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Student entrepreneurs earn national attention for business with a mission

A not-for-profit business started by two USF students and a UF student is getting strong national attention, most recently from the Kairos Society, which included the company in its Kairos 50 list, an annual list recognizing the world’s 50 most innovative ventures started by university students.

Called Advocates for World Health (AWH), the business has a mission that is simple and powerful: recover excess medical equipment and supplies and distribute them to places and people around the world with need for them.

Photo of Ryan Kania, Jordan Markel and David Roebuck.

On the floor of the New York Stock Exchange are AWH founders Ryan Kania, Jordan Markel and David Roebuck.

Ryan Kania, Jordan Markel and David Roebuck launched AWH during their undergraduate studies. Kania has since graduated Summa Cum Laude as USF’s Fall 2010 Outstanding Graduate. Markel is still a student at USF pursuing a Masters in Public Health in the College of Public Health. Roebuck recently graduated with a dual degree in biology and anthropology from the University of Florida.

Since starting, AWH has distributed more than 80, 000 lbs. of medical product worth more than $1.6 million to underserved healthcare providers in Haiti, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic through seven shipments and six medical aid trips.

The Kairos Society is an international, student-run, not-for-profit foundation based in the United States that fosters innovation-driven entrepreneurship surrounding a wide range of global challenges. In making the Kairos 50, the AWH team earned a trip to New York City in February and the opportunity to rub elbows with fellow entrepreneurs from throughout the country, as well as leading business executives with their own success stories. In addition, AWH was selected to showcase to potential investors on the New York Stock Exchange.

“It was an amazing opportunity for all of us,” Markel said. “In addition to the other 49 student entrepreneurs on the K50 list, we met so many inspiring people with amazing stories.”

“I had a former top executive of the global section of Burger King giving me strategies on how to connect with new hospitals. I had a healthcare software company executive telling me how to renovate our business plan and present it better. And I had a rabbi with political liaison connections introduce us to the president-elect of a foreign country who needed the exact kind of medical supply aid we were offering.”

Markel attributes their inclusion to the K50 to two strong points for the business.

“First, our business model allows us create our own revenue,” he said. “And second, it’s a model that easily translates across other communities, not just in the United States, but globally.”

AWH recovers surplus medical products and distributes them to relief agencies working in developing nations, thus assisting underserved patients and reducing medical waste. This initiative keeps large amounts of unused medical products out of landfills and incinerators while also supporting better access to healthcare for patients in impoverished communities abroad.

In addition to the Kairos 50, AWH founders have also earned attention elsewhere. They earned an all-expenses-paid trip to Stanford University in April to participate in Entrepreneurship Bootcamp , a week-long program that creates an optimal environment to advance startups by bringing together the top student entrepreneurs and industry experts in the world. Each company is put to the test at every level of viability to find out what it needs to survive.

Also, the AWH founders have been invited to present at the Clinton Global Initiative University  in Washington, DC, in March.

The team entered the Dell Social Innovation Challenge , a competition for those who develop and implement a business that addresses a social challenge. Results of the challenge are due in May.

So how is all of this attention affecting AWH founders? In a word, energizing.

“It’s really exciting and extremely rewarding to learn how to use business to do good,” he said. “We love it and every day is a fun day.”