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Young Entrepreneur Gabrielle Palermo on Growing a Social Business

Entrepreneur Magazine's College Entrepreneur of 2011 and co-founder of G3Box shares the challenges of growing the startup.

As a junior at Arizona State University, Gabrielle Palermo, 20, and her classmates were presented with a question of how to inventively use the abandoned shipping containers now littering the nation's ports. They decided to convert unused shipping containers into modular medical units that can be used around the world. And seeing that their idea actually had legs -- and a potentially thriving market among nonprofits -- outside of academia, the students formed the social enterprise G3Box, which stands for "generating global good."

Besides winning Entrepreneur magazine's College Entrepreneur of 2011, the students have raised $4,000 from ASU's Innovation Challenge and another $10,000 in seed funding from the school's Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative. With these resources, the team is working on a prototype maternity clinic, in a container donated by Swift Transportation, and hopes to deploy it this summer in Kenya.

G3Box may have started out as a class project, but the business today has global ambitions. Palermo says it's been a struggle to both sell nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations on the idea of buying modular medial containers and train outside staffers on how to use them. "You can't just drop something in a country and expect it to work as a medical clinic. You have to train people how to use everything," she says.

The containers, which cost $12,000 to $18,000 to retrofit, will initially be constructed in the U.S. and delivered to areas of need, but the hope is to eventually have assembly sites near international ports, particularly in Africa.

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