A. B. Short, MedShare founder - December 2009 - Best of Atlanta - Atlanta Magazine

A. B. Short, MedShare founder


A. B. Short has a missionary’s zeal and an entrepreneur’s imagination. But early stints as both a minister and a businessman left him feeling frustrated and out of place. Only while helping Bill Bolling launch the Atlanta Community Food Bank in 1979 did he discover his perfect niche: inventing nonprofits.

His first start-up, with longtime collaborator Bob Freeman, was Cafe 458 in 1988. This still-thriving MLK-district establishment—more restaurant than soup kitchen—also serves up warm clothing, a mailing address, counseling, and substance-abuse support groups.

But it was through his next venture—organic farming and helping start the Morningside Farmers Market—that Short learned that the U.S. healthcare system has surplus issues with equipment, much like the inefficiencies he’d combated in the food supply chain. Short and Freeman went to their friend Dr. William Foege, former director of the Centers for Disease Control. Foege believed that a lot of “charitable” redistribution of excess medical supplies was really a form of dumping: Agencies shipped materials and devices that the recipients could never use, doing little more than shifting environmental liabilities to developing countries. Foege challenged Short and Freeman to devise a more efficient solution, which led to their founding of MedShare in 1998. Says Short, “We follow a very simple concept of having products pulled from us rather than shipped out—a pull mentality rather than a push mentality.”

MedShare developed inventory-management software that enables healthcare providers around the world to order exactly what they need, from sutures and rubber gloves to autoclaves and anesthesia machines. Hospitals and manufacturers donate eight tons of usable surplus medical goods each week, which are sorted and packed by hundreds of volunteers at warehouses in Decatur and San Leandro, California. This win-win strategy has resulted in the distribution of $65 million worth of supplies and equipment (no pharmaceuticals) to eighty countries over the past ten years—all while earning the highest possible efficiency ratings from nonprofit watchdog Charity Navigator and keeping all that steel and rubber out of our landfills. —Betsy Riley