Turning Frustration into a Successful Nonprofit with Mackenzie Copley of One Tent Health

The average college student typically fills their day with classes, social activities, and preparing for exams, but Mackenzie Copley (C’15) was not your average college student. While he was a senior at Georgetown University, Copley started skipping his calculus class so he could go volunteer for an organization testing people in the D.C. area for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). His volunteer experience led him to found the nonprofit organization One Tent Health several years after his graduation, which currently provides free rapid HIV screening, COVID-19 PCR testing, PrEP pills, and voter registration to underserved populations around Washington, D.C.

While Copley’s story is with no doubt inspirational, he wants to be clear that One Tent Health was not born out of thin air, but rather was a response to the deep frustration he experienced while volunteering. Copley was dismayed to see that if people did not have proper insurance, they would be turned away and denied care. Copley asked the nonprofit leaders if he could test these people for free, and was bluntly turned down.

Copley was not naive to the correlation between people with no health insurance and those same people coming from low-income homes and communities.

“It really bothered me because it just didn’t seem fair,” said Copley. “So at 21 I told myself that I would start a nonprofit and test everyone.”

Although he had experience volunteering for various nonprofit organizations, Copley did not know how to start one on his own. Like any resourceful recent college graduate, he googled a template of nonprofit bylaws and got to work. Over the next two years —while simultaneously working a full-time consulting job — Copley got everything in place to launch One Tent Health. He utilized his network of lawyer friends to help him read contracts, negotiated with D.C. city council to gain nonprofit status, and even transitioned to a healthcare consulting job so he could learn more about the field.

By October 2017, Copley and his small team were able to set up their first ten by ten tent in the parking lot of a grocery store in Northeast D.C. to provide free HIV testing. One Tent Health was hoping for just one person to show up for free testing, but by the end of the day 17 people had stopped at the tent. As One Tent Health has expanded their care over the years, they’ve also grown their volunteer base.

“Today we have 2,300 volunteers doing HIV testing, voter registration, and we are the first rapid strep initiation program in the country,” said Copley.

With the help of these volunteers, One Tent Health has been able to test 1,000 people for HIV and 2,000 people for COVID since December of 2021. Although proud of these numbers, Copley is extremely motivated to complete 8,000 HIV screens and identify 40 new cases of HIV every year starting in 2022.

The organization relies heavily on student volunteers that are eager to give back to their community while gaining valuable, real-life clinical experiences before embarking on medical careers of their own.

As Copley continues to expand his nonprofit and help provide healthcare to underserved communities, he is excited to enter back into the Georgetown Venture Lab. As one of the original members, he notes how getting accepted into the Lab was a similar feeling to finding the perfect home. Through hard work, sacrifice, and the support of Georgetown, Copley has been able to turn his initial frustration into an opportunity to help people and gain his own personal confidence.

“The Lab is the best,” Copley said. “I love it so much, wouldn’t have gotten where we are without it, and think most everyone could benefit from membership.”

Copley encourages any young entrepreneur to do one simple thing: keep going. To help support One Tent Health or get involved, you can check out their website here.