Scott Hultman (MD, FACS, MBA ’08) graduated from UNC Kenan-Flagler with a ready-to-implement business plan that served as the foundation for the new UNC Burn Reconstruction and Aesthetic Center. The center, which opened in the fall of 2012, has created a space for UNC Health Care to conduct cutting-edge burn reconstruction research and develop new burn scar treatments that are giving patients life-changing results.
Hultman, who has been a practicing plastic surgeon at UNC for 13 years, said that there was a strong interest in creating an aesthetic surgery center at the university as early as 2001. However, an original marketing analysis for the project predicted a whopping $20-million price tag that neither the UNC School of Medicine nor UNC Health Care had the ability to pay for.
“Everyone thought it was a good idea, but no one knew how to go to the next step,” said Hultman.
When Hultman entered UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Executive MBA Program in 2007, he was still carrying the idea for a new aesthetic center in the back of his mind.
“I thought, ‘Gee, if I could learn just enough to pull this off then we could maybe take another try at the center.’”
But it wasn’t until his last few months as an MBA student that a clear plan for the center’s development really began to take shape. While taking a class with Ted Zoller, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship, Hultman was selected to participate in Zoller’s “idea café,” a series of one-minute pitches on potential business ideas. Hultman put together a five-slide presentation outlining his concept for a burn reconstruction and aesthetic center at UNC, and his ideas were warmly received by both his classmates and Zoller.
“After the lecture Ted came up to me and told me ‘You know this is a really good idea. You really could do this,” said Hultman. “He said I think we can help you. I think we can focus your ideas and give you the extra push to make this happen.”
Although Hultman said he had never considered himself an entrepreneur, Zoller convinced him to enroll in his Soft Launch Entrepreneurship course the following quarter.
The course, which Hultman describes as the best experience he had in business school, asked students to divide into teams and develop a plan for a new business venture. Hultman’s health care-focused team opted to pursue his idea for the aesthetic center. Each week the class covered a different component of how to build a business from scratch, from financing to marketing to operations. When Hultman and his team presented their final business plan in front of an audience filled with local businesspeople and entrepreneurs, it was named “most likely to succeed.”
A few months after graduation, Hultman began to shop the idea around to leaders in the health care system. His time at UNC Kenan-Flagler helped him refine his vision for the center and address several of the key problems that had held the idea back when it was first up for review a decade ago. Perhaps most importantly, Hultman addressed the center’s massive price tag. In order to avoid a complicated and expensive web of accreditation, regulation and licensing, the project had to be engineered in such a way that it could be legally classified as a cosmetic center, rather than an operating room. Due to legal restrictions that limit the budgets for projects without the operating room label, Hultman was faced with the challenge of designing a center with top-of-the-line technology and safety features for less than two million dollars.
“I designed this on a shoestring budget. I bootstrapped it, which is a concept I took away from business school – just using the resource that you have,” said Hultman.
By focusing on burn reconstruction, Hultman’s business plan also addressed some of the skepticism surrounding aesthetic centers that could have thrown a wrench in UNC’s support of the project. This decision helped silence critics who questioned whether common aesthetic center procedures, such as BOTOX injections, were in line with UNC Health Care’s teaching and research mission.
“The thing that everyone really liked about our idea was the fact that we brought in burn reconstruction,” said Hultman. “So we took in one of the things that we do really well here at UNC, which is burn care, and we embedded it into the heart and soul of this whole thing.”
The center handles high-risk burn reconstruction cases that private aesthetic practices are reluctant to take. These more complicated cases help move the burn reconstruction field forward, in addition to offering patients an invaluable service. Hultman is using laser- and light-based treatments to give patients that have suffered severe burns astounding results in both pain reduction and scar visibility. These emerging technologies are able to reduce the need for traditional invasive procedures, while also decreasing the cost of treatment and yielding outcomes that were previously unimaginable.
Hultman has combined this firsthand experience in creating a successful venture with his class notes from UNC Kenan-Flagler to write numerous articles on the business of medicine. With papers on topics ranging from the logistics of starting a laser practice to predicting malpractice risk, Hultman is sharing the lessons he learned during business school with fellow surgeons around the world.
“My time at UNC Kenan-Flagler has made me a better academic surgeon, a better researcher,” said Hultman. “I now focus on access to care, value and efficiency, in addition to clinical outcomes.”