Ava Thomas ’18, of Chesterland, competed on Wednesday, February 22 at the Accelerate 2017: Citizens Make Change pitch competition. The competition was open to all Clevelanders, not just students. Thomas pitched her idea for a Memory Mat, a personalized do-it-yourself placemat with pictures and phrases that act as memory cues for individuals with Alzheimer's or dementia. The product also serves as a conversation starter for these patients’ visitors and caregivers.
Thomas was one of five contestants chosen to compete in the Quality of Life category and, after presenting her pitch for the Memory Mat, was selected as the finalist from the category. She was the youngest applicant in the contest’s history to enter as well as the youngest finalist ever named.
As a finalist, Thomas presented her product to an audience of 500 people and earned a check for $2,000 to use to make her vision a reality. The seed money will allow her to buy a portable laminator and all the supplies she will need to produce her Memory Mats. She was interviewed on Ideastream’s “The Sound of Ideas” the next morning about her product and the competition.
Thomas came up with the idea for her product after visiting her grandfather in an assisted living facility after he was recovering from surgery. She noticed that the caregivers struggled to come up with conversation starters. The Memory Mat will allow users to customize their mats with information about their family members, their careers, things they like to talk about and their hobbies.
As a student in Gilmour’s management and entrepreneurship class, Thomas was tasked with writing a business plan and decided to design one around the Memory Mat. Her teacher, Steve Marcus, said of Thomas’ work, “Ava is a very motivated self-starter with a strong entrepreneurial mindset. Before Memory Mat, she started her own business selling jewelry charms with the Gilmour logo.” He continued, “She risked her own money to fund the startup. Within a few months, and a lot of hard work, she recouped her investment and was making a profit. She has put the same dedication and effort into Memory Mat. I am quite proud of her.”
Thomas is also a part of Gilmour’s VECTOR program, which is a concentrated set of experiences and coursework organized around one of five themes. Thomas participates in VECTOR’s science and medicine strand (and is also involved in the civic engagement strand). She works closely with program director Ryan Ryzner to build coursework and experiential opportunities around these focus areas. Ryzner was the one who alerted her to the Accelerate competition.
Ryzner said of Thomas, “Ava has a dynamic skill set - a scientific curiosity, an entrepreneur's vision and creativity, the public speaking poise that allows her to articulate an effective pitch, and an innate desire to help those around her. When you sprinkle in her intrinsic motivation and competitive nature, it's easy to see that she is developing into someone who is going to make a significant impact in whatever field she chooses in the future.” He added, “The most exciting part is that she is only scratching the surface of her potential.”
With seed money in hand, Thomas plans to approach facilitators at area nursing homes, senior centers and schools that work with disabled students to start distributing her Memory Mats. If organizations and/or individuals are interested in receiving Memory Mats, they can contact Thomas at email@example.com.
Gilmour Academy is a Catholic, independent, coeducational, college-preparatory school. It is sponsored by the Congregation of Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Ind., and offers a Montessori program beginning at 18-months-old and a Lower School, Middle School and Upper School. A boarding program is offered to students in Grades 7 through 12. It is located at 34001 Cedar Road in Gates Mills, Ohio. For more information about Gilmour Academy, visit www.gilmour.org
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