LAS VEGAS – Vanna Medical Vans of West Fargo, N.D. recently joined a growing list of first-time exhibitors aiming to test the HME waters at Medtrade. With a booth large enough to show off its mobile medical unit (MMU) van, Ben Gleason, co-founder and CEO will be looking to discuss possibilities with HME providers.
Medtrade Monday sat down with Gleason to learn about the origins of the company, plans for growth, and the thinking behind the vehicles.
Medtrade Monday: What are the origins of the company?
Ben Gleason, co-founder and CEO, Vanna Medical Vans: My business partner Jason Gilbert and I launched the company in 2020. When Jason was in University, he spent about two years researching how to build a camper van that would be fully off-grid and truly operational in all four seasons. He purchased a Mercedes Sprinter 170, converted it, and built it out himself.
Medtrade Monday: What was your background at the time?
Gleason: I had been helping with different non-profits and business start-ups for about 11 years before Vanna. Jason and I met in early 2020 while winter camping in -20 degrees in Minnesota—camping on a frozen lake. It was a kite crossing festival where you have a kite and a harness, plus a ski or a snow board, and you kite across the lake. There was a huge group of us.
I saw his van and I asked if he had thought about starting a business and building or renting these. He said, ‘Yeah, but I wouldn’t know how.’ We realized that he knew vans and I knew the business side. We got coffee and put together a plan. We initially started with camper vans.
Medtrade Monday: How did you end up thinking about medical applications?
Gleason: We were approached by medical clinics wanting medical vans, so we built a medical van for a client in Northern Minnesota. After that we had more requests. We decided to actually engineer a product as a mobile medical unit (MMU), with the same values of wanting to build the most high quality, durable, and four-season van. We used what we learned with camper vans to build in durability and quality components, and then designed our product, the MMU. The Vanna MMU is our doctor’s office on wheels, which is the product that brings us to Medtrade. MMU is our branded product name.
Medtrade Monday: What were clients asking for in the MMU?
Gleason: They were asking for something that is easy to drive and easy to park—that could be used as a doctor’s office for in-person appointments. We have sold to a few other clinics—one rural outreach organization and we’ve just delivered four for rural outreach. They are wheelchair accessible if the client wants that with wheelchair lifts.
Primarily it’s for meeting patients inside the van. A lot of our clients had been using large RVs that are hard to drive, hard to store, hard to maintain, and not four seasons. You need plug-ins or generators. Our vans don’t need a generator or power plug-in to operate. They are easy to drive and park. Vans are usually about 22 feet, about as long as some of the longest pick-up trucks out there.
Medtrade Monday: When did you introduce the MMU?
Gleason: We were in Miami at a medical trade show about nine months ago when we first announced the MMU. A few different people referred us to Medtrade as a great event, hinting there could be interest among people there looking for MMUs.
Medtrade Monday: Why did you choose a relatively large booth space at Medtrade?
Gleason: We are bringing an MMU to the event so people can see it in person. People will be able to order them, purchase them, lease them nationally or internationally. We need a large space for the unit and a large space for conversations. A lot of people like to look at them and take photos.
Medtrade Monday: What’s your level of optimism?
Gleason: The mobile medical market is growing rapidly. Globally it’s at a 25% increase the last four years in a row. There is a federal bill passed, but funding was just put into place and approved in Jan. 1 of this year, so there are grant federal funds for the purchasing of MMUs. It’s another way to bring health care to people and it’s another way to meet patients where they are. We build people’s dream camper vans and we also build mobile offices that organizations can use as recruitment vehicles or marketing tools.
Medtrade Monday: How’s the business going?
Gleason: We’ve had growing demand. We started very small and lean, and we’ve grown our operation as we’ve gotten more requests for camper vans and MMUs. There are orgs looking at 10 units, 40 units, and some other large orders on the MMU side. There are a lot of dealers interested in our camper vans because we build some of the best camper vans in the world. We use the most robust power systems out of The Netherlands. These are advanced systems that are much more powerful than anything mass manufactured. We’ve just moved into a larger facility where we have about six times the space than we had before. I’m excited to get to Dallas for Medtrade.