June 22, 2021
Aditi Borde, MBA, MHA, and Jacqueline Gerhart, MS, won a competition that was the first of its kind at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health back in November 2020. They received the top prize in the Gillings School Pitch Competition for their innovative idea to improve health outcomes for people who are diabetic that live in rural areas.
Diabetes is a growing problem that is responsible for a disproportionate share of preventable medical costs. There are more than 100 million people with diabetes or prediabetes in the United States, and that number is projected to triple by 2050. Diabetes also exacts an elevated toll on rural populations. Borde and Gerhart came up with a novel way to encourage healthy behaviors among diabetics, an idea that led to their winning pitch to create the Convenient Access for Rural Diabetes (CARD) program. More than six months out, we followed up with the team to learn more about what they’re working on and planning.
As part of the competition’s top prize, Borde and Gerhart won $3,000 worth of support from Bluedoor Group for the CARD program — a generous contribution from Lee Phillips, MA, who co-founded Bluedoor, a digital health consulting group, and serves on the Gillings School Advisory Council.
“Since the competition, we have been working with Bluedoor Group, and Lee Phillips has been incredibly helpful!” said Gerhart. “He has such a great knowledge of the payer space, and he has helped us identify and mitigate some of the biggest risks as we move towards making the CARD program a reality. Lee, along with consultants from the Small Business Technology Development Center we met through Gillings, has helped us refine our revenue and financial model.”
According to its creators, CARD is an incentivized lifestyle management program for rural, low-income diabetics. By enrolling diabetic shoppers at Walmart pharmacies, it will engage with many rural clients where they already shop. The program centers on wellness activities, such as health checks and getting prescriptions filled, that can earn participants up to $300 per year. These activities promote healthy management of the disease, and incentives will be paid for by insurers based on their cost-savings, making the program self-sustaining. Additionally, all of the wellness activities can be completed onsite at clients’ local Walmart.
“The Gillings Pitch Competition taught us that in the entrepreneurship space, your network is everything,” said Gerhart. “As I mentioned before, we wouldn’t have made as much progress as we have if it weren’t for Lee, whom we had the opportunity to work with as a result of our first-place win in the competition. In addition, he and other key leaders who served as judges in the competition have introduced us to subject matter experts and key stakeholders, which has been incredibly valuable. We met with every judge that we could following the competition to talk through their feedback in more depth, and those additional conversations following competition were incredibly helpful.”
Phillips expressed his faith in the team and support for their project:
“Aditi and Jacqueline have a big idea, noble aspirations and are tackling a major challenge in health care — how to engage the disengaged in their health,” he said. “They are discovering that the road for an entrepreneur is long and difficult, but I know they have the passion, determination and commitment to succeed in their endeavors. If it was easy, there wouldn’t be a problem to solve!”
Borde is a Gillings School alumna, having earned a joint Master of Healthcare Administration in health policy and management and a Master of Business Administration, and she now works at Deloitte. Gerhart is a joint doctoral student in pharmaceutical sciences at UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy and MBA student at Kenan-Flagler Business School, graduating in 2021. During the competition, they received expert coaching from Gillings School Advisory Council member James Hendricks, Jr., MS.
While planning the pilot for the CARD program, they’re keeping their eyes on the future and are exploring how the program can be scaled up to more people, and how the framework can be applied to other chronic diseases. They credit a culture of innovation at the Gillings School and their experience in the pitch competition with guiding their entrepreneurial journey.
“Ultimately, participating in the competition helped us realize that our idea could become a reality,” said Gerhart. “We are very invested in the program, so initially it can be difficult to put the idea out there in front of judges and an audience to potentially poke holes in the business plan. However, we have come to realize that participating in competitions like the Gillings Pitch Competition only strengthens our program and prepares us to pitch to investors. Our words of wisdom: get as much feedback as possible, from as many people as possible, as early as possible!”
Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at firstname.lastname@example.org.