Teaming up to drive healthcare innovation

Story of service • Worldwide • March 2012

How can we address unmet patient needs related to chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) through smart, innovative healthcare delivery models? That is the challenge question developed by a global team of volunteers from IBM and Novartis as they collaborated to design and deliver the NCD Challenge Competition for the world’s leading universities and business schools.

Illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma and diabetes are a global growing health concern with a far-reaching impact on the world’s healthcare systems. According to the World Health Organization, nearly two-thirds of all deaths, amounting to some 35 million per year, occur due to NCDs and almost 80 percent occur in developing countries. IBM and Novartis sponsored the competition working with academia to encourage the creation of new solutions that could make a difference to this worldwide health epidemic.

Charlotte Newton, IBM’s Chief Innovation Officer for the Novartis Integrated Account, explained, “The teams at each university were recruited by flyers detailing the challenge and both students and faculty were encouraged to participate. We engaged IBM and Novartis volunteers to mentor and coach the teams.” The original brief encouraged big thinking, asking for innovations around Awareness, Technology Enablement and Disease Management. The university teams came up with the innovative solutions in the competition that ran from 16 June to 16 December 2011, with the winners’ Award Event in February 2012. IBM mentors offered the depth of their experience in the technology industry while Novartis volunteers contributed business model expertise in the pharmaceutical industry. Topic specific coaching was also provided to the teams through pre-recorded webinars.

IBM volunteer mentors encourage the creation of new innovative healthcare solutions.

Fourteen university teams competed in the challenge. Mentors helped the core team shortlist eight solutions for assessment by a panel of seven judges from IBM, Novartis and external organizations. The two winning teams were selected in an exciting “Dragon’s Den” event where the teams made a three minute pitch to the judges and then had to answer penetrating questions that probed the feasibility of their ideas.


University of California Berkeley, Haas School of Business, was the NCD Challenge competition winner for the developing world with 2Vidas, a pharmacy-based membership program for low-to middle-income pregnant women to slow the growing diabetes epidemic in Mexico.

William Yartey, an IBM mentor for the 2Vidas project, described his volunteer involvement, “I facilitated communication between the student team and the IBM/Novartis organizing team, and managed access to a Gestational Diabetes expert for the team. It was wonderful being part of team of young people looking to make the world a better place by finding a solution for diabetics among pregnant women.”

“What was so special about this competition was the level of mentorship from IBM, Novartis and Haas and how it was so baked into the competition,” said Emily Ewell, leader of the Berkeley Haas team. “The breadth and diversity of experience, the level of commitment and how generous everyone was with their time were truly amazing.”

Dr. Diabetes

Esade Business School, Ramon Llull University, Spain was the winner in the Developed World category. Their innovative project, Dr. Diabetes, is a total solution for diabetes awareness, monitoring and management based on smart phone technology, designed for urban China.

“Everything about the NCD Challenge was wonderful, and will become my best memory during my MBA!” said Ching Chia Hsu, team leader from Esade. Feras Nagadi, also from the Esade team, added, “The collaboration between IBM and Novartis was amazing. It was a great learning experience.”

Although the competition is over, it has created many new relationships among all of the participants and provided a platform for new business discussions between IBM and Novartis. “Social innovation enables IBM to make a difference to the world,” said Charlotte Newton.

A complete list of all university teams and details on the competition can be found by visiting

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