In 2009, Gabrielle Palermo entered Arizona State University to pursue a medical degree because she wanted to help people in need. But it didn't take her long to find another path to this passion: Entrepreneurship.
She, along with fellow students James Tyler, John Walters, and Susanna Young, are the co-founders of G3Box, a company that designs low-cost, modular, and mobile medical clinics made from recycled shipping containers.
"I wanted to be a doctor, but that changed when I went into this process," she adds. "It's now my passion. I love creating a business that will help save lives."
It all started her freshman year at ASU, when Palermo and her co-founders each individually joined a school-hosted competition called the Innovation Challenge.
"I worked on a project called Doc in a Box, which was a similar idea, turning steel containers into clinics for rural places," explains Palermo. "Another team called Project Local, was also working on designing containers for maternity wards in Kenya." The prize at the end of the competition was a small amount of funding.
Turns out, Doc in a Box won $1,500, while the competing team, which was comprised of her now co-founders, won $2,000. At the time, however, both were considered just student projects, with nowhere near enough funding to actually build a clinic. So, Palermo, a biomedical engineering major, looked for ways to take the idea to the next level.
"Our school has this Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative that awards start-ups up to $20,000 in seed funding, " she says. "I got more and more interested in developing a business model for this product. I wanted to apply."
She approached her competitors to join her in this new venture. "They said yes, and that was it. We were going to do this for real," she adds. That was the birth of G3Box.
The four co-founders spent months developing the business plan and in April 2011, they won $20,000 in seed funding from the school's initiative. With a nearly $25,000 in funding from both challenges, the team got to work.
Today, the company is still in early stages of identifying their target customer, figuring out how to keep costs down, and finding partners that can handle the clinics' rather complex manufacturing.
"We are almost finished with our first prototype, which is a maternity ward that will be donated to a charity in Kenya by the end of this summer," Palermo says.
Because this initial prototype is for charity, their current partners -- local construction companies and architecture firms-- are donating their time, services and products. The company's biggest challenge, she says, is getting these partners to continue once they begin building their second for-profit prototype later this year.
"We've also been looking for new partners, talking with a lot of rural clinics in Arizona," she says. "We need to know what their needs are when they want to build a new location and figure out how we can get in on that. We're also talking to them about coming to see our product when its finish."
Palermo says she is hoping to sell a few units, which will likely cost $20,000 each, by the end of 2012.