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From left to right: Scott Shurtliff ’09, Susan Bortz ’10, William Parra, chief operating officer of the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, Kellogg Dean Dipak C. Jain, Dr. Kalpalatha K. Guntupalli, president-elect of the American College of Chest Physicians; Zsolt Abonyi ’09; Wendy Yip; and Siddhartha Vaidyanathan.

Chest Foundation winners

A plan to save lives

At the CHEST Foundation Case Competition, Kellogg and NU students work together to reduce smoking in the Third World

By Ed Finkel

5/20/2009 - Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is having trouble quitting smoking. In his home country of India, cigarettes are available for less than a nickel and there are few health warnings about the risks of smoking.

As a result, “you think, ‘Oh, it’s just one cigarette,’” said Vaidyanathan, a graduate student at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.

Drawing upon his personal experience, Vaidyanathan partnered with three Kellogg students and one student from the McCormick School of Engineering to develop a plan for combating smoking in the Third World. Dubbed “Team Pulmo,” the students won first prize in the final round of the CHEST Foundation Case Competition, held May 12 at the Kellogg School.

The competition, co-sponsored by Kellogg and the philanthropic arm of the American College of Chest Physicians, challenged groups of Kellogg and other Northwestern students to produce an entrepreneurial solution to a public health problem. Last year’s competition focused on asthma in America’s inner cities; this year’s teams were charged with combating smoking in the Third World.

Team Pulmo produced a tobacco control program that would work through India’s national railway system. The system provides health insurance to employees, who often work there for a lifetime.

The program would cost an estimated $60,000 per 1,000 quitters, but would save $160,000 in health costs and ultimately thousands of lives, said Kellogg student Zsolt Abonyi ’09, who brought the team together. Other team members included Scott Shurtliff ’09, Susan Bortz ’10, and McCormick student Wendy Yip.

“We wanted to do something with prevention. But we just couldn’t find a way to turn it into a business idea,” Abonyi said. Cessation seemed to provide a stronger entrepreneurial hook, he added, and the railway system seemed to be the right starting point. Other nationalized industries, such as oil and steel, could come next.

For its winning plan, Team Pulmo received a $15,000 prize.

The second-place team, Novo Aer, offered a plan to reduce smoking in China, and focused on pregnant women and their husbands. The team — which included Kellogg doctoral student Bingxiao Wu, McCormick students Lide Zhang, Jingsi Xie, Gali Baler and Jieyi Long, and Medill student Minfei Chen — received a $5,000 prize.

David Dranove, the Walter J. McNerney Professor of Health Industry Management and a final-round judge, said the judging panel had a difficult time choosing the winner. The panel admired Novo Aer’s focus on a key target segment with long-term importance, as well as Pulmo’s breadth and “potential to hit the ground running,” Dranove said.
“These were both terrific proposals,” he added.

Kellogg Dean Dipak C. Jain noted that the CHEST competition furthers the Kellogg School’s goal of educating leaders who make lasting and significant contributions to the world.

“The focus on this school cannot just be on advancing shareholder value,” Jain said. “We should be meeting problems with a social cost. Students should contribute to society. They need to go beyond their personal success. Business schools should go beyond business. We want to produce leaders who are going to make an impact of significance.”