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MSEM and MSIM students work with gene therapy startup for team practicum project

This summer, a team of MSEM and MSIM students worked with a biomedical startup focused on gene therapy, where they conducted market research and made recommendations for financing. 

A co-ed group discussion at a round table

Gene therapy has huge potential for treating disease. This summer, as part of their Industry Consulting Project, a team of M.S. in Engineering Management and M.S. in Innovation & Management students worked with a small startup that is using gene therapy to treat age-related diseases. The students were tasked with conducting a market analysis of the potential users and to figure out how the product could best be financed.

TGI recently spoke to the four team members, Mike Certoma, MSEM ’19, Collin Glynn, MSEM ’19, Joe Younge, MSEM, ’19, and Coco Lan, MSIM ’18, about their experience and what it was like to work as consultants for a small startup in an industry very different from their own.

Q: What drew you to this project? What did you want to get out of your summer consulting project?

Joe: I’m interested in doing something related to strategy or consulting in the future, so this project seemed in line with that, in terms of figuring out a financial strategy for a new product.

Coco: I’m very interested in the bio and medical fields, so this was a great opportunity to learn how a new product is launched.

Mike: None of us actually work in bio or medical, so it was a great chance to try something different that could benefit people’s lives.

Q: How was the experience working in a startup – a work environment that is mostly different from each of your own backgrounds?

Collin: My current job is in the defense industry, so I wanted to try something in the medical field and get exposed to working at a startup. My company is big, so it was interesting to see the opportunities at a smaller company.

Mike: It was really cool to have direct contact with the CEO, and see how responsive the team was.

Q: What was the business challenge that you were brought in to address?

Joe: They were trying to figure out how to reach a certain segment of their target market. They are getting ready to release their product into the commercial sector for purchase, so they wanted to figure out how to make sure that the correct end user would be able to purchase the product.

Mike: With our interpretation of the market research, we helped them figure out that they should go through the care providers – they weren’t fully aware of just how much power they have.

Joe: And we were trying to figure out how to make the middle 50% of people be able to afford it – what financing options would work for them?

Q: What kind of work did you do?

Mike: For market research, we actually created a survey to send out to possible customers, to get data about what kind of procedures they have paid for and what they would be willing to purchase. We then coupled that with some initial research that we did on a couple different market segments for payment options. From that, we narrowed it down and found a few other options for opportunities to assist the customers with payments.

Q: And how did the company take your recommendations? What was it like to present that to them?

Joe: Because it’s a small company, the CEO was pretty open to hearing our recommendations – he took our research very seriously. Before starting the project, I wasn’t sure that we would be able to have so much actual impact.

Mike: Because none of us have biotech backgrounds, we assumed some of our research was common knowledge, but that wasn’t the case.

Coco: The survey we conducted was all completely new data – it was all first-hand data, so it was very insightful for them.

Q: What kind of skills from the MSIM and MSEM curriculum did you use?

Joe: Initially we used a lot of the leadership skills – personality traits, how to work in a team. And then, we used a lot from our communications lessons, like how to give an effective presentation.

Mike: We used a lot of the soft skills and leadership skills, rather than technical skills.

Coco: A lot of what I learned from marketing (MSIM) was a benefit – it was great to apply what I learned to create an actual report and figuring out how to measure the market.

Q: What were the biggest lessons and takeaways from your project?

Coco: I think because the biomedical industry was new to all of us, from the first day, we learned so much. Working with a new team was also a great opportunity.

Mike: Sometimes having no knowledge about something allows you to go into a challenge fresh, and you are able to come up with insights that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Collin: When you jump into a new topic and don’t have a lot of time, you have to learn to be strategic about who you work with and how to get the right information.

Joe: The real rewarding part was that the goal of this kind of treatment, eventually, is to expand to humans. So if we were able to play a part in it, that’s something that’s super rewarding for the future.