Student Innovator of the Week
Head of Operations for OX Health
Please provide your 30-second pitch about your company.
I’m Annalise Groves, a senior at The Derryfield School and the head of operations for OX Health, an environmental health consulting and solutions company. I work with a team consisting of Prat, Nate, Jared, Alex and Aian, to conduct individualized audits that diagnose health risks associated with infectious disease transmission in physical environments and propose comprehensive solutions. We help schools, businesses, and restaurants by going on site to each client’s location, testing high touch areas such as doors and bathrooms, and then depending on the results we recommend products to install that reduce the building’s health risks. By reducing the amount of sickness in a workplace, workers gain significant health benefits and businesses can increase productivity, while potentially decreasing health care costs.
What was the inspiration behind your company idea?
The inspiration for our company started when we were planning on entering the healthcare field, focusing specifically on the issue of efficiency in hospitals. Nate, one of our leaders, had volunteered in a local hospital for the past few summers, and offered detailed insight into inefficiencies in hospitals. For example, one of his primary tasks as a volunteer was to craft one time use armrests for patients who needed blood drawn. He suggested that we design reusable arm rests from 3-D printing, and then sell them to hospitals. However, during our research we stumbled upon antimicrobial copper, which quickly kills 99% of germs through the process of oxidation, and can be made into any household fittings. It was then that we realized efficiency doesn’t just have to do with time, but with cleaning efficiency. For this problem, we decided to initially focus on businesses and schools, which offer more opportunities for market penetration than hospitals.
How was BizGen a valuable experience and what discoveries did you make through the competition process?
Bizgen was a challenge that pushed me to realize the large range and number of factors that need to be considered when trying to start a company. Not only did the business model have to make realistic sense, but more importantly the presentation had to represent the company in a concise, interesting, and clear way. It taught me that being able to tell the story of your company is equally, if not more important, than the company itself. In a broader sense, learning how to accurately and compellingly present oneself was a valuable life skill that I was forced to develop and learn for BizGen.
What’s the best advice you have received about startups?
The most helpful advice we received during the start-up project was to have a deep understanding of the problem that we were trying to address, because if you don’t have a solid grasp of the issue you don’t know exactly what needs to be fixed. In our case, the problem was the transmission of germs between humans through high-contact surfaces. Although this seems simple at first, we had to gain an understanding of where high-contact surfaces were, and what people were doing (or in most cases not doing) that was increasing the amount of germs. Furthermore, to be able to convince investors of the importance of the issue, we had to find ways to make the problem meaningful. Fortunately, and unfortunately, someone on our team had contracted MRSA from physical contact in a school locker room and his personal story was a strong testament to the issue of hygiene in buildings.
What was the most challenging part of developing and pitching your startup idea?
The most difficult part of developing and giving a pitch was to integrate a story. To captivate our audience and have them best understand our company through and through, we saw storytelling as our best option. The goal was to take the audience on an expedited version of the journey that we’d been on for the past few months while working on OX Health. However, what’s difficult about making a continuous story that conveys the most important parts of your operation, is the tendency to sound like a monotone script. It was important to cover the details while keeping the story interesting, which I think we did quite effectively through three different speakers, and a visually appealing slideshow created through the service Slidebean. Moreover, we wanted to bring reality and intrigue to the story, so we made it personal to the audience. OX Health had a step by step process of assessing a building’s health risk, so what we did was do a full on prototypical assessment of the building at UNH in which the competition was held. We got hold of the floor plan, labeled it and explained the process of our assessment relative to the building. I think this was our biggest success in the presentation because it got hold of the judges’ attention, and revealed the seriousness of our company.
What are your thoughts now about starting your own company, either now or later?
If there’s anything I learned in my Design Thinking, Innovation and Entrepreneurship class at The Derryfield School last year, and especially through BizGen, it’s that adults, and investors actually believe in the ability of high school students. Before taking this class, I thought that nothing significant was really possible until you’re at college or even after because no one would think my ideas were worthwhile. However, the recognition and serious enthusiasm that we received at BizGen completely changed my perspective. Although it would still take a lot of intensive work, I believe that I have ideas that are valuable to the world, and the ability to create a real project. From this experience I discovered an interest in inventing and entrepreneurship that I didn’t know I had, and it has definitely become a factor in my college search this fall.
What does the future look like for the company you pitched at BizGen?
The future of OX Health will remain as just a theoretical exercise for the time being, but I would argue that the experience of BizGen was not to create a going concern, but instead learn what it takes to launch a business, and to deepen kids’ understanding of what the business sphere is like, so that if they decide to take that path, if and when they find something that they’re passionate about, they will know the process, and understand the confidence needed.