April 9, 2016

Central Michigan Life

Two medical students and a Central Michigan University alumnus teamed up for a business idea that would impress judges because of its long-term application in schools and hospitals.

Twenty-two teams prepared for seven months to compete for a total of $80,000 in cash awards during the sixth-annual New Venture competition. Only one team walked away on Friday with $30,000 as "Best Overall."

That business venture was ShareCase LLC, an interactive web portal designed to revolutionize outdated technology used at medical schools.

The idea for ShareCase came to Craig Thomas because of flaws he saw in the College of Medicine's technology at CMU. Thomas had always wanted to create a business and emulate his father, whose entrepreneurial experience he admires.

When he sat in class last semester next to Nicholas Cozzi, also a second-year medical student, the two decided to team up. They recruited alumnus Phillip Zerull, their chief technology officer, to create the platform they envisioned.

"Craig came to me and said 'I have this idea,' and I said this is right up my alley," Thomas said.

The idea is meant to be an interactive web portal to aid school curriculum that focuses on case-based learning. This kind of curriculum has students work in teams on problems that could become real life situations — very similar to how medicine is actually practiced.

"Medical education is following suit. No longer are we in lecture halls from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. We are working together in what is called case-based learning," Cozzi said during the group's final presentation.

ShareCase was born because the developers saw issues with using older learning technology that was not made with this curriculum in mind.

"Our content (at CMU) is Microsoft Online, which only allows for essay and text questions," Cozzi said. "Faculty don't understand what students are doing, and students aren't sure if they are learning the correct information."

Their solution is ShareCase, which engages students using patient cases that follow colleges' curriculum.

The three founders also see a future for the application with current health care providers and insurance companies. For judges, this aspect was what differentiated the team from another New Venture group that they felt had made great progress in the business, but lacked long-term application.

The issue judges had with ShareCase, said retired Senior Vice President for Cisco's Systems Keith Goodwin, was that Thomas and Cozzi are going to medical school at the same time. Judges doubted their ability to do both.

"The top two teams had very different opportunities in short-term versus long-term," Goodwin said. "For (ShareCase) there was clearly a very strong long-term opportunity but a lot of risk in the short-term of them being prepared to go to medical school full-time and get the business over the starting hurdles."

Goodwin said deciding between the two teams was like "comparing apples to oranges."

The three founders said they never expected to win.

Thomas and Cozzi see value in being medical students with an interest in entrepreneurship. Thomas had his father for inspiration and Cozzi has a Masters in Business Administration.

"Part of being a doctor is also being your own boss — you have to be able to make decisions for the patients as well," Thomas said.

Cozzi specifically wants to be a pediatric neurosurgeon.

"This stuff excites me because I look at problems through a different lens — how do I add value, how do I make this cheaper, how can I increase quality — because I'm not just a medical student, I come with a business background," he said.

Winners of NVC 2016:

Best Overall, $30,000: ShareCase LLC; Craig Thomas, Nicholas Cozzi and Phillip Zerull

Best Social Venture, $10,000: High Hopes Hammocks; Georgiana Klem, Connor Moynihan, and Christian Cullinan

Best Technology, $10,000: Superior Filament (Michigan Tech); Cedric Kennedy, Aubrey Woern, Joshua Krugh and Amber Varacalli

Korson Family Highest growth Potential, $10,000: We Inspire (Michigan Tech); Arick Davis, Florin Simion, Arika Davis, Cassie Sovereen, Viorel Stroe, Duarte Teles and Nathan Shaiyen

Most Impact on Michigan, $10,000: Sweet Treats Apple Co.; Amber Williams and Sydney Davis

Best Lifestyle, $5,000: Forever and Always; Amber Wilder and Abbigail Newbury

Spirit of Entrepreneurship: Conquest Clothing Co.; Andre Sanders, Julio Almanza and Shakera Moffett

Spirit of Entrepreneurship: Ironman Aviation; Brian Stark and Brooke Wagner

Best Pitch, $1,000: Superior Filament (see above)

1st Runner-up Pitch, $500: Runway Avenue; David Valentine II, Kimberly Johnson, Matthew Williams, Taylor Rainier and Mia Serrano

2nd Runner-Up Pitch, $250: Ironman Aviation (see above)

Audience Choice, $250: Superior Filament (see above)