Changing The System From Within

by University Communications,

Don’t let her small stature or soft voice deceive you, Chi Nguyen-Ventura shows all the signs of an entrepreneurial heavyweight: extremely bright, deeply passionate, and tenaciously persistent.

Three years after co-founding AutoMedic, Inc. with her brother Hai, Nguyen-Ventura speaks with calm confidence, “We’ve proven the demand for our idea in Portland and Seattle. We’ve shown that it’s scalable. And now we’re assessing subsequent markets.”

AutoMedic delivers basic car care and preventive maintenance services to commercial fleets and private customers. It’s ideal for busy professionals who are too busy to give their car regular maintenance, but want to avoid the cost and delay of unexpected repairs. Commercially, managers of car fleets such as ZipCar and KGW rely on AutoMedic to help them control their maintenance costs while keeping their fleet in revenue-generating condition.

Applying Lessons in Disruption

The sibling co-owners are well suited for their business. A few years before starting AutoMedic, Hai launched a similar idea but was caught off-guard by too much success, too fast. Nguyen-Ventura had spent several years in Enterprise’s nascent car sharing and vanpool services. Though both programs enjoyed early success, she gradually wished for more, “After a while, it became tiresome to swim upstream inside the corporate structure as an intrapreneur, even within those two progressive endeavors.”

In AutoMedic, the siblings combine their experience and past success to address excessive waste in the automotive industry.

“The better care we give our cars, the better they’ll perform over the long term,” explains Nguyen-Ventura. “Complimentary with all oil changes, we include basic check-ups of all the car’s systems. We can notify our customers when, for example, they should start thinking about changing their car’s drive-belts. Replace your belts on schedule, and you’ll avoid some fairly costly repairs. And I don’t just mean financial expenses. Our vehicle inspection is the first line of defense against avoidable safety and environmental issues.”

Conscientious Business at Work

A graduate of Willamette’s Sustainable Enterprise Certificate (See Directions 2011-12, p. 20) Nguyen-Ventura’s sustainability ethics extend to her employees, too.

“We’ve elected to subsidize their full healthcare costs. Our company strongly believes that the better we treat our employees, the better they’ll serve our customers. We’re taking a larger scale view of the system that we’re operating in. We believe that this has been the source of our success so far, and will continue to be so.”

For now, Nguyen-Ventura’s rationale is working. AutoMedic will soon expand into a third market, while growing its customer base selectively; “We’re looking for partners who share our mission and triple-bottom-line ethics. We want to work with the burgeoning car sharing industry, and private customers who recognize that their car-maintenance choices can make a difference.”

The Confluence of Entrepreneurship and Service

Nguyen-Ventura’s service-based ethic extends past AutoMedic. After graduating from Willamette, she sought networking opportunities with like-minded, service-oriented peers. “The established Rotary Club’s member dues were unaffordable, so I called some entrepreneurial friends with similar aspirations and finances, and we founded the Portland New Generations Rotary Club (PNG).”

Chartered in May 2012, PNG has already sent a group of members to India on a service trip. “Initially, we thought we’d paint a school and deliver school supplies. But with Rotary International’s generous fund-matching program, we were able to help in the restoration of five public schools. The project also included installing water filtration equipment, making minor repairs to the buildings, donating tables and chairs for the classrooms, and participating in National Polio Immunization Day,” Nguyen-Ventura enthuses.

Let there be no mistake, with so much entrepreneurial momentum built up over so little time, Nguyen-Ventura shows promise to continue driving change for years to come.