ASU Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative

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Learn more about this program that helps ASU students learn how to start a business. Guests include Brent Sebold, the initiative’s Program Manager, and ASU students Gabrielle Palermo and Susanna Young, two founders of G3Box, a company that turns steel freight containers into mobile medical clinics that has been named a finalist for Entrepreneur magazine’s 2011 College Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Ted Simons: There are five finalists for "Entrepreneur" magazine's college entrepreneur of the year award. Three of those finalists are from Arizona state University. Among the student businesses selected for the final round is G-3 Box, generating global containers for good. It's a nonprofit company founded by four ASU students that converts steel shipping containers into safe and sanitary medical clinics that can be used worldwide. G-3 Box is a product of ASU's Edson student entrepreneur initiative. It's a program that helps students develop and launch their business. Joining me to talk about it is program manager Brent Sebold, and two of the founders of G-3 Box -- Gabrielle Palermo, a junior biomedical engineering student, and Susanna Young, who is pursuing a masters degree in mechanical engineering. Good to have you all here. Thanks for joining us. Brent, give us more detail now on this particular program.

Brent Sebold: It's a great program, we're very lucky to have it at ASU. It started as a gift to the University by OREN and Charlie Edson. He started building boats in his garage as he was finishing his college degree, and became very difficult for him, and he made some great decisions in life and was very successful with his boating company, and in his success he wanted to give back to student entrepreneurs by -- through this gift to ASU. And so through the gift we're able to manage this program annually, where we bring in student teams to advance their venture.

Ted Simons: And it sounds as though this is a bit of a competition. In a variety of stages. Correct?

Brent Sebold: Correct. Yes. Entrepreneurship is huge at ASU. We promote it across all disciplines, on all four campuses. And we're based in Skysong. But we get the word out to all students that they can make an impact in people's lives through entrepreneurship. And so when we're pushing that across English majors and journalism majors, and engineering students, we drum up a lot of excitement about starting a business. So this past year these ladies are part of the seventh cohort of the program. This past year we had 250 student teams apply to the program. And we were very pleased with that.

Ted Simons: Let's talk to some of these ladies here who are doing very, very well. G-3 Box, we got the general idea here. How did this idea start?

Gabrielle Palermo: It started in a program that ASU called epics in engineering, and from there we won a couple grants, and then went on to apply for Edson.

Ted Simons: But the idea of taking these big containers and turning them from A to B, where did that come from?

Susanna Young: It actually as gabby said, started in epics, and primarily from two professors that were mentoring us in this student project had come up with this idea. The professors are Dr. Jan Snyder and Dr. PitSi KONi. They noticed in multiple ports in Africa that there are a lot of containers sitting idle because they've been decommissioned. So they thought why can't we convert these into something useful. Africa has the highest death rate in the world, so we thought, why can't we solve both problems at the same time. And have -- that's where G-3 Boxes come from.

Ted Simons: Were there challenges at first? The engineering, structural, logistical challenges? What did you run into?

Gabrielle Palermo: I start the the project as a freshman, so it's just lack of experience for me. I didn't really know too much. And so talking to people, talking to professors, made it easier that way.

Ted Simons: Yeah. And as far as the competition is concerned, they have to go through certain stages. Did they get -- let's say I come along and I've got an idea for a Hamburger shop. Who knows? Do I get seed money when I submit the idea? I do have to pass a stage?

Brent Sebold: Sure. Well, we have students from all across the University that come up with very bright ideas. In fact, we have a new initiative at ASU this year called 10,000 solutions. So if you have a solution to a problem that you're having, maybe it's a lack of Hamburgers in your case, we want to hear that. And we have a forum to present that idea. And so students will kind of vet those ideas in a web-based format and perhaps form teams and a physical space on each of our four campuses, and this is a new initiative as well, very cool, it's called change maker central. And this is where people can get together and really talk about, hey, can this venture move forward? Does this have legs? And if so, that's when we get involved in terms of the Edson program. We host entrepreneur office hours at each of the four campuses, and really chat with these students and say, hey, we think you got something here. And at that point we coach them through a process of applying to different grant opportunities at ASU, one that Gabrielle mentioned earlier is called innovation challenge. And that's supported by the Coffman foundation out of St. Louis, Missouri, I believe. And they've been fantastic to ASU over the past couple years. Beyond winning a grant like that that I believe is a little bit lower in terms of funding available, then they can ramp up and hit Edson in the spring. And Edson program does award up to $20,000 to -- in funding for the teams.

Ted Simons: When you made your presentation, what did you emphasize and what did you learn maybe should have been emphasized otherwise, or what did you find out that that emphasis actually was what clicked with whoever made the decision?

Susanna Young: I think what we really got out of the whole Edson process was that you do need to focus on your potential markets, where can this idea -- where will it be successful, making sure we do the research in that way, knowing your numbers. But what we really saw was that after we finished our presentation, the judges had questions but they also had sort of just a little feedback and we learned something as far as nonprofits go, like the overhead that you're supposed to have for your price on your product, so we learned in this process. And I think that's one of the key things about Edson is that the business plan that you submit could very well change the day after you win funding. And entrepreneurship is like that anyway, where have you this idea and it's going to evolve into things based on the customers you talk to, your advisors, your mentor, and even yourself.

Ted Simons: Is that what you found as well, you had this idea, you're going to do A, B, and C, and then the alphabet gets all mixed up?

Gabrielle Palermo: Oh, yeah. It's been changing in the past week, too. We went from being just nonprofit to now being a more than profit company. So we have a for-profit and a nonprofit foundation. So we have two separate companies instead of one.

Ted Simons: Is this the kind of thing that gets you thinking more about entrepreneurship as opposed to things like biomedical or engineering? Are you starting to think, maybe I got an idea here that could change the world?

Gabrielle Palermo: Oh, yeah. But it's fun too, because I've always been interested in medicine as well. So making medical clinics in a business is really exciting.

Ted Simons: Same thing for you? Has it changed your outlook on what you want to do the rest of your life?

Susanna Young: I think so. I think I've always seen them as being compatible. The reason I chose engineering, I wanted to have a challenge and then also to help people. And I see this as very much in line with what I wanted to do from the beginning. So I saw engineering as sort of a means to getting to where I wanted to be, which was helping people. And I never saw it necessarily as being the career I had. It was sort of getting to that point.

Ted Simons: And do you find, are you already looking for the next project, the next idea? Or is G-3 Box enough for now?

Gabrielle Palermo: G-3 Box is enough for now, but we're always thinking of ways to expand. And it's been so much fun so far.

Ted Simons: Yeah. We have about 30 seconds left. This has to be pretty inspirational.

Brent Sebold: It's fantastic. It's unbelievable. We're very happy to help them. Everyone that's involved with our Edson program, even within skysong at ASU are tremendously supportive of these teams and we're hoping that they reach the stars and create jobs, and expand the economy. And we're here to help them.

Ted Simons: When do we find out if you're the entrepreneur of the year?

Gabrielle Palermo: I think it's December 20th, the January issue of "Entrepreneur" magazine.

Ted Simons: That's a nice holiday present. Good luck to you both. Congratulations. Great program.

Brent Sebold: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Tomorrow on "Horizon," we'll talk with an organization that helps train future leaders for Arizona.

Ted Simons: And we'll find out about a digital learning seminar just held at ASU. That's Wednesday at 7:00 on "Horizon."

Brent Sebold:ASU Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative Program Manager; Gabrielle Palermo:ASU Student, co-founder of G3Box; Susanna Young:ASU Student, co-founder of G3Box;

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