Healthcare MBA students from George Washington University followed the lead of Anna Helm, the assistant professor for GWU’s international business program, all the way to Stockholm this summer to provide business advice to a Swedish healthcare technology company and gain firsthand experience in international business.
Helm spent from October to May developing the six-week pilot program – five of which were dedicated to online course work with the final week ending in Stockholm. The 17 students involved were divided into three consulting teams working with the Tobii Technology to develop a plan to expand one of its products into the U.S. market.
“This consulting project helped us put into practice the skills and concepts that we have learned throughout our participation in our various MBA programs,” said Eileen Thomas, one of the 17 HCMBA students. “We were able to test business theories by researching and creating different scenarios. Learning by doing helped us to cement many of the business practices we’ve only read about.”
During the first five weeks of the program, the three teams used various tools to interact with each other including Skype, Blackboard wikis and discussion boards, DropBox, and WebEx.
Towards the end of the five-week period, the students began developing and sharing their client presentations with each other and Helm through Voicethread. The market expansion directives revolved around the company’s eye-tracking clip-on device, Tobii PCEye, which enables individuals with spinal cord injuries to type via eye movement.
The product was developed by Tobii’s Assistive Technology (ATI) division, where the mission is to help individuals with disabilities perform tasks that would otherwise be impossible or extremely difficult to do.
Dealing with a business far from home, Helm said she made sure the course material directly assisted the students executing the projects by preparing them for the Sweden experience. The online program brought a very hands-on approach with courses like Healthcare System in Sweden, Healthcare Industry in Sweden, and Healthcare Clustering in Sweden. The program also included modules that focused on international marketing strategy and the international consulting process.
“Project coordination and trust can be even more important in the online environment,” said Eric Belling, one of the GWU MBA students. “In addition, one of the most valuable lessons I learned is that it is important to understand each group member’s strengths in order to maximize the team’s efficiency and effectiveness during a short, focused engagement like this one.”
Kay Neseem agreed and said being on teams brought about a sense of camaraderie with the class and the videotaped lectures and group presentations created an “aspect of class connection.”
As personal as the online work was to each student, Helm said it was an interesting experience for the students when they met in Stockholm after having virtually worked with each other for the previous five weeks.
“It was the same thing for me,” she said. “Suddenly standing face-to-face with 17 students whom I only knew from the online environment was very exciting.”
The students met with the client for nearly an entire day at the company’s headquarters, where the CEO of Tobii, Henrik Eskilsson, and several other executives made presentations to the group. The three student teams rotated between the executives to exchange ideas about their specific projects and made their presentations at the end of the week at the U.S. Embassy. Each student received a full product demonstration and experienced the eye-tracking software for themselves.
“They saw that this product actually works fabulously and then realized firsthand how essential it is for people with motor disabilities to be able to use this Tobii product to access their world,” Helm said. “Ultimately, the students understood that through their work they could have a positive impact on the world.”
Thomas said, during the visit, the atmosphere could be quite intense at times, but that each student understood and embraced the expectations put upon them.
“Because the George Washington School of Business curriculum fosters communication and collaboration, we are skilled at using our individual strengths towards a common goal – working as a team,” she said. “Whatever issues arise during the week, they are resolved and the work continues without a hiccup. The impact for students is immeasurable.”
The HCMBA program not only benefitted the students, but the company as well. According to Thomas Nordén, marketing manager of ATI, the visit validated Tobii’s marketing strategy and provided new insights that never would have been encountered from “our own desk in Sweden.”
“Through their work, they have strengthened our beliefs that we indeed are on the right track,” he said, “and this gives us the confidence to continue with our spinal cord injuries (SCI) push. The students also provided us with some very useful tactics and operational tools, among other things a framework for an ROI calculator, hands-on tips on how to get funding, target lists of organizations, and in some cases even persons to contact in order to promote our products relevant for the SCI market. All of this impressive work was accomplished during a very short period of time.”
Helm said that it is essential for students to understand what alternatives are in the international market in terms of healthcare. She said every system can be evaluated, including Sweden’s universal healthcare coverage.
“Our site visits in Sweden were designed to offer insights to how the Swedish healthcare system operates and how innovation systems have evolved in the Swedish context,” she said. “In a course like this, in which participating students are seasoned professionals, the power of learning comes, to a large extent, from the interactions between peers. The process of comparing different systems and exploring potential for transferability between countries is an important part of any international business course.”
The students acknowledged the importance of learning from Sweden’s healthcare system and that each of them have to be focused on the global effort for innovative health care delivery strategies and the responsible use of medical technologies.
“Humanity is global,” Thomas said. “Health care affects everyone, no matter where you happen to live in the world. Improving yourself – as a person and a nation – often requires doing a comparative analysis. It also requires an openness to change. To that end, having a comprehensive understanding of what other countries do in terms of health care is critical. Responsibility in business requires that we continually ask ourselves, ‘What are we doing and what impact will it have on the world?’”
–Dustin Bass, @dbass_cmn