March 23, 2011

Entrepreneur beats odds to address disease, poverty

Posted: March 23, 2011
Student entrepreneur Tyler Eltringham, leader of OneShot, learns his venture is the recipient of a $10,000 Innovation Challenge grant.
Student entrepreneur Tyler Eltringham, founder of OneShot, learns his venture is the recipient of a $10,000 Innovation Challenge grant.

Tyler Eltringham is not what you would call a typical college student. From being homeless at 16 to becoming the leader of a new venture at 20, Eltringham has taken a different route than most. Despite the odds stacked against him, he is coming out on top.

Eltringham is the CEO of OneShot, a startup dedicated to providing meningococcal meningitis vaccinations to college students living in dormitories and university housing.

“The funding model of OneShot emulates Tom’s Shoes,” Eltringham said. “In a one-for-one fashion, for every meningitis shot purchased on a university campus, we donate a vaccination to the meningitis belt of Africa.”

Eltringham’s passion for helping others comes from years of struggling to understand an illness and take care of his family.

Eltringham moved to Arizona from Dunmore, Pa., at the age of five after his parents divorced. While attending Chandler High School, his mother, Kimberly Harris, was diagnosed with pancreatitis and grand mal epilepsy: two serious illnesses that necessitate continual medical attention.

“No one knew how to deal with her medical problems,” Eltringham said of the doctors responsible for his mother’s care. Needing constant medical treatment meant increased financial hardships for the family, particularly when Eltringham’s stepdad, Mark Harris, left his job to care for his wife.

“He was a veterinarian and we had a pretty good life, but he needed to quit and take care of my mom. … That’s when the financial repercussions kicked in,” Eltringham said.

For three years, Tyler Eltringham and his family faced poverty and on-and-off homelessness, staying intermittently at extended stay motels in the Valley. In his junior year of high school, Eltringham made the decision to drop out of school, focus on work, and earn his GED, which was awarded in 2008.

In 2009, Eltringham visited Arizona State University with a friend, and while on campus, spoke with a staff member who convinced him to apply to enroll. Weeks later, Eltringham was informed of his award for a full-ride scholarship as an ASU Barack Obama Scholar.

“It was so amazing,” Eltringham said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Eltringham said that seeing his mother passed from doctor to doctor with no one wanting to take ownership of her disease infuriated him, but it also inspired him to use his education to advance the medical field. He is currently a pre-med student at ASU and surrounds himself with experiences that will enhance his medical career and allow him to help others.

Eltingham’s venture, OneShot, is one of those experiences. Eltringham leads this startup, with undergraduate student team members Geoff Prall, Ginger Whitesell, Corey Frahm and Tyler Liss. Cumulatively, Eltringham said, the team has the business, medical and community-building expertise needed to get their project off the ground.

Well on their way, OneShot already has been awarded $10,000: the top grant award possible through the ASU Innovation Challenge, a funding competition for students with innovative ideas to solve local or global challenges. Sixteen teams of the 153 that applied were awarded with funding and announced at a reception in February, filled with students, faculty and university leaders.

Eltringham credits mentors Michael Mokwa, chair of the ASU marketing department in the W. P. Carey School of Business, and Denise Link, associate dean of the College of Nursing and Healthcare Innovation, with supporting his team and helping him reach his goals of creating impact through the medical field.

“Who knew the background of this amazing man when he came before the judges with his smile and enthusiasm fairly bursting out of his body?” said Gayle Shanks, an Innovation Challenge final round judge and founder and owner of Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe. “It wasn't just the smile that swayed us; it was his intelligence, his passion and his ability to convey that conviction that drove it home.”

Final round judge Gemma Bulos, award-winning social entrepreneur and director of the Global Women’s Water Initiative, also was impressed.

“I really appreciated that they found an issue that affected both the developed and developing world and found a sustainable way to address it," Bulos said. "The more we as a global community can find things that connect us, the better potential for a collaborative way forward, which to me is at the core of social entrepreneurship.”

Nikki Gusz, a university innovation fellow in ASU’s Office of University Initiatives and an advisory board member for the Innovation Challenge, said that Eltringham and OneShot were successful because they are resourceful, innovative and thoughtful.

“He draws on what he knows: his passion for making a difference in others’ health,” Gusz said. “That’s what the Challenge is all about: helping students move forward with their entrepreneurial ideas to create change in our communities. Tyler is on that path.”

“At the time that I heard about the ASU Innovation Challenge, I certainly did not identify as an entrepreneur,” Eltringham said. His ambition is an attempt to make a difference.

“I have no traditional business background or training, but simply a will to lead and the ambition to succeed.”