JNST from left to right: Kumar Natarajan, Mandukwe, Chandan, and GujaratiSecond-year Molecular and Cellular Pathology (MCP) graduate program student, Siva Kumar Natarajan, a member of the Venneti Lab, hopes to be an entrepreneur one day. He recently had the opportunity to have a real inside view of what that might entail.
Hosted by the Michigan Graduate Consulting Club, the Midwest Case Competition is held each year to give graduate students an opportunity to work with a client to create solutions to a real-life business problem. Students work in teams of three to four people to help provide a fresh perspective on potential markets to explore, revenue streams, potential partners, and more. Siva's team, JSNT, also included Tanvi Gujarati from the Department of Physics, and Jerry Mandukwe and Naincy Chandan from the Smrcka Lab in the Department of Pharmacology.
This year, teams were tasked with working on solutions for ViewPoint. This university-based start-up was founded by Elisabeth R. Gerber, the Jack L. Walker, Jr. Professor of Public Police and Associate Dean for Research and Policy Engagement at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. ViewPoint is an online platform for creating, implementing, and evaluating role-playing simulations for a wide range of educational purposes.
Sixteen teams competed in the three-week long competition and ten teams advanced to the semi-finals. Siva’s team was selected as the first-place winner. “JNST was selected by the judges for their insightful identification of a promising new customer segment, their keenly structured analysis, and their effective presentation,” Gerber said. “Their work provided me with many new ideas and insights.”
The second-place award went to K&P to the Max, a team comprised of fourth year MCP students Paloma Garcia, a member of the Nunez Lab, and Kelly Kennaley, from the Tomlins Lab, as well as the Department of Chemical Engineering’s Xingjian (Max) Ma. "All of us, Kelly, Siva and I, are interested in pursuing a biotech or consulting career track, so this was a great opportunity to be exposed to a real-world problem and further develop our research and presentation skills," Garcia said. The three are also involved in miLEAD Consulting, a non-profit consulting company run by University of Michigan graduate students and post-docs.
Siva says participating in the competition taught him a great deal about the risks associated with a start-up and how to mitigate them with strong foundations and partners, as well as how to break into a market and compete with already well-established players. “This will go a long way in helping me think about the caveats in building a start-up and will help me translate my science to products that can reach patients,” he adds.