As Fall Quarter wraps up, most Boothies are gearing up for some much needed rest and relaxation. For fifteen of my classmates and me, however, our term is not quite over. Once our finals are complete this week, we will jet off to India as part of the Global Social Impact Practicum (GSIP), a class at Booth that marries innovation with social impact in an emerging market. The course is facilitated by the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation, Booth’s destination for those committed to helping solve complex social and environmental problems.
While there are many opportunities to have international experiences at Booth, GSIP is unique due to the fact that class sessions straddle Fall and Winter Quarters, with a ten-day trip to India sandwiched in between. Students are divided into three groups, each of which is paired with an early stage venture supported by the Tata Centre for Development at the University of Chicago (TCD), instituted by Tata Trusts, one of India’s largest and oldest philanthropic organizations.
Our goal is to understand the market viability of the product with which we are assigned, as well as to develop a go-forward plan, including a path to commercialization and a go-to-market strategy. This year, the three projects address very distinct problems facing India: a water quality monitoring system, a sensor-based network that collects data on the city’s environment, and—my group’s project—a kit that aids in the diagnosis of oral cancer.
Due to the heavy use of tobacco and other plant-based carcinogens as stimulants, such as the natively grown betel nut, oral cancer accounts for more than 30% of all instances of cancers in India, and its prevalence is only continuing to rise. Today, the primary method of diagnosis is through a biopsy, a procedure that is both expensive and typically performed at Stage II or III of the disease, at which point the survival rate is relatively low and the cost of treatment is inversely quite high.
The oral cancer kit, which was developed at UChicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine and is being tested in several hospitals throughout India, represents the opportunity to catch cancer at its earliest stages through a non-invasive and inexpensive salivary DNA test. If adopted, the ramifications of the kit are massive, including dramatically improving survival and return-to-work rates, as well as a subsequent treatment plan that is significantly less costly.
With six weeks of research under our belts, our group has developed a preliminary roadmap for commercializing and distributing the product. We aim to pressure test our hypotheses during the myriad of meetings we have in India, such as visits with doctors, patients, regulators, and insurance providers. Since GSIP is split between the Fall and Winter Quarters, when we return in January, we will have another five weeks to reflect on our trip and refine our recommendations before presenting them to stakeholders at the Pritzker School of Medicine.
For me, GSIP was a compelling opportunity to leverage my professional experiences in a meaningful capacity. Prior to Booth, I worked in investment banking and private equity, focusing primarily on growth-stage healthcare and technology companies, as well as those at the intersection of both industries. These industry concentrations exposed me to cutting-edge businesses that are delivering tangible impact. For example, we helped a company with a unique heart arrhythmia monitor raise capital to expand its sales organization in order to reach more doctors and hospital systems, and ultimately save more lives.
I was—and still am—inspired by how resources, like people and capital, can enable innovative companies to do good in the world. GSIP not only provides me with the opportunity to pursue my passion of working with growth-stage businesses that deliver value to underserved populations, but it is also enabling me to do so in a global context. I believe critical to being a business leader is being a global-minded citizen, and GSIP is an unparalleled, immersive opportunity to expand my worldview.
A core tenet of Booth’s ethos is learning by doing, which is captured by the breadth of lab course offerings, coupled with our flexible curriculum that encourages students to pursue internships outside of school. GSIP is yet another way to gain hands-on business experience, and I am incredibly excited for the trip ahead. I will be reporting back once we return, so tune in a few weeks from now to see how our adventure in India plays out!
This is the first post of a two-part series, the second of which can be found here.