The results are inspiration, resilience—and real-world innovation, in the case of Ducks Disrupt Health Care, an event the Oregon Executive MBA debuted this spring.
It all started in early 2019, when two executive MBA students—Madeline Eastman, a marketing manager at Smith Optics, and Mark Enker, an intensive care physician—came up with the idea for an entrepreneurial boot camp focusing on health care.
Although Eastman and Enker were just beginning their second term in the program at the time, they had already seen how many fresh solutions could come from collaborating with classmates working in different roles in different industries.
“Mark and Maddie realized that they could develop a similarly creative environment for tackling health care challenges by bringing together a diverse group of graduate students and professionals from around the region,” said Oregon Executive MBA Director Rachel Todd.
To help bring Eastman and Enker’s vision to life, Todd recruited Gigi Wang, an experienced bootcamp facilitator and fellow at University of California-Berkeley’s Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship.
Tapping into the Oregon Executive MBA's extensive network, Todd and the program's associate director of recruiting Paul Allen put together an impressive list of speakers, mentors, and judges. Faculty member Mohan Nair—the chief innovation officer at Cambia Health Solutions—was the natural pick to deliver the event’s kickoff and wrap-up speeches, thanks to his longtime engagement in the space. Nair also connected Todd to Stoller Family Estate president Gary Mortensen, who sponsored the event and provided $5,000 in prize money to the winning teams.
On the last Saturday in February, 50 participants, 14 industry mentors, and four guest speakers came to the executive mba program’s facility at 109 NW Naito Parkway for two days of high-energy workshops and inspiring talks. By the weekend's finish, participants had identified health care challenges, formed teams, learned and venture fundamentals, and they were ready to spend the next four weeks developing their pitches.
Soon after the kickoff weekend, it became clear that an in-person finale—originally scheduled for March 30—was out of the question.
Fast-forward to the evening of Saturday, June 13.
Todd and Allen opened the virtual finale broadcasting from a nearly empty classroom at the Oregon Executive MBA’s Portland facility. While audience members tuned into a live stream, six competing teams pitched their concepts via Zoom.
It was an extraordinary lineup. The pitches were polished yet personal. Each team’s venture was compelling. The judges had plenty to discuss before they reached their decisions.
Team Cencible’s HVAC solution for healthier indoor spaces took third place and $500.00. The team was led by Sarah Macrorie, MBA ’20, who had developed the idea that became Cencible in Ed Warnock’s new venture planning course, just days before graduating. The University of Oregon became the organization's first outside investor, providing $75,000 in funds to support further development of the Cencible concept.
Second place—and a $1,500 prize—went to Team EpiOne, composed of four medical students from Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU), who had developed an automated system for patients to remotely monitor their blood pressure—a timely product as telehealth grows in importance.
Led by Dr. Benjamin Wang, Team NeVap took the top spot and $3,000 for its line of improved breathing tubes for ventilators. Already in production, the breathing tubes continue to generate growing outside interest. In an inspiring followup, team members chose to donate the prize money to an organization providing PPE, masks, and face shields to health care workers in Mexico.
"None of the event's organizers ever dreamed it would take place during a worldwide health care crisis, but the experience certainly highlighted how powerful innovation can be in this field. It's striking that the three winning teams all developed projects that related in some way to the COVID-19 situation. I am so proud of all the teams that participated, and I'm excited about developing next year's event," said Todd, the executive MBA program director.
Follow the Ducks Disrupt Health Care journey from start to finish in the video below.