Al Hammond

A Hothouse of Creativity: From GSBI 2008

GSBIIt’s pretty intense, the process Francisco and I are engaged in this past week and the coming one. Take 16 social entrepreneurs from a dozen countries on three continents, some very knowledgeable faculty, and more than a high-powered dozen mentors and guest lecturers from Silicon Valley companies, and stir well. Throw in 12-14 hour days, hard work improving business plans and elevator pitches, instruction on strategies, etc.

That’s the Santa Clara University’s Global Social Benefit Incubator. And we are both embedded, as the war journalists say–we talk to the entrepreneurs non-stop, we eat with them, we sleep in the same dorms, we go drinking together.But even more interesting than the formal program are the informal interactions and unexpected discoveries. These are, after all, entrepreneurs, quick to seize on new ideas and used to thinking outside the box. So the cross learning is amazing. I can only give you my own subset of that, but it’s happening all across the entrepreneur group.

I’ve been focused on mentoring a cluster of water treatment companies for the GSBI, and while I talked about my health work in the context of distribution strategies, I didn’t expect to further it here. But talking to Anais Tuepker, founder of Preciva, I found she’s developing a new cervical cancer diagnostic tool–exactly the kind of tool I’m looking to deploy with the franchise pharmacy chains I’m helping to develop. And she got very interested in the potential distribution I can offer.

But as we got deeper into it, she explained her team’s problem with integrating the diagnostic tool into a laptop. I said she didn’t need to do that for me, because we will have good connectivity and so she could do the software as a server-based application, thus making the tool much more simple and field-ready. She almost jumped out of her chair-and immediately set up for me to talk with her development team (her husband).

Then there is Alfonso Gamboa, who’s here from the Saravia Blue Crab Cooperative in the Philippines, which is also a country I’m targeting for my pharmacy work. But once he heard my presentation, he approached me. It turns out he’s also the president of a major sugar company, which is mandated to put aside a fund to improve the lives of their workers, and they are piloting a group of franchise pharmacies, and especially interested in combining them with diagnostics.

So I put him together with the head of the entrepreneur team in the Philippines, and its possible that the sugar plantation pharmacies provide a faster way to pilot our approach.

Two of the water treatment businesses here-Naandi Foundation and EPGL, both in India-are planning to add treatment facilities in 4,000-5,000 villages each over the next few years. But as we talked about their model, and its implications for improving the health of the villagers, the idea arose that the water treatment infrastructure-buildings, a local entrepreneur or manager, access to the village government, well-respected partner organizations-could also provide a platform for launching a pharmacy network, thus further expanding the health impact. The excitement level on both sides went up a notch, calls were made to India, and invitation for a trip to India to explore the opportunities were made and accepted on the spot.

These only sample the connections, partnerships, and shared insights bubbling here. But they illustrate the value of this intense, in-depth (and, yes, expensive) process-it generates both market-ready entrepreneurs and a hothouse of creativity and deal-making.