Wake Forest 2015 Retail & Health Innovation Challenge focuses on real-world issues

11.17.2015 Awards, Center for Retail Innovation, General, Healthcare, News Release, Retail, School News

Entrepreneurial students pitch ideas to help people lead healthier lives
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., (November 17, 2015) — Research to treat cocaine addiction, a supplement that focuses on diabetic neuropathy, and a medical device to assist surgeons during spinal surgery are just some of the innovations student teams presented at the Wake Forest University School of Business 2015 Retail & Health Innovation Challenge. Held November 13-14 in Winston-Salem, N.C., the Challenge is hosted by the School’s Center for Retail Innovation and sponsored by CVS Health.

“We looked for ideas that presented a wide range of solutions in the retail and health categories,” said Melissa Berry, a second year MBA student at the School. She is one of the student chairs who planned and implemented the Challenge. Ten teams of top entrepreneurial talent from Wake Forest University and other colleges were selected for this year’s Challenge to compete for more than $30,000 in prizes.

“The Retail & Health Innovation Challenge is one way we can impact students and the marketplace,” says Roger Beahm, one of the Center’s executive directors. “Pitching innovations to senior-level executives helps students learn to think strategically and communicate effectively. And because the judges are all from the front lines of industry, students learn through feedback just how realistic their ideas and plans might be.”

Johns Hopkins University’s team, BHest Medical, created a specialized surgical device designed to minimize the risk of leaking spinal fluid in the thin membrane surrounding nerves in the spinal column, especially when scar tissue from previous surgeries is present. “Imagine it’s like trying to cut a steak next to a water balloon,” said Eric Chiang, of Johns Hopkins. He explained that their surgical tip respects the geometry of the spine and reduces this problem. Judges awarded them first place and $25,000.

CVS Health VP of Marketing and Enterprise Branding Whitney Hardy presented the awards. “These young entrepreneurs and their ideas provide the creative spark that enriches all organizations,” Hardy said. “We were impressed with the breadth and depth of their solutions for problems that we can solve together.”

Second place and $5,000 went to the Vaso Corp team from the University of West Georgia. The team’s innovation is an over-the-counter supplement that reduces diabetic peripheral neuropathy, described as a pins-and-needles or burning sensation. Powder Partner from Clarkson University, which promises to revolutionize on-the-go nutrition by providing intermittent delivery systems, took $2,500 and third place. “We’ve created a better way to consume protein immediately after a workout,” said team member Mike Dalberth. “It’s much more convenient for the end consumer, it tastes better, it’s a little healthier and it’s cheaper.”

Here’s how the Challenge worked: Each team delivered a two-minute pitch to a panel of judges comprised of industry experts from CVS Health, Bellomy Research, Johnson & Johnson – McNeil Consumer Healthcare, Inmar, Innovation Village, Markowsky, Nagel, Wunsch & Partner, National Association of Chain Drug Stores, North Carolina Retail Merchants Association, SalesFactory + Woodbine, and Wake Forest Baptist Health. What made this competition unique is that teams truly gave an “elevator pitch” – with no fancy AV support or presentation decks.  But teams could use props, prototypes, print materials, phones or laptops to support their ideas during their two-minute opportunity.

From the pitch round, five finalists were selected for a round of 30-minute presentations held in Farrell Hall at Wake Forest University School of Business. Schools competing included Appalachian State University, Clarkson University, Georgia Tech University, Johns Hopkins University, Kennesaw State University, Southern Methodist University, University of West Georgia, and Wake Forest University.

“Watching how the judges approached evaluating the teams and their ideas, using their varied backgrounds and perspectives was an interesting part of networking at our event,” said second-year MBA student Cameron Arnett, one of the student co-chairs. “Everything about the Challenge reinforces what we’re learning at the School of Business: evaluating team’s business plans, vetting their marketing ideas, determining their cash flow. It’s another opportunity for hands-on experience.”

Steve Anderson, president and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, gave the keynote address and also served as one of the judges. “This competition empowers students for one of the greatest competitions of all: helping people lead lives of health and wellness,” Anderson said.  “Retail locations in neighborhoods throughout the nation are playing an ever-increasing role in that effort, and the participating students are positioning themselves to help lead the innovations of tomorrow, for the ultimate benefit of patients and consumers.”

This two-day competition held each fall selects teams from top business programs in the nation through their submission of innovative business plans.

“It’s bigger than retail. It’s about health,” said Oray Boston, VP of Sales and Marketing for McNeil Consumer Healthcare Division of Johnson & Johnson. “What I loved about this was no person walked in and was like ‘let me tell you how I’m going to get this into retail.’ They were talking about how to live a healthier life, whether it was a medical device, a supplement or a new therapy.”

“This event really hinges on collaboration and teamwork,” said second-year MBA student Marlon Romulus, one of the student co-chairs. “It’s a great networking opportunity that brings the market to campus.”

The Challenge, run entirely by students at the School of Business, began as the Elevator Competition 15 years ago. This year, the Challenge was organized and produced by Wake Forest University School of Business student volunteers led by co-chairs Cameron Arnett, (MBA ’16), Melissa Berry (MBA ’16), and Marlon Romulus (MBA ’16). The faculty advisors are Roger Beahm, WestRock executive director of the WFU Center for Retail Innovation and professor of practice in marketing, and Stan Mandel, director of the Angell Center for Entrepreneurship and professor of practice in entrepreneurship. This is the third year the event has been sponsored by CVS Health, which has committed to be the presenting sponsor through 2018.

Media Contact: Stephanie Skordas, skordas@wfu.edu or 336.758.4098