Carnegie Mellon University


June 26, 2019

Tepper MBA Students Build Market Strategy for UPMC Platform

Noelle Wiker

Technology Strategy and Product Management track students developed a marketing plan for UPMC Enterprises’ health care operating system.

The growing demand for data in the health care industry places a heavy burden on providers to keep records in a digital platform. In an effort to meet this demand, UPMC Enterprises, an innovation and commercialization arm of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center supporting new ventures in heath care, has developed a cloud-based health care operating system — called hcOS — to collect data and make it available for providers, consumers, and payers.

Five MBA students at the Tepper School of Business worked with UPMC Enterprises to develop a marketing and commercialization plan for hcOS. “We got the chance to tackle real problems and provide actionable recommendations that UPMC could actually implement,” Brian Roberts (MBA 2019) said.

“Health care is an exciting industry to be a part of as more and more emerging technologies are adopted to improve value-based care,” Christopher Kowalk (MBA 2019) said. “The UPMC Enterprises capstone project provided a unique opportunity to work on a project aimed at transforming the provider-patient-payer relationship.” 

Technology Strategy and Product Management

Roberts and Kowalk worked alongside classmates Nicholas Brenneke, Leo Katsman, and John Reim as part of the capstone requirement for the Technology Strategy and Product Management track. Tim Derdenger, Associate Professor of Marketing and Strategy, who coordinates the track, said it is aimed for students with undergraduate degrees in computer science or engineering, or those with experience in technology roles who are looking toward careers in project management. 

“This is a great track for those students who want to go into a strategic role at a tech company,” he said. “That’s why it’s so popular.” This spring, 18 students from the graduating MBA Class of 2019 completed the Technology Strategy and Product Management track.

“Part of the reason I chose Tepper was to expand my experiences while transitioning into the tech industry,” Katsman said. “With the UPMC Enterprises capstone project, I was able to learn about the health care space while building experience in cutting-edge technology.”

Students in the track take courses at the Tepper School, as well as the CMU School of Computer Science and Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy. They complete required courses in technology strategy and product management, and can supplement them with electives such as Applied Machine Learning, FinTech, or the Business of Health Care Innovation. 

To complete the track requirements, MBA students engage in a capstone project in their final year, intended to bring together many skills and techniques they have learned through the track and the overall MBA curriculum. These projects involve working directly with a company to address a real business need. In addition to UPMC Enterprises, students in the track worked on projects with an aerospace company and financial services firm.

“This capstone project felt like it would really have an impact on the company and wasn’t just some ad hoc assignment that was created for students,” Roberts said. “We got the chance to tackle real problems and provide actionable recommendations that UPMC could actually implement.” 

UPMC Enterprises 

Derdenger approached some of his contacts at UPMC and UPMC Enterprises to encourage their participation with the Technology Strategy and Product Management track, including C. Talbot Heppenstall Jr. (MSIA 1985), President of UPMC Enterprises and Executive Vice President and Treasurer of UPMC. “I said, ‘I have an opportunity for you to engage with the Tepper School and to have top-tier MBA students work on a project with UPMC,’” Derdenger said. “They signed on board, and it’s been a great experience. They’ve been a fantastic client.” 

Michael Golden, Senior Director of Business Development for UPMC Enterprises, said that the project addresses one of the health care industry’s most significant challenges. “UPMC Enterprises is always looking for fresh perspectives on how to empower clinicians and payers to provide patient-centered, high-quality, compassionate care at the lowest costs,” he said.

“This was a great opportunity for these students to leverage their knowledge in running platforms,” Derdenger said. “Particularly in this track, with the projects that they work on, it is the combination of technical expertise and management experience that make Tepper students highly attractive and very valuable to an organization.” 

Practical Experience 

In addition to their existing technical and business skills, Derdenger said, projects like this require students to develop new skills in dealing with large, unstructured problems and in working as teams to tackle them. “How do you take this open-ended, unstructured problem and lay the foundations to have a clean path forward that tackles the overall objective?” he said.

“While it’s great to go over cases about strategy, marketing, and management in our coursework, it really comes to life when you’re working on a project that forces you to consider everything and make the recommendations that will affect the project’s future,” Brenneke said. “We did a lot of brainstorming based on our research to develop the key components of a compelling go-to-market strategy for the product. The biggest skill that I was able to sharpen and apply during this project was synthesizing data into a cohesive product strategy.”

The student group met weekly with a team from UPMC Enterprises that included Golden and Jim Laing, Director of Product Management. Over the course of 15 weeks, they put together a business case that UPMC Enterprises can use to further develop the features of its hcOS platform and recruit new users.

“We needed to develop our product management, business development, and marketing skills throughout the project while we learned to navigate the health care business to identify the key features and business models that would be needed to bring their technology to market,” Reim said.

Actionable Results

“The most rewarding part of this project was when we gave our final presentation to the team at UPMC Enterprises which was the culmination of our semester-long efforts as a capstone team,” Brenneke said. “We had a great discussion with the team and it felt good to hear their positive feedback on our work.”

Golden said that UPMC Enterprises is already taking steps to build on the students’ work. “We were able to distill a clear vision on where our offering fits among a complex sea of service providers,” he said. “We are already forming strategic relationships from the competitive analysis, pricing our initial contracts from the phased approach strategy, and iterating on our long-term vision from the various go-to-market options.” 

For the students, the opportunity to work on a capstone project like this is provides key professional development. “This project gave us experience diving into a complex new industry, getting close to technology and customers, and building a roadmap for stakeholders across the business,” Reim said. “That experience helped prepare each of us to succeed in our careers.”

Derdenger noted that for all of the capstone projects, none of the students involved had experience in the industries. He aims to offer projects in a diverse set of industries so that students have the opportunity to work in an unfamiliar industry that appeals to their interests.

“Throughout my career, there will be many instances in which I will be asked to define new business opportunities in areas I may be less familiar with,” Kowalk said. “Working on this capstone project taught me how to creatively integrate my past experiences with knowledge of technology and business models used by other industries to successfully evaluate new opportunities.”