Lake Forest College's Sydney Gardner Dives Into the Shark Tank

Lake Forest College's Sydney Gardner Dives Into the Shark Tank

By Natalie Bober

Lake Forest College junior Sydney Gardner attended the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization Pitch competition on October 27 through October 29 in Tampa Bay, Florida.  At this competition, student entrepreneurs had 90 seconds to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges for a chance to win a first place prize of $3,500, a second place prize of $2,000, or a third place prize of $1,500.

Gardner, a communication major and an entrepreneurship minor, qualified for the competition after placing first among “Shark Tank” competitors at Lake Forest College.  She pitched a compact inhaler, designed for use by athletes, includes interchangeable chambers for asthma medication.  Unlike typical inhalers, which are bulky and have 200 puffs, Gardner’s compact inhaler is miniaturized, has 2 to 4 puffs, and is worn around the athlete’s neck. Gardner, who has sports induced asthma herself, came up with the idea for a miniaturized sports inhaler while playing softball over the summer. Gardner mentioned that often times when she has needed her inhaler after base running or running for a ball in the outfield, she has had to ask her coach to call a timeout.


During Gardner’s two seasons as an outfielder for the Foresters’ softball team, Gardner has had 202 at bats, racked up 69 hits and 58 runs in 79 games, and was selected to be on Team USA in 2016. Gardner is also a two-time Midwest Conference Tournament champion.

“When you’re playing softball and you slide or dive, you don’t want a bulky inhaler. I actually looked for a small, compact inhaler, but there wasn’t anything on the market,” noted Gardner.

There were nine preliminary rounds in the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization Pitch Competition, culminating in a semi-final round, and a final round. Competitors were judged on the hook, if the product was clearly stated, market analysis, the entrepreneur’s qualifications, the entrepreneur’s role in the hypothetical company, identification of problems with the product, identification of problems with the industry, how well the entrepreneur’s product compared with competitors’ products, and how much the product will cost to create.

Gardner joined nearly 1,000 student entrepreneurs from more than 150 universities.

Although Gardner did not advance to the championship round, Gardner noted that it was an, "incredibly neat experience to be a part of.  I had the opportunity to compete with students with similar ambitions and meet world-class entrepreneurs."  Gardner continued, "It was neat talking with experienced entrepreneurs and learning about how they became so successful." 

The pitch competition gave attendees the opportunity to network with other entrepreneurial students and listen to presentations by entrepreneurs, subject matter experts, motivational speakers, and fellow students. There were several notable guest speakers at the event including Jeff Vinik, chairman and governor of the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning team, and Gene Landrum, founder of Chuck E. Cheese.

Taking the feedback she received from the weekend and with guidance from her professors, Gardner has plans to continue developing and enhancing the compact inhaler as she heads into her senior year.

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