An Interview with the Students Behind Live-a-betes
In this winter’s 2012 China Business Plan Competition, the second-place winner was Live-a-betes, a plan for a comprehensive, educational learning platform for diabetics, pre-diabetics, and caretakers. Live-a-betes was first imagined by MBA student Angela Suthrave and developed with the help of her classmate, Marvin Yueh. The pair recently spoke to the Global Health Resource Center about diabetes education, dream jobs, and presenting their idea to an international audience.
GHRC: How did you first start working on this project together?
Angela: I came to business school with a desire to pursue social entrepreneurship because when I was working in diabetes education, I noticed a lot of people could not get the necessary resources for diabetic lifestyle management due to lack of insurance. I knew this was a problem that I could take steps to solve. It was during orientation that I had an opportunity to pitch a business idea to my classmates. I told the class that I wanted to create an e-learning platform that increased access to diabetes education and was customized to take into consideration an individual’s preferences, including language and culture. I was lucky enough that Marvin, who is a smart and driven individual, was interested in entrepreneurship and new media technologies. We paired up to work on a business plan competition, and we worked well together so it was natural for him to become my business partner.
GHRC: Give us the elevator speech for Live-a-betes.
Marvin: Live-a-betes is a comprehensive, educational learning platform for diabetics, pre-diabetics, and caretakers. Utilizing new media technologies, Live-a-betes will transform standard diabetes education to a personalized experience for each learner. We offer live sessions facilitated by certified endocrinologists, pharmacists, registered dietitians, and certified diabetes educators to guide our users through their journey. Additionally, we offer convenient access to our resources, as the service will be available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, anywhere our users can find an internet connection. Finally, Live-a-betes provides online community-building tools to assist our users in creating a supportive online environment for sharing tips and strategies with their fellow community members.
GHRC: Marvin, you presented the business plan for this company as part of the Robert H. Smith School’s China Business Plan Competition. Tell us about that experience. How was it different from other presentations you’ve given?
Marvin: The competition was a great experience. Angela wasn’t able to make the trip so I ended up having to pitch the business on my own. I knew we had a great idea addressing a compelling need in China, but the competition was definitely tough, both between the competitors from the Chinese Universities as well as my fellow competitors from UMD. Only two teams from UMD made it into the final round, and I was fortunate enough to do well enough to take second place. While this was my first competition at UMD, it wasn’t my first time competing in a business-related competition. I’ve participated in many similar competitive events throughout my high school and undergrad years. I don’t think I’ll ever not be nervous before a big presentation, but those past experiences definitely helped me as I took the stage. It was also great to meet business students from all around China; the competition was in English and it was very impressive to see all the teams rise to the challenge and effectively convey their ideas. Additionally, the competition was only one part of the whole trip, which also included visits to local companies and factories—to learn about what it takes to do business in China—as well as sightseeing and eating around Beijing, which is always fun when you’re with a group of your peers. All in all, It was a great experience overall and I am very thankful for the DIngman Center for setting up the program.
GHRC: Live-a-betes could obviously be useful in U.S. markets. Where else do you envision it will be used?
Angela: Based on our research in the China Business Plan and industry knowledge, we know that there is a huge need in China and India, the two countries with the largest incidence of diabetes. If our model works, we’ll definitely look into expanding into those two countries. Of course, the challenge will be how to integrate our business model with their medical system.
GHRC: Angela, why is this issue—diabetes prevention and management—so important to you?
Angela: I am a proponent of wellness through mind and body, which is why I studied nutrition. I am amazed by the way food and activity can alter our bodies. Therefore, I am passionate about diabetes because it is a disease that is largely preventable if the correct measures are taken, such as increasing exercise and eating more nutritiously. Additionally, once a person is diagnosed with diabetes, the disease is largely controllable by the same measures. Complications can be prevented with simple lifestyle management, letting diabetics lead long, healthy lives. It is a problem where people can achieve results if given the proper education and tools.
GHRC: I know you’ve thought about your post-MBA careers—in a perfect world, what would your dream job be?
Angela: I would be doing the same thing I am doing now: working on an initiative that can impact people in a positive way, creating a community to allow individuals to help one another, working with a team that I admire and respect, and having fun while being continuously challenged.
Marvin: This is a very tough question for me. My interests have always been varied and I tend to get involved in a variety of different activities, from working on Live-a-betes with Angela, to volunteering time as a Marketing/PR Director for local community arts organizations, to even teaching and mentoring student leaders. In the end, like Angela, I’d say my dream job is one where I am working with a great team and being challenged every day while doing work that interests me. I think that’s what drew me to the world of entrepreneurship to begin with.
GHRC: This interview will be seen by students in a variety of different majors and departments. What would you like them to know about MBA students?
Angela: As MBA students, we are taught to make decisions that maximize and optimize profitability. More and more of this means maximizing returns in the long run, which requires a long-term, and more importantly sustainable strategy. The Smith School of Business is actually in the forefront in this aspect with its Center for Social Value Creation (CSVC) leading the way and giving MBA students an opportunity to participate in applying business concepts to social issues. MBA students now come from a myriad of backgrounds, from medical counselors (like myself), to teachers, and even to the Peace Corps and non-profit sector. Many of us made the decision to pursue our MBA degrees in order to be able to address the issues that are important to us more effectively. I definitely encourage anybody trying to start a social venture or non-profit organization to contact the CSVC or Dingman Center in order to be put in touch with MBAs and advisers who can help bring a “business” perspective to the conversation. Furthermore, we recognize that other disciplines bring other aspects of the equation so we’re definitely open to hearing feedback and suggestions.
You can find more information about sustainable businesses and social entrepreneurship at the Dingman Center website.