ASU biomedical engineering junior Gabrielle Palermo is Entrepreneur Magazine’s College Entrepreneur of 2011. Palermo and a team of ASU engineering students were honored by the magazine for their work on G3Box, a company they started that converts steel shipping containers into mobile medical clinics. Palermo and G3Box partners Susanna Young and Clay Tyler talk about the business.
Ted Simons: A team of ASU engineering students is getting national attention for g-3box, a business the team started that turns shipping containers into mobile medical clinics. The team is featured in January's edition of entrepreneur magazine with one team member honored as the college entrepreneur of 2011. And joining us now to talk about the g-3box is biomedical engineering student Gabrielle Palermo, and graduate student and mechanical engineering Susanna Young, and Clay Tyler. It is good to have you all here. Some of you back on horizon, but we talked about this a while, let's talk about the g-3box. Were you the entrepreneur of the year or were you the figure head for the team?
Gabrielle Palermo: I was the one that applied, but I think all of us can say that we won together.
Ted Simons: Ok, so you are all entrepreneurs of the year. And what is the g-3box?
Gabrielle Palermo: G-3box stands for generating global good, and we take shipping containers from around the world, basically, and converted them into medical clinics.
Ted Simons: And this started by way of a project designed by an instructor? Talk to us about that.
Susanna Young: So, it started out through the epics program, which is a program started in 2009, at ASU, stands for engineering project and community service, and it was started by the director Richard Philly, and I was put on the team, that that had two mentors, Dr. Jan Schneider and Vincent Piconi, and Dr. Schneider has been to Africa many times, and noticed all the containers in the ports around there that were decommissioned and not used, and also the mortality ratio, so he thought how can he solve those problems together, and I was on that team that, that began to implement this project.
Ted Simons: What were your first thoughts when you heard about the project?
Clay Tyler: Well, I was, actually, I was around when she first started the project, and I didn't get involved with epics until about a year later, and I thought it was a great idea from the get-go, and I really got started, and, in ASU when I was a part of my senior design class at mechanical engineering, so I joined it for that, and when I got involved with that, that's when I began my own journey.
Ted Simons: Did it make sense to you when you got involved? It made perfect sense?
Clay Tyler: It fit my skills as an engineer, and what I wanted to do, and as well, as a social mission, that social side of, of our kind of endeavors with g-3box.
Ted Simons: And Gabrielle Palermo, when this first started, what were your first thoughts when you heard about the challenge and your first thoughts on how you reuse the storage containers?
Gabrielle Palermo: Well, he started off, on a separate project, and we took containers and converted them into disaster relief clinics, so, I was really excited when I got put on this project, and we kind of came together and formed g-3box together.
Ted Simons: So, biggest challenge, though, in getting this thing up and operational.
Gabrielle Palermo: For me, it was learning the business, and I have been an engineer, I just take engineering classes, so learning how to run a business is probably the most difficult thing for me.
Ted Simons: Was that the most -- are you, you look at this, and it has to be ventilation in these things now, there's got to be potable water and all sorts of things. What was some of the early challenges in getting this up and going?
Susanna Young: Yeah. Some of the early challenges were with regard to engineering, so we have this confined space, therefore, 40 feet by 8 feet by 8 feet. So this is a narrow space, although it's quite long. And so, we had to work within these dimensions to figure out can this actually function as a clinic, and they have been used, containers have been converted into many things, and that's not a new idea. And it's the idea of, of making them into a stand alone clinic that can function off the grid, really anywhere in the world. And so, we played around with solar power, wind power, and so the main challenges were, yeah, associated with engineering, but as the, the project has regressed, it has become less about allow do you make this into a clinic and more about who is going to want to buy it, and, and where do we, we -- how do we make this a sustainable business.
Ted Simons: Is that what you are seeing, as well? It has gone from engineering challenges to marketing challenges, and, and really, sales challenges.
Clay Tyler: Yeah, definitely. We were discussing earlier, we did a trip this morning, and to real hospitals but as we were discussing this morning, none of us here as really, really, throughout our days, thought of ourselves as being in business, and we also thought of ourselves as being in different types of engineers, and not just a standard engineer path at ASU, but all, like the, the, the things outlined in a row, just as a business, and things have fallen into our pathway, and we have taken it as it has come, and we discovered that running a business is very, very fun, and it's what we want to do with engineering.
Ted Simons: Let me ask you a business oriented question, how much does it take to build one of these things, and where is the money coming from?
Gabrielle Palermo: It takes about, about 15 to 16,000 to build. It all depends on what you want inside the clinic, so if it's going to be off the grid and using solar panels versus being able to plug it, in a lot of it is just customization.
Ted Simons: And, and the money again is coming from?
Gabrielle Palermo: Right now, we're using money that we won through the Epson program, and we just want to -- an additional $5,000 to the entrepreneur magazine competition, and which is the second prototype clinic.
Ted Simons: And the plan is to sell these to non profits and they would be used what, just really were disaster relief or how does that work?
Susanna Young: Right now, we're looking at four different market segments, one would be disaster response, and one is domestic rural health care so in the U.S., or other developed countries, and international rural health care and say developing countries, and we also have been looking at, at mining companies, and, and, or oil and gas companies, that that work in remote areas, that might potentially need an on-site clinic for, for their employees. And these, so those are four market areas that we're investigating, and to determine if there is a viable customer, someone that could afford to pay for these. And the goal would be to take that, that funding, you know, take that money that, that is made from those who can afford to pay, and then support what we want to do and developing countries, and through, through improving the mortality ratio and things like that, and with what we get, so the four profits, the profits would go to a nonprofit.
Ted Simons: And that's an awful lot going on there, and you guys partnering with anyone? Do you have some assistance elsewhere? What's going on here?
Clay Tyler: We have a lot of mentors from the program. And at ASU has together in Tempe. We have more mentors in the manufacturing. We have a great mentor in Gordon McConnell, who is really coordinating a lot of things, and we have also gotten partnerships with DPR construction, and who is helping us with our first prototype, so not, you know, official, but we're giving bridges built, and in our partnerships in the industry, and such as, you know, contractors and all of that.
Ted Simons: Interesting, and we were talking about how you are all engineering students, faculty, and all of a sudden you have business concerns. Talk to me about how this particular project has changed or if it has changed your college, your career plans.
Gabrielle Palermo: Oh, my goodness. I entered college not interested in business. At all. But once I started getting involved in this, converting containers into clinics, it's what I wanted to do because of my interest in medicine, and it evolved into a business without me really kind of knowing. It was more of a surprise, and I loved it every second.
Ted Simons: So, you see yourself going further on the business aspect of something like this?
Gabrielle Palermo: Yes, this is, um, my career for now, and hopefully, for a very long time to come.
Ted Simons: Very good. Has it changed your plans?
Susanna Young: Well, I always knew when I started engineering that it wouldn't be the typical engineering path where I would go work for say Honeywell or Boeing, one of the large corporations, and I preferred small businesses, and so, turning it, turning something into, into, or making my own business or our own business together fit way more into what, what I saw myself as an engineer. And as we have gone on in this project, what we have noticed is that, is that we all have passions for developing countries, and we also realize that there is a lot of needs in our own country here in the U.S., and especially in Arizona, we want to be a part of creating jobs, and making something that's made in the U.S.
Ted Simons: Ok.
Ted Simons: We have got to stop it right there. It's good to have you here, and thanks for joining us, and congratulations.
Guests: Thank you.
Gabrielle Palermo:ASU Biomedical Engineering student, Entrepreneur Magazine's College Entrepreneur of 2011; Susanna Young:G3Box; Clay Tyler:G3Box;