URBANA, IL — A University of Illinois student from Arlington Heights used a personal injury as inspiration to start a new business. Mark Van de Avont, 19, broke two vertebrae in his spine while doing a backflip dismount off a high bar as a senior at Hersey High School. He fell about 10 feet onto his head, he told Patch
A mechanical engineering student, Van de Avont is all healed up now, according to the University of Illinois website. He’s since started his company HexNest, creating mats that are supposed to be safer and more cost-effective than traditional foam mats.
Utilizing the University of Illinois’ iVenture Accelerator, a program to help student startups, Van den Avont got a $2,500 stipend for summer housing to work on the business. He was also given a $10,000 grant “that could be used for any part of building his business,” the university said.
The iVenture Accelerator has been a great experience for Van den Avont, he said. “It’s great being around other entrepreneurs as well. I’ll be at the iVenture Accelerator at 10 pm on a Tuesday night or early Sunday morning, and I’ll look to my left and right, and everybody’s here.
“Essentially, I received office space, a little bit of money, and access to amazing people which helped take HexNest from a research project to a scalable company entering a surprisingly big industry,” he told Patch.
Van den Avont says one mat he is developing is expected to sell at $250 as opposed to other companies’ which cost up to $400. These mats are roughly the size of a twin mattress. He has a provisional patent on a composite alternative to foam which can be used with different types of polymers.
Gymnastics mats may be the first products from, and inspiration of, HexNest, but Van den Avont hopes his products diversify. “Anywhere foam is absorbing an impact is where we want to go,” he said, according to the Daily Herald.
HexNest is based in Urbana in a co-working center. Van de Avont got the name from a former project he was working on which included hexagons nested within each other, he told Patch, but wasn’t specific about the it. “I may pursue than again in the future.”
He’s pleased with how much the school is investing in him. “The school could have easily have passed me by as a freshman with no formal training in material science, but instead, they recognized what I have created and support me,” he said.
Van den Avont never saw himself as an entrepreneur. “If you told me two years ago that I would be an entrepreneur, I wouldn’t have believed you,” he said.
He noted the difficulties in leading a social life when trying to run a start up, but knows it’s par for the course. “Having HexNest take off, and needing to put so much time in it, has pushed HexNest into the other areas of my life,” he said.
“It’s a great problem to have.”
Article image provided by Mark Van de Avont