The very thing that attracted Shana Hoffman about engineering (she completed a BSE in electrical systems engineering at the University of Pennsylvania) frustrated her when she and her family were doing their best to help her father weather a storm of health issues. “I love the idea of problem-solving,” Shana says. “But with my dad’s illnesses, I struggled to work with the system, to figure out what care steps to take for my father.”
Yet the emotional challenge of care-giving came with an insight into a business opportunity. “When I looked at the health care system through a systems engineering lens,” says Shana, “I could see it as a network of multiple parts that needed to be optimized and restraints that had to be removed. Everyone wants the best treatments at the lowest costs. But they’re currently out of synch. At any point, what’s the right treatment? Which is the right setting? Who’s the right provider? No one’s thinking about the system as a whole – and that’s the opportunity.”
Seeking a low-risk environment for high-level ambitions
After a stint at DaVita, a nationwide provider of dialysis services, Shana “got a broad understanding of the health care space.” The next step was a deeper understanding of the potential for health care technology. “Some people said I should I just go right into business. But I thought I could combine education and entrepreneurship together,” Shana says. “An MBA would be a low-risk environment for launching a start-up.”
Despite public perceptions of HBS as a school for consultants and corporate management, Shana says, she recognized HBS as the perfect place for her entrepreneurial designs. “I was impressed by HBS’ recent commitments to manufacturing and health care,” she says. “And with resources like the Harvard Innovation Lab (Harvard i-lab) and its connections to the Cambridge healthcare hub, it was deeply engaged in entrepreneurship. The Boston community is ideal – when you add HBS’ business perspective you get the best of all worlds.”
A launch pad of contacts, courses and creative tactics
Through her section, Shana met Arick Morton, MBA 2014, a student who shared her interests in health care and technology. “We did a white boarding session at the i-lab for an hour and came out with an early form of CareSolver.” Conceived as an online service platform, CareSolver (www.caresolver.com) gives informal family caregivers of aging loved ones access to customized care plans and provides them with education and resources on how to provide better care with less burden and lower cost.
Even in its nascent stages, CareSolver has attracted favorable interest. The i-lab has renewed CareSolver’s residency for a second successive term, and through the Rock Accelerator Award, the company won a $5,000 grant to test its beta model with potential users. By being part of HBS, Shana has had access to Harvard Medical School where gerontologists have helped her incorporate appropriate care pathways into CareSolver. “It speaks to the overall power of the HBS experience,” Shana says. The courses, too, complement her plans, with The Entrepreneurial Manager proving especially helpful in its ideas for creating practical revenue models. “I just wouldn’t get this complete tactical framework in isolation without HBS,” says Shana.