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MBA Students Put Their Emerging Skills to Work to Support Real-World Businesses and Innovations

“Real-world learning.” It’s a phrase that prospective MBA students are likely to see and hear quite often as they set out to find the right business school for them. At many schools, however, it’s more than a marketing pitch. In addition to their coursework at these schools, students have opportunities to put their budding business skills to work in projects that bring them face-to-face with the real-world demands of developing or running a business. Two schools where this is happening are the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and the George Washington University School of Business.

Johns Hopkins Carey Business School: Plotting a Path to Market for an Eye Therapy That Could Help Millions

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease affecting more than 2 million Americans and 14 million people worldwide. In patients with the condition, new blood vessels grow out of control behind the retina. Untreated, the condition can eventually lead to permanent vision loss.

Today, most patients with AMD are treated with a once-a-month injection directly into the eye; yes, it is as painful and as horrible as it sounds. But researchers at Johns Hopkins University’s Wilmer Eye Institute have developed an alternative therapy that promises to be more effective in limiting blood vessel growth. And here’s the kicker: The new therapy, which relies on a nanoparticle that releases growth-fighting compounds slowly over time, requires treatment just once every six months.

“It’s a huge quality-of-life improvement for these patients,” Sebastian Seiguer said. “It’s a real game-changer.”

Seiguer is a student in the Global MBA program at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. The reason he knows so much about AMD and the work of the Wilmer Eye Institute researchers is because he is part of a student team that developed a business plan for bringing their new therapy to market. For much of the past year, Seiguer and five other second-year Carey School students have taken a deep dive into the science and treatment of AMD, the feasibility of commercializing the new therapy, the ins and outs of the drug approval process, the availability of additional funding sources, and more.

In December, the team presented the Wilmer Eye Institute doctors with a detailed plan for moving forward. Their presentation was received enthusiastically, and the doctors hope to have their new therapy on the market within a few years. “This technology was developed by some of the top researchers in the world. Our role was to help them see a way to making its enormous benefits available to patients,” Seiguer said.

Seiguer and his team did their business planning for the Hopkins researchers as part of the Carey School’s Discovery to Market technology transfer course. D2M, as the course is popularly known, begins during the second semester of the students’ first year in the Global MBA program and continues through the following fall. During the required course, students are assigned projects and they conduct extensive feasibility studies to determine if, and how, to commercialize a variety of inventions. Most of the projects that are the focus of the students’ work come from the Johns Hopkins Technology Transfer Office and its Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design.

Toby Gordon, the Carey professor who directs the D2M program, said Hopkins presents students with a “perfect storm of opportunities” to explore the business side of innovation. Given the university’s status as a leading global center for health research, the majority of projects chosen for D2M are medical in nature. In addition to the AMD treatment, the innovations that students chose for their 2012 projects included an automated retinal camera, a new diabetes therapy and a new suturing method.

D2M, Gordon said, is designed to help students develop a “hands-on, real-world understanding” of how to commercialize new technologies. “Not every project is going to make it, and it can be an education in itself to do your research and find out that something is not going to fly,” Gordon said. “But the point is that these students are applying everything they’re learning about financing and marketing and working in teams to the real work of bringing products to market.”

Seiguer, 40, said D2M was one of the main reasons he was attracted to the Carey School’s Global MBA program. A native of Baltimore, he received undergraduate and law degrees from Columbia University. Shortly after going to Europe to practice law, Seiguer’s career took a very different turn. He started a coffee shop chain in Munich that expanded to 25 locations across Germany. Seiguer sold the business in 2011 so he could come back to the United States.

Seiguer completed his MBA studies this spring. He worked as an intern in the technology transfer office at Hopkins and hopes to launch a business focused on technology commercialization. “D2M was the best academic experience of my life. It convinced me this is what I want to do,” he said.