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By Tim Calkins

This weekend, eleven teams of students from nine different business schools will gather at Northwestern to participate in the annual Kellogg Biotech and Healthcare Case Competition. Many of the teams will travel a great distance to attend: teams are flying in from cities ranging from San Francisco (from Haas-Berkeley) and Los Angeles (from Anderson-UCLA) to London (from Said-Oxford) and Washington, D.C. (from McDonough-Georgetown).

This event is one of the oldest and best known healthcare case competitions. For more than a decade, teams have been meeting in January to consider some complicated healthcare questions. This year more than thirty teams applied to participate. The 11 teams invited to attend are impressive.

So what is the appeal? Why do students devote time and energy to travel to Chicago in the middle of the winter to participate?

It isn’t for the money. The case competition has a $5,000 first prize, which isn’t insignificant. Still, most teams won’t win it, and travel costs will likely consume much of the prize money even for the victor.

There are three main benefits for students.

First, the event is a tremendous opportunity for networking. On the student side, some of the top healthcare students in the country participate in the event. Many are MD/MBAs, some have PhDs. Most have worked in leading healthcare organizations and will head into the industry after graduation.

This is a chance for students to meet their peers at different schools. Healthcare is a small world; there is a good chance they will bump into these people in the future. Students walk away with a resume book; the names and contacts are important.

It is also an opportunity for students to interact with the judges, who are experienced healthcare executives from AbbVie.

Second, the competition gives teams a chance to wrestle with a complex healthcare question outside of a class setting. Last year teams debated how best to launch Amgen’s new PCSK9 molecule. In prior years, teams had to forecast sales of a new molecule, develop a strategy for fighting pneumonia in Uganda and work through operational issues related to HIV tests in Africa.

This year teams are debating the merits of direct-to-consumer marketing. By working through the issue, teams gain experience and confidence.

Third, the event is great fun. It is exciting; one team will walk away as the winner. Others will fall short. At the start of the day, everything is up for grabs; teams have to create a strong presentation and then present it with flair. It isn’t easy to stand out as the winner.

The event isn’t just a competition. Friday night there is a casual, fun dinner at a local pub in Evanston (with no judges in attendance). On Saturday, students can attend the Kellogg Business of Healthcare Conference. There is a celebratory dinner Saturday evening with an awards ceremony.

Events like the Kellogg Biotech and Healthcare Case Competition are unique learning and networking experiences. One of the joys of going to business school is the opportunity to participate in events like this.

Tim Calkins is a clinical professor of marketing at Kellogg, where he teaches marketing strategy, biomedical marketing and strategic marketing decisions. He also leads Kellogg’s Super Bowl Ad Review. His professional blog can be found at