A Startup Weekend Experience: Teamwork & Innovation

Much of our research at Melior has shown that healthcare and technology are the leading industry sectors of the future. To speak on this topic, we’ve invited our first guest blogger to The Minds @ Melior, Deborah Wyse. Deborah is a project management professional with public policy and technology expertise.  An enthusiastic networker and eternal student, she enjoys connecting and learning in Philadelphia’s dynamic tech community.


What happens when 6 strangers work together for 54 hours to transform an idea for a health IT product into a business plan and demo? To find out, I participated in UP Global’s Philadelphia Startup Weekend Health 3.0, hosted by Venturef0rth, a co-working space for startups.

Several factors motivated me. I wanted to meet new people, learn more about the health technology sector and gain a better understanding of entrepreneurship. I finished the weekend with all that and more.

Organized by UP Global, Startup Weekends use entrepreneurship to inspire, educate, and empower. At the end of the weekend, a panel of judges evaluates the presentations. The winners receive a package of services and expertise designed to help launch their business. Philadelphia Health weekend’s grand prize was a fast track application for the health IT accelerator:  DreamIt Health Philadelphia; and a year’s subscription to Netrepid’s virtual private server hosting services.

The Process

At Startup Weekend, all attendees are welcome to pitch their startup idea in 2 minutes or less. You are the message – no props allowed.  However, no one is required to pitch an idea. At this year’s Philadelphia Health Startup, about half of the participants came with an idea for a health technology business.  The rest, myself included, were interested in learning by doing.

We listened to about 30 pitches and then voted to select the 12 top ideas for the weekend’s work. Team recruitment came next. Having sold their idea to the group, the 12 successful entrepreneurs worked the room to put together a team. The Philadelphia Health weekend attracted many people with business and health care expertise.  Developers and designers were in short supply and not every team was able to recruit this essential expertise.

The teams formed and went to work right away. Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, they created business models, designed web sites, coded prototypes, researched the competition and validated market demand. Established entrepreneurs in health care technology volunteered as coaches. They asked tough questions that often resulted in a project pivot.

At the end of the weekend, each team gave a 5 minute presentation to a panel of local entrepreneurial leaders – another opportunity for critical feedback.

The Outcome

I experienced the weekend as a member of the HouseKeeping team.  Our business plan was to create technology to support fast, easy, low-cost patient tracking. After 54 hours together, the HouseKeeping team agreed that we had created a winner.  Here’s what contributed to our success:

  • Breadth and depth of subject matter expertise:  healthcare provision, business, industrial and software design, and information technology.
  • A leader who accelerated team formation by being receptive to and aware of different personalities and work styles.
  • Diversity. Composed of three women and three men, HouseKeeping included undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate students and mid-career professionals.
  • Committed and adaptive team members.
  • Positive interactions with the coaches.


Our final presentation was dynamic, within time and included a demonstration video – with team members in the roles of patient and hospital staff – of the business concept.  To me, the applause sounded especially enthusiastic.  But when the results were announced, HouseKeeping did not come in first, second or third; two other projects shared an honorable mention.

After 54 hours together, the HouseKeeping team, 6 former strangers, agreed that HouseKeeping was a winner and that we had shared an amazing experience.  HouseKeeping’s creator has taken the concept to San Francisco and is working hard to grow the business.

Whether or not you consider yourself an entrepreneur, I highly recommend the Startup Weekend experience.  Bring an open mind, enthusiasm and a desire to learn.  You too can come away with a win!

Resources and Additional Information

HouseKeeping – callhousekeeping.co

Start Up Weekend – www.startupweekend.org

Lean Start Up Weekend – www.leanstartupmachine.com

Philadelphia Health IT Circle – www.phitcircle.org


A New Vision for Fairmount Park

Fairmount Park

We’d like to congratulate PennPraxis and the Penn Project for Civic Engagement for their work on “A Community Vision and Action Plan for East and West Fairmount Park,” a year-long planning process to make East and West Fairmount Park more accessible and enjoyable for all Philadelphians.

As supporters and frequent users of Fairmount Park, Melior is honored to have participated in this project and we are excited to see how Fairmount Park improves over the next several years. Visit Plan Philly to find out more about this project, the results of Melior’s community surveys, and details about the upcoming launch event at Smith Memorial Playground on May 13th.


Tapping Into the Voice of a Community

Voice of a Community

By Elisa Foster

Marketing researchers often refer the people they study as audiences, markets, populations, demographic groups and consumers. These categorizations are useful when conducting research for a particular product or industry. However, when you constantly describe people as objects and concepts it is easy to forget what they really are: humans. This is why we often like to think of the groups we research as communities. People are not just members of demographic groups – they live in communities with complex cultural traditions and social norms.

As researchers, it is important to understand the context in which people exist in their communities. Ethnicity, income, gender and age are not just demographic identifiers; they are the factors that make people unique. As Randy Bowden puts it on his blog, “Everyone’s different and different people are attracted to different things for different reasons.”

From couples shopping for engagement rings to high school seniors applying to college, we’ve studied an extremely wide range of communities. And each project demands a specific type of understandingWe’ve learned that when you take the time to understand a community and learn how to engage with that community, you get the most valuable information and insights.

For example, it was not enough to research the basic demographics and statistics of a city known for violence and a high crime rate. To truly understand this community, we had to delve deeper and ask more complex questions through focus group research.  Why did families move to this city? How do they interact with other residents?  How would they react if a crime took place in their neighborhood?

When we wanted to learn more about how mothers grocery shop for their families, we decided that an online bulletin board focus group would be the best way to understand how a community of mothers in a specific geographic region makes decisions about which products to buy.

Sometimes our work helps communities better understand themselves. Recognizing that its community was changing, a regional Jewish service association wanted to learn more about the people it serves and how to meet their needs. Melior worked with a network of organizations to distribute an online survey to community members. This method allowed us to reach as many people in the community as possible.

These examples highlight one of the keys to a successful research study: when research is tailored to the people being studied, the results will be more than data points and quotes – you will garner deeper insights and begin to hear the voice of a community.

Meeting Today’s Workforce Needs

Workforce needs

College administrators need to make strategic decisions to ensure that students’ educational experiences sync with employer and industry expectations.  Head over to University Business to read Melior’s recent article about preparing students for ‘real world’ careers.

When you’re finished reading, join the conversation by commenting below!  Do you think young graduates in your industry are prepared to enter the workforce?

The Season for Giving

Season for giving: holiday charity gifts

By Elisa Foster

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”  – Nelson Mandela

Maybe it’s the hyper consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  Perhaps, it was this touching New York Times article about the realities of homelessness in New York.  Or, maybe it’s because after the recent passing of Nelson Mandela I was overwhelmed with memories of volunteering in South Africa ten years ago.  Most likely it’s a combination of all of these things, but this holiday season I have a stronger than normal urge to give back to my community.

It started a couple of weeks ago when my local Ten Thousand Villages sent me an email about its Fair Tuesday event – 15% of the proceeds that day would go to Maternity Care Coalition, a friend and client of Melior.  So, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to stock up on some of their beautiful handmade, fair trade Christmas ornaments.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who felt the need to be charitable that day, which has also been declared #GivingTuesday.  According to Blackbaud, a nonprofit technology provider and #GivingTuesday partner, people gave over $19 million in online donations on #GivingTuesday, an increase of 90% compared to last year. While this year’s #GivingTuesday received more media attention and nonprofit participation than last year, Blackbaud’s CEO suggests this drastic increase in donations signals the beginning of a movement towards a more philanthropic culture.

Speaking of philanthropic cultures, Melior’s commitment to philanthropy continues to thrive.  Throughout the year, Melior employees volunteer, serve on boards and make charitable contributions to support a number of nonprofits and charities – and we’re proud to recognize some of these organizations here:

If you’d like to extend the spirit of the holidays beyond #GivingTuesday, I encourage you to donate or volunteer your time to your favorite organization.  For suggestions in the Philadelphia region, check out the organizations listed above and see our round-up of giving and volunteer opportunities below.  Hopefully, this will be our first step to maintaining the spirit of giving throughout the New Year.

If you have suggestions for additional giving opportunities and programs to support, please add them in the comments section below!

Holiday Giving Round-Up

You think they don’t know you, but companies have never known you better…

Invisible Customer, very valuable to companies

By Reshma Bennur

It is easy to believe in this world of impersonal online transactions that companies you buy from don’t really know who you are – they don’t recognize you by face or voice.  The truth is companies have never known their customers better.  Companies might reduce customers to account numbers, lumped in a database with several thousand other account numbers – but with one click, they can access or buy all sorts of information about a customer – purchase history, personal information, financial credibility.

Business sense dictates that companies that have the wherewithal to gather all this “private” information, use the data to further their financial gains – use it to predict future purchases, identify cross sell opportunities and inform marketing initiatives. While gathering customer data is effective when used for marketing, it only works well when customers don’t know this strategy is being employed.

Take the recent example of Target – the big box store swamped select customers with discounts and coupons on baby products.  These were not customers who had babies or baby registries, but customers whose purchase behavior indicated that they could perhaps be pregnant. Target conducted extensive data mining and predictive analysis to identify who these customers might be.  Not surprisingly, customers reacted negatively – it disturbed people to think that Target somehow thought they were pregnant. Customers felt manipulated, spied on, and angry.

When Target became more subtle in its marketing efforts, continuing to promote baby items to select customers, but this time intentionally mixing up the ads for baby items with ads for unrelated items (like ads for a lawn mower next to coupons for a crib), customers no longer felt spooked. And they happily used the coupons.

Customers want to believe that the discounts, coupons and privileges they are being offered are a reward for their loyalty, not a result of calculated purchase predictions.  In Melior’s research on the invisible customer, we learned that only 9% of customers value receiving customized recommendations of products/services of interest, while 50% of customers value receiving discounts and coupons on products and services.  Why? Customized recommendations are considered akin to “selling” – making customers wary by highlighting the fact that their behavior was tracked, analyzed and used for possible financial gain.  The same recommendations repackaged as discounts and coupons are seen as a benefit – as a special opportunity to buy.

So in the enthusiasm to implement marketing strategies based on data mining and predictive analytics, keep in mind that customers want to feel valued for their loyalty not openly targeted for promotions based on their behavior without feeling that the reward came with a price – no longer being “invisible” to a marketer.

Holiday Shopping Update: And the Winner is…The Internet!

Online Shopping is an important part of holiday shopping

By Susan J. Levine and Elisa Foster

Last week, we asked you to take a quick poll about your plans to go shopping on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.  While a large majority of those who took our poll said they would not shop on either day, retailers lured big crowds into the stores with aggressive marketing and steep discounts.  The National Retail Federation estimates that a record 141 million people took advantage of the holiday sales over the four-day weekend that began on Thanksgiving and ended on Sunday.  For many Americans, Black Friday shopping – and recently Thanksgiving Day shopping – has become a holiday tradition. We all know families who finish Thanksgiving dinner then immediately start planning their trips to the local malls and standing in line outside of big box stores.

However, “the economy spoke loud and clear over the past few days,” according to the CEO of Belus Capital Advisors.  People flocked to the stores, but they didn’t spend much money.  Shoppers spent an estimated 1.7 billion dollars less than they did last year and physical stores saw their first decline in spending on Black Friday weekend since 2009.

While brick and mortar stores suffered a decrease in spending, consumers flooded the Internet over the weekend and on Cyber Monday.  In fact, Cyber Monday shopping increased by 18% compared to last year.  And notably, mobile shopping (from smartphones and tablets) accounted for 30% of all online traffic.

This drastic increase in online shopping and use of mobile technology is a sign of the times.  Americans across age, income and ethnic lines are becoming more comfortable conducting business and making purchases online.  For instance, in a recent survey conducted by Melior, 70% of respondents said they pay bills online.  The increasing success of Cyber Monday is just another sign that technology and online shoppers (a.k.a. Invisible Customers) will continue to impact our economy in future years.

Now that we’ve talked about holiday spending, it’s time to focus on holiday giving.  Stay tuned for our update on Giving Tuesday and how we can all give back this holiday season.

Black Friday: The Super Bowl of Consumer Research and Take Our Poll!

Holiday Shopping on Black Friday

By Susan J. Levine and Elisa Foster

Do you know someone who works in consumer research or retail marketing?  They’re probably in a frenzy right now because this week is the Super Bowl of consumer behavior research: Black Friday.  For the past several weeks, we’ve been hearing and reading endless stories about who will shop, when they will shop and where they will shop on Black Friday.

However, this year’s Black Friday is special as more retailers are opening on Thanksgiving Day.  With this increase of stores extending their holiday hours, everyone wants to know how this year’s shopping behaviors will impact how we celebrate holidays in the future.  Is this the end of Thanksgiving as we know it?  Journalists and bloggers are using stats to “prove” many, and often contradictory, points:

Let’s continue the conversation!  Please take our 2-second poll about YOUR consumer behavior and pass it along to your friends.  Then, stay tuned for our follow-up post next week to find out what really happened.

[polldaddy poll=7599123]

[polldaddy poll=7599130]

The Healthcare X Factor: Easing Anxiety over Provider Choice & ACA

healthcare decisions and provider choice

By Elizabeth Cohen

In our marketing research for healthcare providers, I continue to be stymied by the same contradiction:  Why is there such a disconnect between healthcare preferences (e.g., which hospital would you prefer for a certain service line if needed), and actual healthcare usage (which hospital did you use when you or a loved one needed care)?

In our work for healthcare providers, we spend a lot of time trying to determine how consumers make decisions about their care for specialty healthcare services, so that our clients can plan marketing strategy and messaging appropriately.  We ask questions such as, “if you needed a referral for healthcare services, how important are the following characteristics in your selection of a provider?”  Additionally, we explore the kinds of information and resources that consumers say they would turn to when making healthcare decisions.

We get a lot of sensible information from these lines of inquiry, both in qualitative and quantitative forums.  Most consumers say that if they needed additional care for a specific condition they would conduct research using the internet, consulting sites such as hospitalcompare.gov or healthgrades.com; and/or they’d ask their friends.  In  sum, they’d really take a considered approach to determine where to go.  They say that their doctor’s recommendation would be only one factor among many to consider.

However, when we change the question to “take me through your decision-making process the last time you needed specialty services,” the answers change dramatically.  Despite the ready availability of information online and from friends, the majority of consumers immediately say that they went where their doctor told them to go…even if they actually believed that someplace else provided better care for that need. 

What’s going on?  Why are intentions around healthcare decision-making so different from actual behavior?  I believe that part of the answer lies in behavioral science.

Healthcare, by its very nature, is a negative purchase.  Though it might help us to get and feel better, we wouldn’t need it if our health was fine in the first place.  (Contrast that, for example, with the purchase of a candy bar or a vacation, which are all about enhancing pleasure – icing on the cake.)

So…how do we feel in a doctor’s office?  Anxious.  We’re there because something is, or might be, wrong with us or a loved one.  A close doctor friend of mine always talks about “white coat syndrome,” which causes some patients to experience elevated respirations, blood pressure or heart rate simply because they are in a doctor’s office.

I believe that it is this very anxiety that can, to a certain extent, explain the contradiction between what consumers say they will do and what they actually do when faced with the need for specialty healthcare.  As demonstrated in a series of experiments by Francesca Gino of Harvard University, and Alison Wood Brooks and Maurice E. Schweitzer of the University of Pennsylvania, “…by eroding self-confidence, anxiety motivates individuals to reduce uncertainty and both to seek and to rely on advice from others” (click here for the full PDF article).  In other words, when a doctor gives a referral, most patients and families are not in the best frame of mind to be able to say, “thanks for your opinion, but I need to go home and do my research to determine where is the best place to go.”

What does this mean for our healthcare clients?  First and foremost, it necessitates acknowledgement that the consumer behavior model for healthcare is quite different from “positive” purchases.  And, with the shaky launch of the Affordable Healthcare Act – complete with political drama and technological disappointments – consumers have even more reasons to feel anxious today than in the past.

For those larger healthcare systems with the full range of service lines, this anxiety and resultant willingness to rely on a doctor’s advice may, in fact, have positive implications for keeping consumers within the system.  However, for smaller community or specialty hospitals with weak (or nonexistent) ties to a healthcare system, the marketing priority remains referring physicians, whose recommendations to anxious patients and families will often be greeted with acceptance.

Please join the discussion in the comments section below!  Acknowledging that healthcare is often a negative purchase that can be fraught with anxiety, what does this mean for consumer marketing of healthcare services?

When Life Gives You Lemons: The Power of Social Media Marketing

A bowl of lemons - turn them into lemonade by using social media marketing

By Sindey Dranoff

As a lifelong Philadelphia-area resident, I consider myself pretty well cultured – I keep up with the growing restaurant scene, I purchase theater subscriptions, and I regularly attend performances at music venues in the region.  Yet, until earlier this month I had never attended a Philadelphia Orchestra concert – and if it wasn’t for social media I would still be an Orchestra wannabe.

The Philadelphia Orchestra was scheduled to perform at Carnegie Hall on October 2nd, but because of a labor strike the concert was cancelled at the last minute – let’s call that the lemons.  The Orchestra leadership quickly decided to offer a free pop-up concert for the people of Philadelphia – the lemonade!

How do you let an entire city know that their world-renowned orchestra will be performing a free concert at 6:30 that evening?  You use social media and email marketing, then watch what happens – in this case, the Kimmel Center had a full audience.  How do you let the rest of world know the concert was a success?  You do something usually frowned upon at a performance: encourage the audience to take out their cell phones.  At the end of the concert the conductor asked the audience to take pictures and videos and let everyone know about the concert and the Orchestra on social media.

This is a great example of how marketers and market researchers can capitalize on the success of a viral campaign – the Philadelphia Orchestra was able to attract a new audience (including myself).  We already know that social media is an increasingly important tool in market research.  As the technology to track and monitor social media advances, researchers have increased access to meaningful, up-to-date information.  And, what could be more meaningful than media created and distributed by audiences in real time?

The Orchestra’s use of social media points to a valuable opportunity for organizations and researchers:  encouraging audiences and customers to engage with a product (or performance) and document their experiences can produce a wealth of information.  Furthermore, there are endless possibilities for organizations to use this information to enhance and support their marketing initiatives.

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