Student Voices
May 22 2017

Mailman is on the Case

Columbia Students Answer Healthcare Challenges at Yale

I always thought the notion of “business strategy” was one in which a business sought to attain the greatest financial gain. That is why, when I learned in class about the importance of aligning a business model with its mission and values, I thought it was merely conceptual and perhaps irrelevant, even in the world of healthcare.

With a proposal centered around the concept of mission, however, my team, Pantone-290, came in second place this year at the Yale Healthcare Case competition hosted by the Yale School of Management. “We were truly impressed by the way your team focused on the mission, vision, and values of the company which was a concept missed by nearly all the other teams,” said one of the judges.

To address the challenges of a small, hypothetical biotechnology company trying to bring an innovative product to market, myself and four other Mailman students put together a strategic plan to guide the CEO in making the best decision for both the company and the potential recipients of the therapy. Our team provided a financial analysis of pursuing a cancer therapy over an immunotherapy and suggested that the company pursue a partnership with a pharmaceutical once the board decided whether the plan fit with the company’s mission, vision, and values. The important thing was to remind the company that deviating from their current business model might hinder their goal to empower research communities.

We weren’t the only team proudly representing Columbia. Out of the 35 teams that applied to the Yale’s national case challenge, only 20 were chosen to compete. Of these, three teams were chosen from the Mailman School of Public Health.

Divya Devli Shroff (MHA 17’), Tetiana Allen (MHA 17’), and Tricia Lu (MHA 17’).Making it to the top 20, the team of MHA students, led by Divya Devli Shroff, MHA ’17, addressed the complex management structure of the case and provided options for making the company more efficient.

Pantone-290 and another Columbia team made it to the top 5. The interdisciplinary Mailman team, led by Alex Sepolen used their ISP skills to show that the company could expedite its funding by marketing the new therapy as an orphan drug, which would cut the cost of research and development to nearly no cost.

Outside of Columbia, the other teams presented a variety of options, with practically no solution being the same. Some suggested selling the company, some suggested partnerships, and others suggested that the company assume all the risks in research and development and build their facilities in-house.

Dual degree PharmD/MBA students from Rutgers won the competition with the idea to make an initial public offering, and then partner with another company to run clinical trials for both cancer and autoimmune disorders.

Aside from letting us flex our intellectual public health muscles, interdisciplinary competitions such as the Yale Healthcare Case competition are great opportunities to network with potential employers. The competitions also give us a chance to travel to other schools and meet students who will one day become our colleagues. And they give us a chance to win money! The prize money for first, second, and third place was $3,000, $1,500, and $1,000, repectively.

Additionally, interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving are becoming more important as the definition of public health evolves. As we head into a world of both precision medicine and population health, medicine, business, and public health will all require collaboration to ensure that the strategies to improving and maintaining good health are sound. Moreover, the external pressures of the current political environment may steer many away from the scientific results of evidence-based research. Collaboration across interdisciplinary fields may help bolster confidence and allow this research to continue.

I’m surprised by how much the things I learned in my Health Policy and Management classes resonated with the judges. While I knew that our emphasis on aligning the business with its mission, vision, and values made sense, I assumed that people would want detailed solutions. While it sounds obvious, I truly learned that the approach to solving problems is to first understand the problem itself or redefine it so that the solutions are later attainable. Winning second place by applying what we learned in class to understand fundamental business challenges and use evidence-based techniques really shed light on the value of our experiences at Mailman.

Priya Vedula is a graduate of the Mailman School of Public, Health Policy and Management, MPH '17, with a certificate in health policy analysis.

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