UM Pharmacy Team Moves on to State Competition

Plan to provide affordable medications advances in Mississippi Social Business Challenge

Team Rural Health In-House Pharmacy won the UM on-campus portion of the Blueprint Mississippi Social Business Challenge. (Left to Right) Nicholas Keeling, Stephanie Sollis, Dr. Erin Holmes, Andrew Smelser and Sonja Falvey. Not pictured: Kandis Backus.

Team Rural Health In-House Pharmacy won the UM on-campus portion of the Blueprint Mississippi Social Business Challenge. The team includes (from left ) Nicholas Keeling, Stephanie Sollis, faculty adviser Erin Holmes, Andrew Smelser and Sonja Falvey.

OXFORD, Miss. – A student team from the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy is taking its plan to provide rural Mississippians with better access to affordable medications all the way to the finals of a statewide business challenge.

Team “Rural Health Clinic In-House Pharmacy” won first place in the university’s on-campus portion of the Institutions of Higher Learning Blueprint Mississippi Social Business Challenge, conducted Nov. 7. Besides advancing to the state competition, the team won $1,000. The “Magnolia State-High Throughput Experimentation” team won second and received $500.

Six teams of students presented a business solution to help solve one of the state’s pressing problems in front of five judges. These business plans responded to one of the nine goals outlined by Blueprint Mississippi to enhance economic opportunity for Mississippi.

“We took on this project to address the health disparities and the poor health outcomes in the Mississippi Delta,” said Nicholas Keeling, captain of the winning team. “We are really looking forward to moving on with this project and feel like this will make a difference in the lives of the patients and the communities in the rural areas of Mississippi.”

Besides Keeling, of Jackson, the team included co-captain Sonja Falvey of Jackson, Stephanie Sollis of Corning, Arkansas, Andrew Smelser of Huntsville, Alabama, and Kandis Backus of Jackson. The team’s faculty adviser is Erin Holmes, associate professor of pharmacy administration and research associate professor in the Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Each team submitted a five-page written business plan, a short presentation and a tabletop display for the judging.

The winning team’s goal is to “establish an in-house discount pharmacy in Marks, Mississippi, and creating a relationship between the pharmacist and patient can provide patients immediate access to affordable medications for their chronic conditions.”

“It was exciting to see these teams use traditional business models to put forth solutions to social challenges that we all care about,” said Ryan Parsons, McLean Institute project manager. “I think all of the teams we saw have the potential to see these ideas through and have a real impact on Mississippi.”

Judges included Oxford Mayor Pat Patterson; Clay Dibrell, executive director of the UM Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and associate professor of management; Bethany Cooper, corporate recruitment and talent management coordinator for FNC Inc.; Randy Leister, president of BancorpSouth-Oxford; and Jon Maynard, president and CEO of Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Foundation.

Based on the overall business plan, social problem, blueprint goal, market analysis, financial analysis, social impact, business viability, formal presentation and questions and answers, the judges scored each team’s business plan, presentation and display.

The statewide competition is slated for March 12, 2015 in conjunction with Universities Day at the Capitol. For more information on Blueprint Mississippi Social Business Challenge, visit the website at