- Published on Wednesday, 25 April 2012 14:58
Eight students from the Boston University School of Public Health placed second in the first annual Food for Health Business Plan Competition, an event sponsored by the Communities IMPACT Diabetes Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Their proposed company, Bell Tower Foods (BTF), is designed to provide a low-cost, healthy, and convenient option for residents of Roxbury. Many urban neighborhoods like Roxbury have little to no direct access to fresh fruits and vegetables and are often referred to as "Food Deserts." Residents are often forced to travel longer distances, incur greater traveling expense, and be inclined to purchase foods that will last longer (which are usually unhealthier) because of the lack of a more convenient option. BTF's plan calls for the purchase and use of a food truck that would offer residents a selection of the neighborhood's most popular locally grown fruits and vegetables as determined by surveys.
The group was one of 18 teams from 13 schools in the Northeast that participated in the competition. Plans submitted by students from MBA programs at Yale University, University of Pennsylvania, and Brandeis University also made the final round of the competition, which was eventually won by the team from Brandeis.
Sponsors of the event said that the competition "aims to address the lack of affordable, healthy, food choices in underserved communities by bringing together local business students, social entrepreneurs, and community members with professionals from the public health, business, and public policy sectors to design informed, innovative, and sustainable business plans to market and supply health food choices to populations with the greatest unmet need."
The BUSPH students -- Sevan Chorluyan, Natasha Neal, Rachel Dacwag, Jeremy Mand, Andrew Stewart, Vijeta Limbekar, Tajh Goswami and Whitney Rudin -- are all members of the group Students for Quality Health Care.
Natasha Neal, a health policy and management concentrator, was the chief architect of BTF's financial projections that estimated that BTF could reasonably expect to begin earning profits after only a few months of operation.
"The team of BUSPH students designed a smart response to a serious problem and then figured out practical ways to implement it," said Dr. Alan Sager, head of BUSPH's Health Reform Program. "To do so, the group combined creativity with cooperative hard work and careful attention to details."
Students who worked on the project were excited to place highly. Vijeta Limbekar, who worked primarily on product development, said "I am so happy to be a part of a wonderful team such as Bell Tower Foods. I am proud that we were able to make it all the way to the finals, and I know it doesn't stop there."
Winning $25,000 would have been helpful to getting the business up and running, but the team still plans on starting the business. BTF's innovative approach has already garnered interest from local investors and is hoping to attract more and the team's leader, Sevan Chorluyan, predicts that there will "be a Bell Tower Foods on every corner in Boston in five years."
Contributed by Jeremy Mand