/publications/career/2006/Careers_2006-02/Careers_2006-02_3147

WEST GOES EAST TO CLAIM TOP PRIZE IN PHARMACY BUSINESS PLAN COMPETITION

Author: Rick Ngo

FOR THE TEAM FROM PACIFIC, WINNING THE National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) 2005 Pruitt-Schutte Live Business Plan Competition was the culmination of a lot of hard work, collective ingenuity, and good chemistry. John and Michelle Ortego still debate which of them first thought of the idea for a business that would combine an apothecary and day-spa under one roof. What no one is debating anymore is how that idea would be accepted by judges who were to pick the top 3 of 27 nationally submitted proposals, and then rank those first, second, and third, based on their respective teams? live presentation in front of between 200 and 300 pharmacists and students at the 2005 NCPA Convention.

?I had known for a year that the idea was a foundation for the plan I wanted to formalize and enter into the com petition, so it was always there in the back of my mind?finding time between studies was the main obstacle to getting anything down on paper,? says Ortego. That was until the 2005 winter semester at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif, when Amy Keller, Jarrod Mills, Jennifer Russell, and John Ortego found themselves sitting closely together in an elective course taught by Ed Sherman, PharmD, called Opportunities in Pharmacy. The course only had one assignment?other than a 5-minute talk each student was required to give during the first week of the semester?which was an outline of a business plan to be presented and submitted for a final grade. ?I approached the 3 people from class I knew I wanted to work with on the business plan for the competition,? says Ortego. ?They were all busy and involved students holding various offices with ASP [the American Pharmacists Association?s Academy of Student Pharmacists]?plus I had noted all of them to be strong public speakers.?

TThe 4 would have lunch together soon thereafter at the Pavilions in Sacramento, where Ortego would show them the location and surrounding area in order to get them as excited as he was about the plan?s potential. They divided work on the business plan into segments suitable to each of their particular strengths and/or resources, and pieced it together over the course of the next 12 weeks. They unanimously agree that Dr. Sherman, whom they all call ?Ed,? was an invaluable resource and key to the success of their business plan. It was through him that they were connected to an expert on pharmacy insurance, a banker to assess the financials, and a businessman seasoned in writing plans for health care ventures?all who evaluated and provided feedback on the final draft. Ortego says, ?It was the people Ed put us in touch with that really helped us get our plan fine-tuned and water-tight. On our own, I am not sure we would have made the top 10.?

But, make it to the top 10 they did, then the top 3, and finally to number-1. ?This was Pacific?s first full year, in as long as anyone at the school can remember, that we have had an active NCPA chapter,? says Donald Floriddia, PhD, tenured faculty of 38 years and dean of student and professional affairs at University of the Pacific, ?so they really did surprise a lot of people.?

Now that the dust has settled and the team has had an opportunity to reflect on participating in the competition, they are finding that an immeasurable amount of experience in leadership and time management has been gained, and a newfound understanding for teamwork has developed. ?I can honestly say that it would not have mattered whether our team had won the competition or come in dead last. Simply working with a group of professionals that have the same ideals as yourself and who are as dedicated not only to developing a quality concept, but to learning about the intricacies of business ownership and management, changes your perspective on practice. The only people who can boast that they have experience like this are the few who took the steps to represent their respective universities and participate in the competition,? said Mills.

The team feels that the melding of concepts from very different perspectives may inspire others to do the same. ?We started with what many would have perhaps considered to be a far-fetched idea. Once the 4 of us sat down and began to integrate all of the different concepts we each had, the image was further shaped into a business that truly reflects the personal and professional perspectives of each of us as individuals. The picture of this pharmacy would look quite different in the absence of our team?s collective vision,? says Keller.

In speaking with these 4 soon-to-be pharmacists, it was easy to see that they are enthusiastic about future pharmacy practice. When asked about advice that they would give other students looking to prepare a business plan for the competition, they had plenty of suggestions. They said starting early and establishing reasonable short-term goals for each member of the team is crucial. ?If the team members are overloaded with tasks early on, they run the risk of burning out,? says Russell. Meeting regularly and setting a specific day and time to meet each week was also important for Pacific?s success. ?We cannot stress how important it is to allocate a reasonable amount of time to tackle work that requires the entire team?s input. If you estimate that you need an hour, plan on 3 to 4. If it is a day, schedule the entire weekend. We found this out early on, and it still posed a difficult challenge for us, since we are all currently on clerkship,? said Mills.

And last, but certainly not least, the Pacific team suggests constant review and evaluation from outside sources. ?All of our hard work would have landed us in the bottom of the competition if it were not for input from our advisor and various experts that were consulted to assure that we were both reasonable and accurate with our projections. Being clear and accurate is a huge advantage, as the judges will not be forced to draw conclusions or make assumptions regarding your plan,? says Mills.

Pacific looks forward to challenging the nation?s other pharmacy schools again by participating in the business plan competition next year. As for this year?s winning team, they are all excited to see how their approach to the development of their business plan will influence the growth of the competition and team?s ideas in the future.

Mr. Ngo is a PharmD candidate at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif, currently on clerkship rotations.