TECHNOLOGY ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN HEALTHCARE

A practicum education perspective

Pradeep Ray, University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute

Kwee-Yan Teh, University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute

Technology entrepreneurship plays a major role in the healthcare today as seen from the massive increase in new healthcare technology ventures. This article discusses the experience of developing and implementing practicum courses in technology entrepreneurship, integrating the approaches of three related disciplines of education; highlevel approach of business, hands-on practical approach of medicine and technology-driven approach of engineering.

The world has seen a massive growth in the development and deployment of new technologies (e.g. mobile phones, drones, Virtual Reality devices, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning) in healthcare, resulting to cost effective, higher quality, virtual (important during the Covid 19 pandemic) services. This is caused by a huge proliferation of technology entrepreneurship. However, entrepreneurship is risky (and prone to failures). Hence researchers are working on evolving techniques, such as Business Model Canvas (BMC) to validate new business ideas and reduce failures in startups1.

Many academic institutions all over the world are now developing entrepreneurship curricula to teach young students in different fields (business, engineering, healthcare etc.) to exploit technological developments and develop new products/services in different business sectors including healthcare. For example, The University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute (JI) launched the Minor in Entrepreneurship program for engineering students in 2017 by leveraging the world leading entrepreneurship program of the University of Michigan (USA) and pioneering Chinese technology entrepreneurship curricula in Shanghai Jiao Tong University

Entrepreneurial education is focused on equipping students with the ability to understand the business issues in taking a technology to the market in the form a product and service. In addition to the technical skills, they need to understand the business issues from the perspective of start-up (entrepreneur) and also from the cultural perspectives of an established business (intrapreneur). Hence JI established the Centre For Entrepreneurship (CFE) to teach this minor in entrepreneurship through a practical program involving a combination of classroom courses, practicum courses (in collaboration with the industry) and extra-curricular activities, such as talks by leading experts in the field and competitions among student groups.

This paper discusses the experience of the University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute in the development and operation of the Minor In Entrepreneurship, focusing on the key practicum courses that distinguishes an entrepreneurship curriculum from business, medicine and engineering curricula. The paper starts with a brief description of the JI Minor In Entrepreneurship curriculum, followed by practicum courses VX423, VX425 and BUS2551J, each with student learning in the context of healthcare industry.

JI Minor in Entrepreneurship

This minor curriculum has three components:

  • Two core courses (5 credits) on business and entrepreneurship, namely VX402-Managing a Business (introducing business functions, such as marketing, operations, finance/accounting and human resources and strategy) and VX420-Entrepreneurship Basics (covering the Business Model Canvas and its application in student group ideas)
  • Two practicum courses (7 credits) that apply the knowledge of core courses in projects with industry partners, namely VM/VE450-Capstone Design Project (where a group of 5 students develop and present a solution to a problem given by an industry partner) and Vx423-Intrapreneurship (where each student works as an intern with an industry partner for the semester, attends classes on Saturdays, and finally presents a report on possible innovations for the company) or, VX425-Technology Entrepreneurship (where a group of 2 or 3 students develop and pitch a practical business plan for a technology commercialization) or, BUS2551JDesign for Sustainable Development (where a group of 3 or 4 students work on a practical, social entrepreneurship project towards a sustainable development goal)
  • Elective courses (at least 3 credits) chosen from many courses in JI, such as Brand Management (VX251/VX351), Social Entrepreneurship (VX440), E-Business Management (VX422), Supply Chain Management (VG441), Creativity (PSY3110J) and related business courses in other institutions, subject to the approval of the Director of JI CFE.
  • To further immerse students with extra-curricular entrepreneurship activities, the UM-SJTU JI Center for Entrepreneurship holds other entrepreneurship events that aim at stimulating interest for entrepreneurship among students and connecting students with successful real world entrepreneurs, including talk series, entrepreneurship competition, and entrepreneurship week. ‘Meet the Entrepreneurs’ talks (every six months) presented by a successful entrepreneur or intrapreneur to share his/her perspective on realworld entrepreneurship opportunities. Students are encouraged to participate in activities, such as competitions (organised by JI CFE and partners) and conferences organised by global organisations, such as IEEE with 400,000 members in more than 100 countries.

Since such a practical curriculum requires special expertise across industry and academia, JI established the Centre For Entrepreneurship (CFE) under the leadership of a distinguished professor (Pradeep Ray) with multi-disciplinary expertise (across business, engineering and medicine) in both academia and industry. This minor also helped deepen JI collaboration with local industry in China and also with collaborators all over the world that produced nearly 40 publications including three books. Fifty JI students have completed this minor (since its inception in 2017) that enabled most of them to earn admission in top business schools in North America and Europe. This article focuses on the three practicum courses VX-423 (Intrapreneurship), VX-425 (Technology Entrepreneurship) and BUS2551J (Design for Sustainable Development, focusing on Healthy Ageing).

VX423-Intrapreneurship

Intrapreneurship means entrepreneurship from within an organisation. Many companies in the world now want their employees to come up with new entrepreneurial ideas and convert them into viable businesses. This course gives students the critical thinking armed with pivotal concepts to understand how entrepreneurial innovation works within an organisation. The course focuses on the understanding how intrapreneurship works, given the complexities in the culture, business policies and procedures and inter personal relationships that are critical for the success of an intrapreneurship project. A student actually works as an intern in a company while doing this course.

VX423 is by no means a traditional course where students complete the entire semester sitting in a classroom. Instead, VX423 involves paid internship by students in selected companies for about three months and hence they must have been accepted by a partner company. All students joining this course need to have completed the prerequisite core course VX420-Entrepreneurship Basics that has discussed the Business Model Canvas (BMC) technique for the assessment of entrepreneurship ideas. This is a small class consisting of less than 15 students so that the Instructor and the Teaching Assistant can visit each company (where an enrolled student is an
intern) in the beginning of semester (to introduce the course and assessments to company supervisors) and at the end of the semester during the final presentation of the student about the internship (and mark the student performance from the company perspective). A student works closely under the supervision of a company executive and the instructor of the course.

During the internship, not only do students fulfil their job responsibilities, but they are also required by the course instructor to submit a report on existing company environment for intrapreneurship. In order to achieve this, students apply the concepts of intrapreneurship learned from lecture sections (concentrated on Saturdays) of VX423 and actively gain information about the company culture, business processes and procedures at their internship companies either by direct observation or talking to other people within the company. Since this is a practicum course, students are required to present and discuss the application of above knowledge in Fortune 1000 companies and also their company of internship.

Several students completed this course while doing internships in healthcare companies. As an example, one of our students participated in VX423 when he was a sophomore (2nd year) student, and served as a software engineer intern at MediTool, a medical technology company in Shanghai. He developed an automatic lung segmentation algorithm that could speed up surgical planning and provide reference images to surgeons during the actual surgeries. The way his internship experience differed from an ordinary internship was that he should bear in mind what benefits and profits he could create for MediTool. Per request by VX423 course instructor, he needed to analyse the business environment for MediTool and came up with a potential intrapreneurship plan on how his engineering efforts at the company could be turned into a profitable sub-business for the company. According to his report, his automatic lung segmentation could be sold either as a standalone product or as an add-on for MediTool’s existing medical image processing software. He further gave an estimate of the annual profit from his software based on statistics about lung surgeries in China. As a consequence, his understanding of the concept of intrapreneurship as well as the medical technology industry was greatly deepened thanks to VX423.

Although this course has consistently obtained very high student satisfaction (due to solid practical learning opportunity), the course faced challenges and here are the lessons learned:

  • Interested students need to be interviewed by several companies before any of them gets the paid internship. Hence the process of selection needs to start at least six months (unlike all other courses in JI) before the course enrolment, particularly in large multinational companies
  • Since the process had to start so early and students had other options (e.g. international exchange visits) at the same time, many selected students dropped out. Consequently, we had to start with 20 internship positions but less than 15 actually started the internship. This led to a disappointment of some industry partners
  • While JI CFE had to work closely with industry partners on the course learning outcomes, it had to stay out of the internship contracts between a student and the company because different companies had different terms (payment etc.).

VX425-Technology entrepreneurship

High technology, such as Artificial Intelligence, biomedical and space technologies improve the quality of life in the society and their growing acceptance offer tremendous opportunities for engineers and technologists to become entrepreneurs. For example, mobile devices (e.g., smart phones, drones and robots) provide one of the most prolific and popular ways to implement entrepreneurship ideas in the service industry today. Since UM-SJTU JI is primarily an engineering education provider, students here can learn and exploit opportunities in technology entrepreneurship in a big way.

This course builds upon the entrepreneurship knowledge gained in the prerequisite core course VX420-Entrepreneurship Basics on fundamentals of entrepreneurship (including Business Model Canvas) to take a business idea to the next stage of entrepreneurship/intrapreneurship, using an attractive business plan to communicate with various stakeholders, such as funding agencies, corporate establishments, governments etc.

The course discusses best practices in entrepreneurship (and case studies) in the context of technology entrepreneurship. Students learn to apply entrepreneurship concepts in a technology they are familiar with. They start with a technology they have used in their first engineering project in UM-SJTU JI (e.g., VG100 course) or in their past internship experience and then apply various commercialization techniques including customer development, design thinking and practical entrepreneurial development environment (patents, regulations, incubators, accelerators etc.) and discussions with mentors (from industry) to commercialize the technology of their choice.

This is a practicum course and hence students learn technology entrepreneurship by applying the concepts of entrepreneurship taught in this course and other previous entrepreneurship courses (e.g., VX420/VX402). They may also use any Minimal Viable Product (MVP) they may have experienced as part of an entrepreneurship competition or in an internship job. Students develop (in small groups of 2-3) a business plan iteratively (with industry mentor support) based on a technology they select in consultation with the instructor. Student groups also carry out detailed market analysis including customer development (including interviews). This necessitates students to understand thoroughly all aspects of the proposed technology entrepreneurship project, such as the value proposition of the product, customer/market segments, channels for the product to reach the targeted customer segments, resource mobilisation (intellectual property, finance, people and infrastructure), partners and alliances, legal issues, role of supporting ecosystems (e.g., incubators), all costs etc. Hence this course involves several guest lecturers from industry and government to give students a hands-on, practical perspective.

This course had nearly 12 students each year since its inception in 2019. Students seem satisfied with the current contents that evolved over these years. Here are the lessons learned:

  • It is important to present all content in the context of a real entrepreneurship project, otherwise students get lost in abstract details.
  • It is important to help create (assess) the business plan step-by-step, iteratively based on textbook, lectures and guest lectures, otherwise students tend to ignore many of them
  • The iteratively process requires students to make a series of presentations to the class and documented feedback from the instructor and industry mentors

Healthcare technology is quite popular among students and nearly 50 per cent projects are from this industry, as published in AHHM in 20212.

BUS2551J-Design for sustainable development, focusing on healthy ageing

This began as an action-based learning course in which students worked in teams of three or four and applied engineering design practices and entrepreneurial concepts to address sustainable development needs of entrepreneurial and community partner organisations. The global sustainable development agenda aims at balancing social wellbeing and environmental protection with economic progress. This agenda crosscuts with the accelerating challenges of population ageing worldwide, especially in China.

The rapidly ageing population of China brings strong and still growing demands for elderly care services. Several industry partners of the UM-SJTU JI Center for Entrepreneurship are market leaders in meeting these demands. We have leveraged the JI CFE tie with Haiyang Group, the largest integrated eldercare service provider in China, to structure the BU2551J course around the theme of Healthy Ageing. Multiple field trips to Haiyang residential care homes and other eldercare service providers are organised, during which students apply tools of human-centred design (immersion, interviewing, prototyping, etc.) to gain deeper empathy for the stakeholders, and thereby better understand the context in which design and entrepreneurial opportunities may be present in the Healthy Ageing space.

Conclusion

This article has presented the development of a practicum courses on technology entrepreneurship in the University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China for both domestic and international students. Since such courses require the collaboration with various stake holders (e.g., industry partners.), they are different from usual university courses and hence the articles has discussed some lessons learned.

Reference:

1 Caiwei Chen, Yongqi Zheng, Pradeep Ray. “Healthcare Technology Entrepreneurship in China.” Asian Hospital & Healthcare Management (AHHM), Issue 55, 2022. https://www.asianhhm.com/magazine. Accessed March 2022
2 Pradeep Ray, Steven Wijaya and Junxiang Zhang, mHealth in China: A Growing Market, Asian Hospital and Healthcare Management (2021) Issue 51, https://www.asianhhm.com/magazine accessed Feb 2021.

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Author Bio

Pradeep Ray

Pradeep Kumar Ray is the Founder Director of the Centre For Entrepreneurship (CFE) at the University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute and is currently leading an international research initiative called Technology Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Development (TESD) involving more than twenty partners from all over the world. He is the founder of the WHO Collaborating Centre on eHealth in the University of New South Wales (UNSW)-Australia (2013).

Kwee-Yan Teh

Kwee-Yan Teh is Associate Teaching Professor at UM-SJTU Joint Institute, Assistant Director of its Center for Entrepreneurship, and lead instructor of Design for Sustainable Development and its predecessor practicum course, in which students designed an underground water salinity monitoring system to help elucidate the nexus between sea level rise, drinking water salinity, and public health in coastal Bangladesh.

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