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Charag Krishnan '14, Otmane El Manser '14 and Richie Khandelwal '14 took first place at the C.K. Prahalad Case Competition with their business plan for life-saving birth kits.

Charag Krishnan ’14, Otmane El Manser ’14 and Richie Khandelwal ’14 took first place at the C. K. Prahalad Case Competition.

Balancing act

Social responsibility and business logic give team top honors for birth kit plan

By Rachel Farrell

11/11/2013 - Maternal healthcare tugs the heartstrings, but three Kellogg students took the top prize at the C. K. Prahalad Case Competition for coming up with a solid business plan for an India-based company that makes sterile birth kits for pregnant mothers.

“It was a classic dilemma: Do you go for profits or choose impact?” says team member Charag Krishnan ’14. “What we tried to do was optimize for both long-term impact and profits.”

The Kellogg team of Krishnan, Richie Khandelwal ’14 and 2014 Siebel Scholar Otmane El Manser ’14 took first place at the Oct. 31 case competition, which was hosted by the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business during its 2013 India Business Conference. The Kellogg team bested more than 80 teams at the event, winning $2,000 for their first-place win.

As part of the competition, the team explored expansion opportunities for the ayzh company, whose birth kits had successfully reduced maternal mortality rates in Tamil Nadu, an urban state in India. The for-profit social venture ayzh was eyeing markets in both sub-Saharan Africa and rural areas of India – two very different regions.

A compromise plan

In sub-Saharan Africa, maternal mortality rates are particularly high, so there’s a greater demand for the kits. In the rural sections of India they considered, mortality rates are comparatively lower but access to skilled healthcare workers — who typically use the birth kits most effectively — is higher than that in sub-Saharan Africa.

The team soon realized the dilemma – selling more kits in Africa or more effectively used kits in India – was a false one. They developed a plan that would take the lessons learned on one continent into the other.

Their plan would create a training model for using the kits, a model tested and refined within regions of India that resemble sub-Saharan Africa in terms of low access to skilled health workers. Then, long term, ayzh would adapt that model for African markets.

Reaching such a conclusion required deep collaboration among the teammates, who come from diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise: El Manser, a former consultant who recently interned at Dell, contributed his understanding of the user experience; Khandelwal, who worked several years as a Shell engineer, analyzed the company’s data and competency; while Krishnan, a Teach for India alum and UNICEF intern, focused on the social impact of the plan.

A project Krishnan worked on for UNICEF,the Backpack PLUS Toolkit, was named a top 10 health care innovation by the UN in September.

“’Innovation plus relevance equals impact,’” says Khandelwal, quoting Desh Deshpande, one of the presenters who spoke at the conference. “You need to have both to be successful.”

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