The Entrepreneurial Cadaver

Last Updated Jan 11, 2008 11:47 AM EST

The Entrepreneurial CadaverTrading in dead bodies and body parts probably isn't a glamorous profession--some might even view it as ethically squishy and, for many of us, emotionally squeamish.

But in our current way of teaching medicine, cadavers are a necessary training resource. They have to be procured from somewhere, and market forces (entrepreneurs) capitalizing on natural forces (The Grim Reaper) answer the need.

In a forthcoming article in the journal Social Science & Medicine, Harvard Business School professor Michel Anteby and research associate Mikell Hyman look at two entrepreneurial approaches to cadaver supply -- one a private venture, another run by an academic group. The research looks at how the two institutions differ in strategy, and the differences in the "product" they supply to medical institutions and companies

An odd area of study? Not at all. Market gray areas such as this are more prevalent than you might believe; think of the demand for babies fed by surrogate birth mothers and reproductive science. Anteby says we as a society (as well as business people) need to wrestle with questions around what constitutes organizational legitimacy and the kind of moral order we want to create.

Music piracy is one such area to ponder.

"We can think of the distribution of music and what kind of ethical markets we want to create, given options of illegal file-sharing and copyright infringement," says Anteby in an interview with HBS Working Knowledge. "Any arena where there are concerns that entrepreneurship would place us in a situation where we're not entirely comfortable."

Anteby concludes, "My hope is that facing these questions more fully will bring about more transparency, more data, and more collaboration across academic and entrepreneurial fields."

What market gray areas do you see, and are there legitimate opportunities for entrepreneurs in touchy areas where most businesses fear to tread?

(Cemetery image by Elaron , CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.