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Mobile medical clinic venture vying for entrepreneurship award

August 03, 2011

See video about the G3Box project and vote to support the project team in a national student entrepreneurship competition through Sept 12.

An idea that arose through class projects has become a fledgling business venture that has put a team of four Arizona State University engineering students into the finals of Entrepreneur Magazine’s College Entrepreneur of 2011 Awards Contest.

Generating Global Containers for Good (G3Box for short) – an endeavor to convert 20- to 40-foot-long steel shipping containers into portable medical facilities – is one of five finalists vying for the national award.

The winners will receive $5,000 to help develop their business and be featured in a special section in the January 2012 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine.

The G3Box team consists of biomedical engineering junior Gabrielle Palermo and mechanical engineering senior Billy Walters, along with Susanna Young and Clay Tyler, who are pursuing master’s degrees in mechanical engineering.

Their business plan has its roots in three related projects undertaken by students in the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS GOLD) course offered through ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

In working on efforts to help provide medical and humanitarian aid, students on the project teams learned that each year charitable organizations in the United States such as Project C.U.R.E. (Commission on Urgent Relief and Equipment) and many others send large amounts of donated items overseas, using thousands of the shipping containers – but that the containers are often abandoned after delivery because of the expense of having them returned.

“The high cost of returning a shipping container to the United States is far more than its original value,” explains Richard Filley, director of the EPICS program and mentor for the G3Box team.

“The G3Box students saw a solid business opportunity when they realized that,” Filley says. “By converting those abandoned containers into 320 square feet of well-designed, sanitary medical clinic space, they could turn a widespread problem into an asset for communities across the developing world. “

Each of the three EPICS class project teams later won awards of $5,000 in ASU’s annual student Innovation Challenge competition.

The G3Box proposal then earned $10,000 in seed funding from ASU’s Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative, which supports students with innovative ideas for products and services.

With that funding and donation of a shipping container from Phoenix-based Swift Transportation Corp., the team is refurbishing the first of what it hopes will someday be many shipping containers repurposed for public benefit.

Palermo says she and her G3Box teammates foresee them used as a way for hospitals and health clinics to expand more affordably, for use as portable clinics in rural or remote areas, and for mobile medical emergency and disaster relief stations.

They’re goal is to form a nonprofit company to provide the converted shipping containers to existing nonprofit health organizations.

They plan to meet with leaders of philanthropic and service organizations to propose partnerships that would enable the containers-turned-clinics to be stocked with medical supplies when they’re delivered.

”Their vision is green, sustainable and affordable, and it solves several problems in current systems used by humanitarian aid organizations,” Filley says.

“We’re fortunate ASU emphasizes entrepreneurship training as part of our education.” Palermo says. “I never would have imagined I’d be trying to start a company while I was in still in college.”

The G3Box Team is one of three ASU student teams to be named finalists in the national contest. Read more.