A pair of University of Oregon business majors took second place in a contest to find creative, entrepreneurial solutions to the state’s biggest social problems.
Orion Falvey and Oliver Alexander took home the silver this week with their business plan to bring primary health care to Oakridge, Klamath County and Lake County with a mobile medical van.
They placed just behind an Oregon State University team that proposed a sports league for disabled children in Benton County. These South Valley teams competed with 15 others from urban and regional universities around the state during the Oregon Social Business Challenge at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, which was organized by the Oregon University System.
Each team came up with a plan — ranging from a composting project to ethical fashion — which they presented to a panel of judges, including Muhammad Yunus, who developed the idea of using business methods to help the very poor lift themselves out of poverty through financing micro businesses.
Yunus, a 2006 Nobel prize winner, said the students’ business proposals would work.
“It’s difficult to design a business that generates strong and growing sales that can sustain it and also meet its social mission," he said in a prepared statement. “But all of the proposals, particularly Oregon State’s, provide a clear, measurable benefit to Oregon’s communities."
Falvey and Alexander, the UO team, decided in August to compete.
“The only thing I expected out of this was to get some great experience on my resume, practice my teamwork and practice my public speaking," Alexander said.
First, the pair, in their early 20s, had to settle on a social problem to solve.
“We wanted to address an issue that had a very widespread impact, and we wanted something that was a big problem to tackle. We wanted a challenge," Alexander said. “We ended up deciding on health care."
With the help of the Oregon Office of Rural Health, the students identified the areas of the state with the most unmet medical need, based on three statistics: travel time to a hospital, birth weights and mortality.
They zeroed in on Oakridge, Klamath County and Lake County, where there are 20,000 people with questionable access to routine medical care.
“We figured we’d bring health care to them," Alexander said.
The UO team came up with the idea of a cooperative mobile medical van, operated by a doctor and a nurse that would visit each of the communities twice a month.
Participants would pay an average of $50 a month to use the van, with the hopes of lowering the cost as more subscribers signed on, Alexander said. The team figures it needs 435 subscribers to launch the service.
Alexander hadn’t heard of Yunus or the concept of social business, in which the goal is to solve a social problem while earning enough money to perpetuate the business.
“It’s a brilliant way of thinking," Alexander said. “It’s not relying on just a steady stream of donations. Instead, it’s running a for-profit business that’s profiting and serving more people as it grows. We just really like that idea,"
Their second-place win came with a $1,500 scholarship for each of them — and a chance to try to bring their idea to fruition with the help of the Portland-based business incubator, Springboard Innovation.
The project started as a resume builder, Alexander said, “but as we continued to work, we realized how much potential there was."