Essense Medical – Roberto Reif, PhD ’08
In his winning business plan presentation, Roberto Reif, PhD ’08, spoke of a revolutionary way of diagnosing colon cancer. Instead of the traditional, invasive method of conducting a tissue biopsy, Dr. Reif’s business, Essense Medical, sought to bring a new method to the market—an optical biopsy. Through the use of lights and a laser-pointer type of device, Essense Medical could potentially diagnose colon cancer patients without ever having to puncture the colon.
“The idea was to bring this practice out of my research lab and into commercial products,” recalls Dr. Reif. “The final two years of earning my PhD were dedicated to this research, and figuring out whether this could become a viable business. It culminated with the ITEC Business Plan Competition.”
With the help of ITEC’s Peter Russo and Beth Goldstein, Dr. Reif was paired up with MBA students to help build out the business model and ultimately, his winning presentation in the competition. One lesson from the competition that resonated with him was the feedback his team received concerning their research.
“We had the least inflated numbers,” Reif recalls. “What we were proposing seemed to be fairly realistic, and based on the response we received, that amplified our case to bring Essense Medical to market.”
After winning the competition, the company started to gain serious interest from the venture capital community and, as Dr. Reif remembers, this forced his team to get serious about starting the company. Essense Medical received initial funding, which led to the hiring of a CEO who could handle business operations and facilitate raising venture capital money. But unfortunately, for Dr. Reif, the struggles and hardships that come with starting a business were all too real.
“The economy was shaky in 2008, and my involvement in Essense Medical only lasted until the end of the summer. I had to get a paying job which, unfortunately, meant leaving the company.”
Dr. Reif went on to work in program management at Microsoft. He is now continuing his focus on biomedical engineering as a post-doctorate research fellow at the University of Washington in Seattle.