Aiming for the Wow-Factor: A GNVC Journey

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Catherine Marton, Sheela Agarwal, and Keegan Zimmerman, all of team 3DMed, prepare to compete in the GNVC semi-finals in London.

Sheela Agarwal, MD, is Head of US Medical Affairs for Radiology at Bayer HealthCare in New York City and an executive MBA student at the London Chicago Booth campus. She has been competing in this year’s Global New Venture Challenge [GNVC] with her team, 3DMed. GNVC is the executive branch of Chicago Booth’s New Venture Challenge, a top-ranked business launch program designed to help students turn their ideas into viable businesses. There are several "rounds" in the competition where teams present their business plans during live pitch sessions in front of investors, alumni, and business leaders. The competition culminates with a final round featuring the winning teams from our Chicago, London, and Hong Kong campuses on March 17. We spoke to Sheela just after she learned her team would be advancing in the competition.

How would you describe your company?

If there’s one thing I can do after this experience, it’s give our pitch!

Our company, 3DMed, uses 3D printing to create customized surgical instruments based on patient anatomy and surgeon preferences. We believe that this technology will allow surgeons to perform less invasive surgeries while also saving hospitals money.

Is there a humanitarian element to your work? Have you adapted the technology to use in disaster zones, for example?

We did originally have that intention. But our GNVC professor, Waverly Deutsch, advised us to take it out. She could see that by trying to do both things we were actually attempting to address two distinct problems. “It wasn’t investable. So we decided to focus and scale down our mission. Having a viable idea is one of the biggest lessons I've learned so far.”

Where are you currently at in the process?

I just got off the phone with the Head of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of Chicago Medical Center. We spoke for over an hour. He is helping me think through how this technology can affect all surgeons. We’re discovering more questions to consider, such as – how will surgeons know that they need this tool? How can we create a need for this in the marketplace?

So I’m working to get more information to truly assess our model. I’ve consulted extensively with thoracic surgeons who I trained with during my residency, and they are all familiar with the concept and on board with our business idea. Now it’s time to get some unbiased opinions from surgeons and medical professionals outside of my immediate network.

The networking has been one of the most valuable aspects of GNVC so far. The coaches all know people who can be helpful and have generously introduced us to them. It was actually “one of the GNVC coaches, Professor Robert Rosenberg, who introduced me to the surgeon I just spoke to. Another Chicago Booth alumnus based in London knew one of the top medical 3D printing gurus in the UK and reached out to connect us. Professor Deutsch has encouraged this type of expert feedback all along – she says that you don’t realize how valuable it is until after the fact. I am really finding that to be true.

What was competing in the semi-finals like?

Nerve-wracking! I dropped the pointer right in the beginning of the presentation. But from there it went smoothly. It was really inspiring just to be in the room and feed off of everyone’s energy. After weeks of practicing, I felt like our team gave the very best presentation we had ever done that day. It was quite a rush.

Sheela holds a 3D printed instrument and a traditional one for judges to see.

What is the toughest feedback you’ve received?

During the competition, the coaches kept saying that our numbers weren’t “wowing” them. They weren’t able to clearly see the potential in the size of the business and, from their perspective, the market for our instruments seemed tiny. They were not impressed.

I thought that if I could just prove the benefits they would see our side of things, but in these situations investors don’t really listen - they cut you off and remind you that you are not pitching to surgeons. It was a good reminder. As a doctor, I was focused on the immediate impact this could bring to my work. But I’ve been pushed to think about a much bigger focus.

After this feedback we went and reevaluated our slide deck and our projections with the GNVC TA, Jamie Carmichael.” With his help, we realized that our presentation of the financials just wasn’t clear, and the judges might have interpreted our ‘unit model’—the sales we expected to make from one hospital—as our initial projections. So we’ve been working hard at revamping our slides to actually represent what we think the market for our product is...and we hope to "wow" the judges during the finals!

As told to Meghan Keedy by Sheela Agarwal, ‘16 (EXP-21)

Read more about our students’ experiences in the Global New Venture Challenge>>