Chaka Fibers: Finding Markets for Alpaca Fiber in the Altitude of the Andes

7/27/15 – This guest post is written by three students in the Global, Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program at Colorado State University, who are co-founders of Chaka Fibers. Chaka is working this summer in Peru, getting to know the entire alpaca fiber supply chain.

Claudia Molina and Emily Fifield, two of the three co-founders of Chaka Fibers, with the alpaca ranchers in the Peruvian highlands.

Claudia Molina and Emily Fifield, two of the three co-founders of Chaka Fibers, with the alpaca ranchers in the Peruvian highlands.

Far away from the warmth of the Colorado summer, we have been busy working in remote Peruvian alpaca ranching communities at altitudes of 14,000 feet.  We are here to test the feasibility of a business model that connects alpaca ranchers to international markets in order to help alleviate rural poverty in the Andes.  NGOs have a strong presence in Peru and play an important role in working towards this same aim, but we see business-based solutions as key to moving towards more sustainable, long-term progress. This belief has only been reinforced during our time in Peru so far.

The difficulties facing alpaca ranchers, or alpaqueros as they are called here, are complex and multi-faceted and require solutions that address this complexity. DESCO, the Peruvian NGO that has been assisting us in our fieldwork, has been working for decades to do just that in remote Andean communities.  Their projects include alpaca vaccination campaigns, training ranchers in improved breeding practices, and working on strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change on alpaca production.

An alpaguero - alpaca rancher - with his flock in the Peruvian Andes.

An alpaquero – alpaca rancher – with his flock in the Peruvian Andes.

This organization does great work to improve the lives of the alpaqueros, but it didn’t take long for us to see that gaps exist in their work that could be best filled by business-based solutions. Over the past week, we’ve been interviewing alpaqueros to learn more about their production systems and the challenges they face as they work to support their families.  All of the alpaqueros we’ve interviewed are participating in DESCO’s alpaca breeding program, which trains them on methods to improve the health of the animals and increase the quality of their fiber in order to capture higher prices in the market. We asked our interviewees if they have seen improvements in quality over the past few years, and all of them responded proudly that they have had more uniform coloring and finer fiber than what they produced before.

However, when we ask how they are now selling this improved fiber, we begin to see the limits of the good work being done by DESCO and other NGOs in these communities.

In the absence of other market channels, the alpaqueros continue to sell their fiber as they always have: through middlemen that pay them a low price based solely on the weight of the fiber, regardless of the quality. Thus, they are receiving no reward for the improvements they’ve made to their product and are in the same economic situation as before. DESCO’s work to improve alpaqueros’ practices is a critical first step, but without access to a market that compensates the alpaqueros for the resources and effort they have invested into improving their product, it does little in the long run to improve their livelihoods.

We believe a business-based solution that builds upon the work of NGOs like DESCO can provide these alpaqueros with options to make a better life for themselves and their families. We at Chaka Fibers intend to fill this gap by connecting them to markets that will pay them a fair price and reward them for their efforts to create a better product.

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How Biogas is Improving Lives in Ethiopia: Focus on the Customer

(B)energy logo7/21/15 – This guest post is written by three GSSE MBA students who envision an entrepreneurial future involving biogas.  This summer, they are partnering with the Ethiopian branch of the social business (B)energy.  Biogas is a clean-burning cooking fuel generated through the decomposition of organic material such as manure, kitchen scraps, agricultural residues, and human waste.  In countries that are livestock-rich and energy-poor, biogas may just be the perfect cooking solution.

Although nothing could have fully prepared us for our hands-on work in Ethiopia, our GSSE coursework equipped us with certain tools to get the most out of our time here.  Most notable among these tools was IDEO’s human-centered design framework, which includes creative ways to conduct market research in foreign markets less infiltrated by western commercialism.  The basic idea is that, when you are trying to provide new solutions, you need to talk to the actual people that might want those solutions in their own locales.  You need to observe how people function in their everyday lives.  In the end, products should satisfy needs from the perspective of their users, not from the assumptions of their inventors.

(B)energy Ethiopia’s Yodit  Balcha, getting the low-down on cooking with biogas

(B)energy Ethiopia’s Yodit Balcha, getting the low-down on cooking with biogas

For the (B)energy team, this means leaving our office in Addis Ababa to visit rural families and businesses of many kinds: those aware and those unaware of biogas, owners of (B)energy biogas systems, owners of competitors’ systems, and people who cook in the traditional way on three-stone fuelwood fires.  Our goal is two-fold.  First, we want to know how people cook.  What do they expect out of their cooking, where do they cook, what are they unhappy with?  This will help us adapt our products to satisfy local needs.  Second, we want to use these case studies to help our local partner, Yodit, by formulating a profile of the ideal Ethiopian (B)energy customer. Thus far, we have been blown away by Yodit’s capabilities.  She is a fast learner with a knack for connecting to people of all kinds.  She understands how the information we are gathering will be invaluable to her in the future, and she is completely capable of conducting observational interviews on her own after we leave.

Cafe manager, Shitye, joyfully serving up a beautiful Beyaynetu dish

Cafe manager, Shitye, joyfully serving up a beautiful Beyaynetu dish

One case, in particular, strengthened our faith in the powerful combination of biogas and entrepreneurial vigor.  In the small village of Akaki-Kality, we found a small café with a very small manager, Shitye, who was visibly overflowing with pride.  She had a reason to be proud, for her restaurant was teeming with hungry, then very full Ethiopians.  The food was fast but delicious: Injera topped with colorful vegetables and sauces of all kinds.  But this café was different than most.  It was run by biogas!

Shitye demonstrating how they feed the biogas system

Shitye demonstrating how they feed the biogas system

The facilities, including the kitchen and biogas system, were all donated by a local NGO, Emmanuel Development Association in partnership with the international non-profit WaterAid.  True, we at (B)energy prefer market-based solutions to charity, but we can’t help but acknowledge this particular project for its entrepreneurial spirit.  The café is, in fact, now self-sustaining and employee-owned.  Besides Shitye, 22 women work at the café and every one of them knows how to operate and maintain the biogas system.  Yodit shared another bit of insight about these women.  Before the café, they all worked as trash collectors, one of the lowliest positions in the country.  They formed a self-help savings group and approached Emmanuel with their dream of owning a restaurant together.  If that’s not entrepreneurial, we don’t know what is.

Team member, Savannah Miller, taking notes at café interviews

Team member, Savannah Miller, taking notes at café interviews

We left this site impressed and inspired.  Perhaps small restaurants, where saving on cooking fuel means increased profits, are a great target market segment.  We have learned tons about the potential for an Ethiopian biogas market, and our learnings will help us in any market we may decide to enter in the future.  Our team will be gaining more Ethiopian biogas insights until early August. Follow our journey on our The Biogas Revolution Facebook Page!

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From the Barnyard to the Bedroom: A Cultural Divide

7/16/15 – This guest blog post is the second written by The Humane Business Developers, a Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA student start-up that seeks to create unique business models for the animal shelter industry. The Humane Business Developers are conducting their summer field work with the Humane Society of Grand Bahama. You can read their first post here.

This summer our business, Humane Business Developers, has taken us to the island of Grand Bahama to work with the Humane Society of Grand Bahama. While in the field we have learned many things, but perhaps none is more important than learning cultural differences when it comes to the treatment and perceptions associated with dogs and cats. In the United States, the transition from barn yard to bedroom occurs very often with our furry friends. When we planned our pilot here in the Bahamas, we knew we would not encounter the same situation as the United States, but we underestimated the cultural differences that are linked with raising companion animals.

GSSE Student Julia Hebard educating youth at the Potcake Pals summer camp

GSSE Student Julia Hebard educating youth at the Potcake Pals summer camp

After several weeks of working at the shelter it became evident that the treatment of animals is ingrained deeply into cultural history. The island dogs are mixed breeds, and are commonly referred to as “Potcakes” because they used to eat the scraps that are caked onto pots after cooking. The large dogs are referred to as “yard dogs,” while the smaller breeds are “house dogs.” It has also been a commonplace misconception here that dogs are wild and can survive in the wilderness, and that neutering an animal takes away its masculinity. Cats are not even regarded as pets on this island, but more as pests that come around for food every once in a while.

Due to these perceptions, we have realized the importance of education regarding the proper care and treatment of animals. We have been fortunate enough to work with the Humane Society during their annual Kids Camp entitled “Potcake Pals”. The Kids Camp is an opportunity for children ages 4 to 12 to learn proper care for animals and to interact with the shelter animals. Getting young children involved with animal welfare is a necessity when it comes to creating long term cultural change.

HSGB Educational Posters Spay & Neuter

HSGB Educational Posters Spay & Neuter

In addition to hands-on education, we have been working with the Humane Society to create new advertisements, campaigns, and public service announcements to spread animal education throughout the island. By designing ads that appeal to locals, we believe that we can have an impactful and long lasting effect on the perception of dogs and cats on the island. The Humane Society is not only a shelter, it must also act as a school. Of course, overcoming cultural differences via an education campaign is a long-term approach, but one that hundreds of future pets are very eagerly depending upon.

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Gaining Trust: Working Hard Alongside Your Clients

Puppy up for adoption at the Humane Society of Grand Bahama.

Puppies up for adoption at the Humane Society of Grand Bahama.

7/1/15 – This guest blog post is written by The Humane Business Developers, a Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA student start-up that seeks to create unique business models for the animal shelter industry. The Humane Business Developers are conducting their summer field work with the Humane Society of Grand Bahama.

This summer we arrived in Freeport, Grand Bahama to a warm welcome from Tip Burrows, Director of the Humane Society of Grand Bahama (HSGB) and all the staff.   The HSGB serves a crucial function on Grand Bahama, and without their services, the overpopulation of animals would affect the lifeblood of the island: tourist dollars. The Humane Society of Grand Bahama shelters nearly 200 dogs and 100 cats at any given time, but has many inefficient processes and doubles as a junkyard. As animal shelter consultants, we, the Humane Business Developers, aim to help the HSGB improve their processes and systems which will ultimately improve the biodiversity of Grand Bahama and protect the tourism industry.

The Human Business Developers literally getting their hands dirty cleaning out kennels.

The Human Business Developers literally getting their hands dirty cleaning out kennels.

When people hear the word “consultant,” they often associate it with advice given to top management – but we operate differently than typical consultants. Prior to arrival, we spent months researching best practices. Before we could implement any of those new processes though, we had to jump in, get our hands dirty, and prove ourselves. So, for the first two weeks of our pilot, we engaged in many hours of sweaty, hard, manual labor to beautify and clean the four acres that the shelter sits on, as well as many rooms in the building. It was dirty, filthy work that involved scrubbing floors, multiple trips to the dump, and some days being covered with and smelling like animal waste. However, it garnered us the respect of all the shelter’s employees.

The shelter industry is filled with wonderful individuals who truly care and are passionate about the well-being of all animals. These employees work very hard and expect all others around them to work hard as well. After cleaning the shelter top to bottom, we are no longer seen as merely consultants. Instead, we are seen as a group of people who are willing to persevere towards a common goal: saving animals’ lives. Through this experience, and backed by employee trust, we are now able to look at more systematic changes. Important lesson learned thus far: true education comes in the form of “getting your hands dirty.”

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The Global Story Project: Capturing Tradition in Sri Lanka

6/24/15 – This guest blog post is written by the Global Story Project, a Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA student start-up that documents stories from cultures that Global Story Project Logoare at risk of being destroyed or altered due to colonization, westernization and globalization. The Global Story Project is conducting field work this summer in Sri Lanka and South Africa.

Far away from where we stand now in sweaty Sri Lanka, we’ve spent the past 6 months developing ideas and building what’s evolved into the Global Story Project.

We’re candidates in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program at Colorado State University where our studies focus on building entrepreneurial skills and ventures that aspire to achieve positive social impact. Our passions: sustainable ways of living, peace building, and the type of knowledge you can only gain from experience. The Global Story Project was seeded from a deep respect for culture and the knowledge that westernization and colonization has been a catalyst for the destruction of cultural values, identities and ways of life.

In her book EcoVillages, Karen Liften proposes that these intentional communities geared towards forging sustainable ways of living hold some of the answers for the future. She proposes a simple solution: sharing “.. skills, stories, ideas and dreams amongst others, [so that] we can apply these lessons in our homes and communities.”

This is where The Global Story Project comes in, creating a space where all of this can be shared and simultaneously preserved through digital documentation, to be celebrated for generations to come.

Co-founders Bianca and Taylor exploring with a coordinator from Sarvodaya

Co-founders Bianca and Taylor exploring with a coordinator from Sarvodaya

It’s important to us that our project creates a full value cycle, so selecting to work with strong partners is crucial. A series of emails and skype calls put us in touch with Sarvodaya, Sri Lanka’s largest organization with an impressive resume of peace building accolades and successful community development programs. Sarvodaya has been in operation for the last 50 years and its network extends to 15,000 Sri Lankan villages.

Directing the unit for international programs is Bandula, a short man in his mid 40s with a cracking sense of humor and an affinity for providing excellent hospitality. Within the space of a moment we felt strongly welcomed; we were greeted over the phone upon our arrival and the next morning with a hug. He is just one of the inspiring characters we’ve had the pleasure of meeting since our arrival.

Sarvodaya is built around Buddhist and Ghandian principles, and they work tirelessly to achieve the strategic goals of consciousness, economics, and power. They believe that working with ‘who’ is just as important as working in alignment with the ‘why.’

A traditional healer in the Kurunegala District

A traditional healer in the Kurunegala District

There are a number of reasons why working in partnerships is necessary – particularly for us as graduate students.

  1. Building long lasting impact. Partnering with organizations with a proven track record of developing and implementing programs in their home country means that work and impactful program development can be continued long after we’ve left.
  2. Logistical support. Working in a foreign country comes with additional challenges and a lack of knowledge about the local context (not to mention language) can mean that getting off the ground can be a slow process. Working through Sarvodaya has helped us to connect with their network, arrange logistics in country and achieve a working productivity that we wouldn’t have otherwise.
  3. Building strong relationships is necessary to connect with the people who we’re hoping to listen to. Sarvodaya are a deeply trusted organization in Sri Lanka, and by association we’re able to facilitate a relationship that would otherwise take decades to build.

We’re excited to be embarking on this adventure with Sarvodaya, gleaning lessons learned from their long-standing community development programs and developing a documentation project for the future. We’ll be on the ground through the end of June providing insights and stories from the people we meet along the way. Stay tuned to follow our progress on our Facebook page.

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Mothers, Radio, and Market Research: The Jolt Model in Guatemala

Jolt logo6/18/15 – This guest blog post is written by Jolt, a Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA student start-up that provides market research services through text message technology and targets parents with children from the ages of 0 to 4. Jolt is conducting field work this summer in Guatemala.

This summer, our goal is to understand mothers, radio, and the context in Guatemala. We need to create a database of subscribers, observe consumer purchasing behavior, and ultimately understand what influences parents and children to listen and participate in our radio programming. Our subscribers will receive early childhood education tips from our radio programming that encourages parent and child interaction. Furthermore, our subscribers serve as candidates to participate in mobile market research, which will help incentivize them to continuously participate in Jolt’s radio programming.

How do we propose to do this in 40 short days? Our journey this summer includes one focus group in San Cristobal and four workshops with mothers across the country. We will also visit 3 radio stations throughout Guatemala City in order to establish and identify a partner to broadcast our radio programming. Through these events, we expect to capture the preliminary information needed to implement our business model here in Guatemala in the Fall of 2015.

Jolt co-founder Andreana Castellanos conducting a focus group in Guatemala

Jolt co-founder Andreana Castellanos conducting a focus group in Guatemala

The great news is that Jolt has hit the ground running. Soon after arriving, we hosted a focus group in Guatemala City with 9 parents and 10 children. The participants genuinely enjoyed the program and were eager to provide feedback for future programming. From there, we traveled to rural city of Panyebar Santa Clara on the picturesque Lake Atitlan to conduct our first workshop. While expecting only 25 mothers and their children, we were shocked to see 40 mothers and 50 children pack out a local church to partake in Jolt’s workshop. The results were clear: mothers were willing to provide their personal demographic information, radio preferences, specific likes and dislikes of Jolt’s current radio sample and what they would be willing to pay to receive future tips. Our journey continues on as we implement our second radio sample based off of the feedback received thus far. Check our Facebook page for more photos, and regular updates.

Jolt workshop with mothers and their children in Guatemala

Jolt workshop with mothers and their children in Guatemala

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Ready, Set, Field Work! Student Entrepreneurs Getting their Hands Dirty

Lindsay Saperstone on her GSSE field work in Bolivia, literally getting her hands dirty.

Lindsay Saperstone on her GSSE field work in Bolivia, literally getting her hands dirty.

In a few weeks, 20 students in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program at Colorado State University will initiate on average 40 days of field work. This experience is a key differentiator of this MBA program, but also crucial for the students as they work quickly to develop their ventures. Every year, thanks to generous donors, we have an internal grant round to help support the costs of conducting the field work, which often requires quite a bit of international travel. Many teams also run their own crowdfunding campaigns to enable their teams to stay longer and accomplish more while in the field. Here are three teams and their crowdfunding pages – perhaps their unique stories and videos will inspire you to help them reach their goals:

  • (B)energy: Bring on the biogas revolution, starting in Ethiopia.
  • Chaka Fibers: Fair income for Peruvian alpaca ranchers through improved access to markets.
  • Jolt Radio: Incentivizing parents to become educators, starting in Guatemala.

There is also an alumni venture running a campaign that will help them return to India:

  • Ascent: Producing high quality iron pills in calendar pill packaging for India’s poorest pregnant women.

Watch for team updates published here over the next 3 months!

-Kat

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Just a Girl in the World

College of Business, Colorado State University:

Wonderful post by Chrissa Percival, a student in our Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program, who was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana.

Just a girl in the world

Originally posted on CSU Global Connections:

By: Chrissa Percival

I had been working in the rural village of Adaklu, Ghana, West Africa for a few months before I met Verone.  She is a woman in her mid-20s with a bright smile and a kind heart.  As a mother of two daughters and one son, guardian to her niece, and receiving little help from a husband struggling with alcohol abuse, Verone works tirelessly to maintain their one room dwelling, provide enough food to eat and be able to send the children to school.

At a young age, her family pulled her from school to work on their subsistence farm and help her mother at market.  Without an education, Verone is unable to get a job with decent pay or properly manage a small business of her own.  The consequence is that her family often goes without and her daughters and niece are frequently out of school for…

View original 750 more words

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What’s your purpose?

Bob Taber at an MBA event.

Bob Taber at an MBA event.

From the editor: Meet Bob Taber, Executive Director of Branding and Communications for the College of Business at CSU. He’s a veteran of national advertising agencies in New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Denver. In today’s blog post, he shares a little about brands and the new campaign for the College of Business. 

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” That’s the essence of Simon Sinek’s New York Times bestseller, Start with Why (watch his TED Talk). Today, brands (and people too, for that matter) seek purpose – values, ideals, causes, or beliefs that are inspiring, bigger than all of us. Purpose attracts like-minded people. As Sinek says, for a job, people will work for money. For purpose, people will give their blood and sweat to work for a cause they believe in.

Purpose is as – maybe more – important for MBA programs. Any accredited graduate school can award an MBA degree. That’s what they do. But ask yourself, why are they doing it? What’s their purpose?

Some MBA programs are known for fueling the funnel to Wall Street; churning out the next wave of wolves. Some are known as breeding grounds for the next tech startup that will produce millionaires and billionaires who are in their 20s and 30s.

But some MBA programs believe in a bigger purpose. They believe that business is the most powerful institution capable of tackling the world’s most pressing human challenges: hunger, poverty, clean water, disease and discrimination. Inspired by the Bill Gateses and the Warren Buffets who are dedicating almost all their wealth to tackling global issues, these MBA programs believe that each of us is capable of making a difference, even in some small way that may make ourselves, our company, our community a better place for everyone.

Oh, I can hear the cynics now. “That’s so idealistic,” they’re saying. And I have to agree. Yes, it is idealistic. But that’s the point. Ideals make us believe we can reach higher, achieve more, and have a lasting effect that goes beyond the paycheck. Chasing ideals fuels our passion and leads to self-fulfillment more than any promotion or gold watch at the end of a long career – as if a gold watch were still a symbol of a lifetime of dedication to a company. But a lifetime of dedication to a cause, a belief, an ideal, that’s truly rewarding. That’s purpose.

“There are a number of ways to find meaning in the work we do and to use the skills we develop,” says Dave Randall (OPMBA ’09.) Though, by day, Randall is a senior managing director for an Oregon-based investment advisory firm, he uses his MBA skills to run a nonprofit foundation dedicated to finding a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy. The foundation is in honor of Cole Parker Randall, who lived for 76 days.

Dave Randall standing in front of the new brand campaign in Denver International Airport

“For me, there has been nothing more meaningful than starting a foundation in the name of our son, Cole,” Randall says.

So as you’re investigating MBA programs, be sure to ask what their purpose is. Can they point to programs, coursework, new businesses, and alumni that are fulfilling their purpose? Does it align with your purpose?

This blog was originally posted on the CSU MBA blog, and can be accessed here.

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Ground Perception and Insights from a Summer in Brazil

Mariana and Marite surveying the market in a favela in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Mariana and Marite surveying the market in a favela in Sao Paulo, Brazil

This blog post was written by Mariana Negrão and Marité Pérez  in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program at Colorado State University, who conducted field work for their summer practicum in Brazil. Read part 1 here.

Before journeying to Brazil we understood that the infrastructure of the universal healthcare system was lacking.  It was not meeting the demands of those who most need care, classes C, D and E.  We grasped the depth of disparity in income levels that is so commonly found in developing nations, permitting only those in income levels A and B to purchase or have access to private insurance via employment. This exaggerates the distinction between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. Based on information provided by the WHO, the World Bank, and IBGE, we were able to identify the growing number of chronic ailments in contrast to the declining number of infectious diseases.  This information was based off of secondary research, which was helpful, but is just the tip of a very deep and skewed iceberg.

While on the ground in Brazil, we were able to understand the positive side of the universal healthcare system in place, but we also started to understand the side effects. It is true that since its implementation in 1988 more people in the country have access to free basic health services, and as a result, mortality rates have declined, life expectancy is on the rise, and infectious diseases are in control. However, much in society has changed since the late 80s: the population is growing fast and migrating towards the city, resulting in a rise of motor vehicle accidents and changes in eating habits, amongst other things. Now, you may be thinking, “how is this any different from what we have experienced in the United States?” The difference is that the system in place has not changed to adapt and accommodate the needs of modern society. “Infectious diseases require treatment, modern diseases require care” said Dr. Paulo Carrara, who is a public health physician and former health secretary of São Paulo. This presents a challenge to the universal healthcare system in place because it is equipped for treatment and not care; However this also presents a great opportunity for social innovations to be implemented.

Delving into deeper waters, we have found that the hierarchical structure of the health care system requires that each municipality be responsible for the primary care of its citizens. There are 5,570 municipalities! To add to that, the system is managed under political constraints that also affect the implementation of new policies. This paints a bleak picture for innovators in the field. Taking an idea to scale is almost impossible amongst a continuously fragmented and incomprehensible structure.

Mariana Negrao having conversations with local residents of a favela.

Mariana Negrao having conversations with local residents of a favela.

After collaborating with Facilita Saúde, a local start-up that works as an intermediary between doctors and patients negotiating cheaper prices, we were able to better gauge the environment for innovators in the field. Their business model relies on the same main hypothesis we had for our business: “There are non-insured patients who would be willing to pay a doctor in the private system to be seen sooner”. We found out that having access to free care damages the market perception, and in general the population does not have a real sense of price. In other words, because there is free care, people are not willing to pay a premium for better and faster services as they don’t recognize its worth.  Also, the complexity of the current system makes it difficult for potential consumers to understand new product offerings, therefore, marketing new ways of providing care is continuously misunderstood, requiring a very personal approach in the explanation of a product/service offering.

This brings us to reflect on the reality of our original business plan and its potential in solving the lack of care accessed by classes C, D and E. Our research so far has shown that lowering the prices of private healthcare to the point where people are willing to pay, does not represent a sustainable business model. However, focusing on the peripheries of health care services that are currently not being met by the public health system can illuminate other opportunities for entrepreneurs looking to improve the quality of life of lower income urban Brazilians.

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