Hopkins Team Wins Pfizer Health Care Business Case Competition

Stephen DeMars, Priya Arunachalam, and Misha Fatima
Stephen DeMars, Priya Arunachalam, and Misha Fatima

Steve DeMars is an MBA student at Johns Hopkins focused on the intersection of healthcare and business. He studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Colorado where he partnered with a cross-functional team of engineers and clinicians to develop, prototype, and patent a cell collection device to aid cancer research. After graduation, he spent four years working for Medtronic by assisting surgeons, physicians, and medical professionals on product guidance, recommendations, and troubleshooting for surgical instrumentation. He currently works with an angel investment group by providing due diligence analysis on upcoming technologies. Priya Arunachalam graduated from Hopkins with a BS in Biomedical Engineering, concentrating in Cellular and Tissue Engineering. She is an accomplished clinical investigator who has conducted extensive research to improve patient outcomes. Priya has published her research on neonatal resuscitation, created a device to reduce revision surgeries for patients with hydrocephalus (neurological disorder), and is currently conducting research to improve outcomes for bariatric patients. Misha Fatima Isran is a first-year MBA candidate at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. She graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and received the John C. Phelan scholarship to study at the London School of Economics. Prior to starting her MBA, she worked at IRD - a global health and research organization. There she spearheaded initiatives focused on bridging the healthcare delivery gap through the design and implementation of evidence-based health solutions in low literacy communities in Pakistan, South Africa, and Bangladesh.

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How can a team lacking case competition experience possibly win a national competition with competitors from top universities? We asked ourselves the same question.

Our team recently placed first in the 2017 Pfizer Healthcare Business Association Case Competition hosted by the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. We really enjoyed the opportunity to represent the school and wanted to provide some highlights of our journey.

Team Creation

Our team initially consisted of three MBA students interested in an experiential learning opportunity centered around health care. After identifying the Pfizer case competition, we quickly realized the need to expand the team’s capabilities. We sought out additional Hopkins graduate students who had complimentary skillsets to diversify our team’s capabilities. Ultimately, our team consisted of five members, with unique experiences in medicine, global health, business, engineering, and design. This diversity benefited us in many ways including the team’s selection, team dynamics, and our ultimate case competition solution.  

Competition Preparation

The sports cliché that success is determined during practice holds some truth. After receiving the competition information, our group had one week to create a solution and presentation. We consistently worked as a unit to understand the problem, leverage behavioral economics insights, and craft a single solution. We immediately developed a culture that supported outlandish ideas. Each individual would weave their personal insights into the team’s solution until it got to critical mass. Once momentum was achieved, we would turn on our solution and offer critiques. With each iteration we posed the question: why would this be the most successful solution? This question elevated the evolution of our ideas as we honed our solution.

Up until the day before the competition, our approach was task oriented since we had limited time to craft a winning solution and prepare a comprehensive presentation. The night before the competition, after we had exhausted our energy, we decided to flip our strategy and had a team dinner to get to know each other better. The team spirit definitely carried on to the next day and contributed to our success.

Competition Day

By competition day, we had crafted a solution, constructed a comprehensive pitch slide deck, and practiced our presentation roles. Our goal during the presentation was to ensure that by the time we left the room, each judge understood why our recommendation was all-encompassing and feasible. Many of the competing teams had some really strong multidimensional ideas. Ours was simple and followed the Occam’s Razor principle. This might have been seen as a strength, since our solution was both easy to sell and understand. We ensured that throughout all stages of the competition, our idea was an unwavering brand. We are incredibly humbled to have represented Hopkins in this competition and overwhelmed with positive accolades from this incredible experience.

Reflecting on this wonderful experience, here are our top five takeaways:

  1. Use a case competition as an opportunity to apply what you learn in the classroom.
  2. Be prepared for Q&A and keep in mind that it’s okay to say you don’t know.
  3. Know that presentation design can be just as important as your solution.
  4. Network with judges and students from other universities.
  5. Be proud of your team, their efforts, and the final product.

 A special thanks to Sara Ku and her organizing committee, the Healthcare Business Association, Carey Business School, and Pfizer for making this event possible.

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