Michigan Business Challenge Spotlight – CARt

The Michigan Business Challenge (MBC), Zell Lurie’s campus wide business plan competition, concludes this Friday with the Semi-Finals and Finals.  Each day leading up to the competition, ZLI will highlight one of the eight Semi-Finalist teams competing for $85,000 in cash prizes.

MBC Semi-Finalist Team

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 1.09.12 PMCARt –  Ali Jensen (MPH ’16), Stacey Matlen (MPH ’16), Christine Priori (MBA/MPH ’17), Mikaela Rodkin (MBA/MS ’17)

What inspired your team name?

Originally Fresh Fare, we wanted something that conveyed transportation with subtle grocery undertones. We came up with cart, which can be used as a mobility verb. It also happens to have the word “car” in it, which was an added bonus. This summer, while writing a summary, we noticed that we were always saying that CARt offers convenient, affordable, reliable transportation and thus, an acronym was born.

Tell us briefly about your business idea. 

CARt uses existing rideshare infrastructure (think Uber) to get low-income, low-vehicle access individuals to and from fully stocked supermarkets. We wanted to tackle the barrier of transportation when accessing healthy foods. Inspired by the Medicaid Cab, in which Medicaid beneficiaries who don’t have transportation can get reimbursed for a taxi to their medical appointments, we want to improve access to supermarkets.

How has the MBC experience helped transform your business strategy?

We’ve participated in other student competitions, but no competition has asked us to draft a comprehensive business plan, business model, and economic viability and growth. We learned a lot about how to develop a growth plan and MBC made us really think about our pricing model.

What do you think will be the long-term impact of the implementation of this idea?

We want to improve diets by increasing access to healthy, affordable food. Too many people living in food deserts have no choice but to shop at convenience stores that stock non-perishable food at a premium price. By getting people to the supermarket, they have the choice to purchase healthier foods and aren’t burdened by the premium price. Their dollar will go further with CARt.

What has been your biggest takeaway?

We have conducted three pilots and are in the process of conducting focus groups and in-depth interviews. We came in with a good idea, but to see the response of the community has been inspiring. Food insecurity has become a societal norm, yet people want to go to supermarkets. People want to pick out their own fruits and vegetables. We are thrilled to be able to provide people with an option to do that.

If you win, what will you do immediately following the competition?

We will probably go to Disneyland. Kidding. We will sigh a big sigh of relief, connect with our supporters and thank them for all of their hard work, then go to sleep. We will get up the next morning and continue the conversations with stakeholders and continue to unroll the project.

Final thoughts?

We are so honored that MBC has considered us. We came together a year and a half ago because we were passionate about food insecurity. We were sick of our neighbors eating canned beans for dinner. We were sick of kids only getting two meals a day. We were sick of reading about malnutrition and its impact on obesity and health. Anger and despair fuel innovation. We are truly humbled by the chance to scratch the surface of this problem.

Michigan Business Challenge Zell Lurie Institute University of Michigan Ross

Attend the Michigan Business Challenge Showcase and Finals on February 19 to learn more about these innovative business concepts. Join the MBC final presentations at 3p.m., mingle with local entrepreneurs during the showcase at 5p.m., then stay to cheer on the winners!

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