HexNest designs safer, cheaper sports mats

By Eric Rzeszutko, Staff Writer

When Mark Van den Avont recovered from breaking two spinal vertebrae during gymnastics his senior year in high school, he was inspired to create a new sports mat that would be safer and cheaper for athletes.

Now a sophomore in Engineering, Van den Avont is about to celebrate the one year anniversary of his sports mat company, HexNest, in October.

HexNest is in the process of developing the mats through lab testing and product design. The mats will use polymer filler rather than traditional foam, to introduce higher safety standards that currently existing mats do not provide.   

“We validated that you can create a mat out of our polymer and have it absorb an impact effectively, but we have some design challenges that we still need to fix before it’s mass production ready,” Van den Avont said.

HexNest sports mats will be 5 feet by 8 feet, which are around the size of twin mattresses, and approximately 8 inches thick. They are estimated to cost $250, while similar mats usually cost up to $350 to $400.

Van den Avont said he hopes the first prototype for the HexNest sports mat will be completed within a month and a half.

HexNest has recently hired Ian Huntley, graduate student in Business, to handle marketing operations for the company.

“So far what I have been doing is just learning about HexNest and starting to put together ideas for things that we can do for marketing,” Huntley said. “We are going to have a brainstorm session on what the goals are for marketing.”

Huntley and Van den Avont plan to market the product locally.

“Cutting ties with the network that I have created here, that University of Illinois has created … would be super unwise. We are committed to staying local,” Van den Avont said.

Molly Arseneau, senior in Media and University cheerleader, said she has seen many instances where sports mats prevented injuries.

“They have actually cushioned a lot of falls,” Arseneau said. “I think it’s a lot safer than if we were cheering on a football field, in the grass, or especially a lot safer than on a basketball court.”

After recovering from his own injuries through therapy, Van den Avont said how lucky he is to have not had serious complications from the accident, like others he has heard about have had.

“I actually just heard about someone else who fell on their head, broke their spine and died of pneumonia. Someone else paralyzed and now in a wheelchair for the rest of their life,” Van den Avont said. “Same injuries, same type of everything, and that didn’t happen to me, and I don’t want to forget that.”

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