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Tippie MBA Students Help Iowa Lions Eye Bank Plan for Continued Growth

The Iowa Lions Eye Bank (ILEB) has seen phenomenal growth in the last five years, and a group of MBA marketing students in The University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business is helping the agency assess its current position and plan its future.

The students are working with the ILEB to develop a marketing and branding plan as part of a project for a marketing class taught by professor Tom Gruca. The ultimate goal is to bring greater attention to the eye bank and help more people across Iowa who have eye disease.

"We want to get the word out about the Iowa Lions Eye Bank so that more doctors and hospitals can help us save the sight of more Iowans," said Katie Charter, ILEB’s director of donor development.

The Iowa Lions Eye Bank is the primary organization in the state for procuring donated corneal eye tissue, assessing it for transplant, and transporting it to the surgery location. While it’s a part of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics' Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, the eye bank works statewide to collect and transport donated eye tissue and help arrange surgeries. It also works with agencies in other states to provide tissue if no Iowan needs a transplant.

The eye bank has seen both donors and transplants increase significantly in five years. Charter said the agency had 620 donors in 2005 and 941 in 2009; it facilitated 664 transplants in 2005, which jumped to 1,244 in 2009. Staff has increased from 10 to 18 and the Eye Bank Association of America reclassified it from a middle-sized eye bank to a large eye bank, unusual for an eye bank from a state as small as Iowa.

With all those changes, Charter said eye bank officials decided they needed to examine its public identity.

"We've been around since 1955, and we’ve never stopped to assess our relationship with our stakeholders," Charter said.

Tara From, a second-year MBA student who is participating in the project, said the three-student team is conducting focus group interviews with doctors and hospital officials to determine the public perceptions of the eye bank, as well as with ILEB staff members.

She said the eye bank is starting with a good reputation, which makes branding easier. It also uses an innovative procedure to secure eye tissue from donors that no other eye bank uses. From said the process makes it easier for surgeons to transplant the tissue and makes recovery time shorter for the patient, which is a competitive advantage a plan can be built around.

From said the students’ work scope will include the basics of any branding and marketing campaign, such as development of key messages and analysis of its existing communications. It will also include more abstract activities.

"We asked the staff members that if the ILEB was a person, what kind of person is it," From said. Surprisingly, she said the three focus groups all came back with the same answer - a 40-something, well-educated professional male with an active lifestyle who drives an SUV.

The project team also includes second-year MBA students Fred Kopecki and Katy Lyon. From said the group will present its final plan to the eye bank near the end of the fall semester.


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