MBA students and scientists team up to create winning marketing plans

Inventors invent. MBA students create business plans. Put them together and everybody wins.

That’s the idea behind the annual Sanofi Pasteur Healthcare & Biotechnology Venture Challenge. Ontario’s brightest innovators in health-care technologies are invited to team up with top MBA talent at York’s Schulich School of Business. Together they draft commercialization plans or business proposals to launch their new products. The promise of prize money is only one reward of participating.

Nine teams competed in this fourth annual challenge. Supported by industry and academic mentors, the teams go through two qualifying rounds. At the Markham Convergence Centre on Nov. 30, the top three teams presented their plans to a panel of judges for the chance to win a portion of $15,000 in prizes.

Above: The champs, from left, John Jordan and John Connolly of RNA Diagnostics Inc.; students Jose Gene and, far right, Navneet Budhia and Ivan Guisao; with judge Gavin Zealey, third from right

Collaboration between the business and scientific community is the goal of this competition, according to Janet LeClair, chief administrative officer of YORKbiotech Inc., a regional centre for health-care technologies innovation that organizes the annual challenge with Schulich School of Business. “The competition provides students with the tools to collaborate on new ventures, and researchers can submit their commercialization plans from the HBVC to other grant competitions.”

“This competition shows us that York Region has a very impressive talent pool and we want to continue to tap into that talent to build an entrepreneurial culture,” LeClair said.

The RNA Diagnostics Inc. team won first prize. The company is developing a diagnostic technology for cancer chemotherapy management. The team pitched a commercialization plan for RNA Disruption Assay (RDA), which would radically improve the evaluation of chemotherapy treatment failure and enable doctors to spare patients who are not responding to chemotherapy from potentially fatal toxic side effects. The team included scientists Amadeo Parissenti and Ken Pritzker and students Navneet Budhia, Jose Gene and Ivan Guisao. They received $7,500 and a business advisory package valued at $2,500 from MaRS Business Services.

The ImTec Therapeutics Inc. team won second prize.

Left: From left,  judge Grant Tipler with second-place winning student Elena Nesterova; and Yong Zheng and John Li of  ImTec Therapeutics Inc.

The start-up biotechnology company develops immunotherapeutics for the treatment of human cancers. The team made the business case for a unique lead compound called Zaptuzumab, which targets and kills cancer cells (in mice, it kills multiple types of cancers) with minimal toxicity to healthy human tissues. The team included scientists John Li and Yong Zheng and MBA students Elena Nesterova and Jan Noupbaev; they won $5,000.

The Orthopedic Alignment & Imaging Systems Inc. team won third prize. The team pitched a commercialization plan for a knee-surgery triage (KST) tool to assess the severity of arthritis in patients’ knees. This diagnostic tool can help doctors make informed referrals and better manage knee-surgery wait lists. The team consisted of scientists Michael Brean and Derek Cooke, and students Arnav Diwan, Aaron D’Souza and Shruti Madhukar; they won $2,500.

Above: Third-place winners, from left, student Aaron D’Souza; Michael Brean of OAISYS; students Arnav Diwan and Shruti Madhukar; with Brenda Zimmerman, director, Schulich’s Health Industry Management Program

This year’s panel of judges included Peter Pekos, president and chief executive officer of Dalton Pharma Services; Grant Tipler, head, life sciences, Royal Bank of Canada; and Gavin Zealey, senior director, corporate development, Sanofi Pasteur Limited.

Sanofi Pasteur was the gold sponsor of the competition. MaRS, the Regional Municipality of York and the Royal Bank of Canada were silver sponsors, and Dalton Pharma Services the Town of Markham were bronze sponsors.