Bilen-Rosas wins 2021 Equalize Med Tech pitch competition, encourages others to get involved

Guelay Bilen-Rosas, MD, assistant professor of anesthesiology, earned a top prize in the 2021 Equalize pitch competition hosted by Washington University in St. Louis and wants to encourage other female faculty to pursue entrepreneurship. She won the medical technology category for her pitch on a monitor that health care workers can use to identify respiratory issues in patients early.

Bilen-Rosas is an academic and entrepreneur with a passion for raising awareness about the lack of female representation in the field of entrepreneurship and venture capitalism. She has been heavily involved in the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) and UW–Madison’s Discovery to Product initiative.

Guelay Bilen-Rosas, MD, assistant professor of anesthesiology, presents at Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) Innovation Day in 2019
Guelay Bilen-Rosas, MD, assistant professor of anesthesiology, presents at Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) Innovation Day in 2019. Photo courtesy of WARF.

“The goal is improving the culture of entrepreneurship and making it more inclusive,” she says. “In the medical technology space, there’s still less than 3% of women who get venture capital funding, and less than 1% of minorities.”

The Equalize program, which began in 2020, is one of only a few in the nation designed to close the gap for females in this area, she adds. She learned about the program from WARF and applied and was selected to be part of the second cohort from a national pool of applicants, which consisted of 12 female scientists, six researching in in medical technology and six in therapeutics.

The program consists of classroom sessions with experts from different areas of industry and entrepreneurship and pairs participants with a mentor to prepare for the competition. Bilen-Rosas was matched with Bill Perry of Hybridge Medical, who has 25 years of experience in start-ups. The pair worked to perfect her 10-slide, 10-minute pitch.

“You have to learn to leave your academic mindset behind,” Bilen-Rosas says. “And think more about: What is the problem? What is the need? Why am I solving it and how? How will the financials and commercialization aspects work out? That is not something we are taught in academia but is essential to translating our scientific findings into applications.”

At the competition, held virtually, she took the top prize in the Med Tech category. Bilen-Rosas was the only competitor in the category from a public university.

Her lab is aiming to develop a respiration monitor that can be used to identify early respiratory complications in a patient. It would allow them to be proactive in intervening or changing treatment plans before a patient develops grave complications.

“It would be a patch on a patient’s neck that uses ultrasound to quantify respiration,” Bilen-Rosas explains. “It would allow health care workers to make meaningful decisions early.”

Bilen-Rosas has also been part of the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program, which uses experiential education to help researchers gain insight into business and entrepreneurship. She says she is the first clinical faculty member and first female in the history of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health to be accepted into the program.

She says these opportunities help her bring back expertise and value to the university and her laboratory, furthering her research and mentoring abilities.

“I-Corps was another great opportunity that I also encourage others to look into,” she says. “We aren’t going to close the gaps that exists without actively working at it. I love that we can encourage people to think big, dream, and create something.”