barnhart said, beaming at the trio of Scott Sanford, Stephanie Esposito and Abigail Fliss, students in the Business 346 Entrepreneurial Marketing class at Lake Forest College.

The students were equally grateful for their semester-long partnership with Barnhart and Jane McKay, who operate The Zen of Slow Cooking start-up at the Lake Forest Business Accelerator on Old Mill Road.

“It was a privilege working with Meg and Jane,” Sanford, a senior business major, said. “I think the biggest thing I took away from this is: ‘This is a real business I’m working with.’ This is real pride. I wanted to give it the best quality, making sure that every little detail was considered.”

Barnhart and McKay were among three local Lake Forest Business Accelerator businesses that paired up with a trio of students in Darlene Jaffke’s Entrepreneurial Marketing class this fall, and the students then elevated their classroom lectures to a hands-on assignment.

They met with their clients in the fall and provided them with competitive and industry analysis before sitting down at the drawing board to create solutions to grow those businesses.

The three student-teams presented their resulting marketing and advertising campaigns for their clients, local start-ups The Zen of Slow Cooking, 80/20 Business Solutions, LLC, and Kids Smarter, during a Lake Forest version of “Shark Tank,” the critically-acclaimed business-themed reality show on ABC-TV, in the Lake Forest City Council Chambers Tuesday, Nov. 26.

Jaffke approached Lake Forest Economic Development Officer Susan Kelsey about the possibility of creating a mentoring partnerships between local businesses and her business students this fall.

“The two of us together — her can-do attitude and my big idea — made this happen,” Jaffke said.

Based on the successful outcome of Lake Forest’s first “Shark Tank,” where the students presented promotional materials and recommendations they developed specific to their businesses, Jaffke anticipates rising enrollment next fall.

“We’ve gotten wonderful support,” Jaffke said. “These businesses are willing to mentor these students and the students are talking as well, so I think I might have double the amount of students next fall. We’ll need double the amount of businesses, that’s what I’m anticipating at this point.”

Combining efforts helps the college and city cross what some consider a disconnect between the two.

“This was a great example of a city-college partnership,” Kelsey said. “That was the whole motivation: The city wanted to bring other opportunities to work closely with the college and we did that.”

Jaffke said building those bridges was her intention from the start.

“I wanted the students to have the opportunity to work with local businesses and reap the benefit of the mentorship and the years of experience of these business members, but on the flip side I wanted the business members to reap the benefits of these young minds,” she said. “My goal was to make it so that there is no longer a divide between the college and the community and that we’re working together.”

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