Enuma Ezeife cringes when she talks about some of the older methods of harvesting bone graft for surgery.
Not only are the procedures excruciating, but they can have numerous unintended consequences, including fracture of a patient’s femur, she says.
Although Ezeife, a second-year MBA candidate, had never worked in the biomedical field before, this past summer she eagerly accepted an internship educating surgeons about a new medical technology. Created by Farmington-based start-up Avitus Orthopaedics, one of UConn’s TIP companies, the new device offers an easier, faster, safer, and less expensive alternative to conventional procedures.
Avitus’ technology, which has received FDA approval, harvests bone graft through a small incision. Once hooked up to a suction device, it can typically acquire the needed material in a few minutes. The procedure is used to acquire graft and marrow for use in a range of orthopedic, foot and ankle, spine, and podiatry surgeries.
The grafting is also helpful to diabetics, whose injuries are slow to heal, and to people who have experienced a traumatic injury. The bone and marrow is rich in stem cells, which help the bones heal and grow.
“When people have health or physiological challenges, the last thing they need is a procedure that further complicates the problem,” Ezeife says. “Bringing an outstanding medical innovation to market that alleviates patients’ suffering and speeds up recovery makes for meaningful service.”
‘She Challenged Our Perspective’
“When we hired Enuma, we were already impressed with her entrepreneurship experiences in her homeland of Nigeria,” says Avitus co-founder and UConn alumnus Maxim Budyansky ’10 (ENG). “We never thought of her as an intern, and we found her to be exceptional throughout her time with us.
“We like to say we threw her off the cliff and told her to build the plane on the way down,” he adds. “She asked us great questions, she challenged our perspectives. Our interns formed an awesome team that exceeded our expectations.”
When Ezeife first met with Avitus co-founders Budyansky and Neil Shah, she was impressed by their innovation, and felt a passion for their product to succeed.
She says the most difficult part of her job was making ‘cold calls’ to surgeons’ offices and trying to getting past the office “gatekeepers.” She had to adjust her 30-second telephone pitch with each call, requiring her to think quickly. Typically, every sixth call would net an invitation to meet with a surgeon.
Even then, it would often take six weeks to get hospital approval to demonstrate the new surgical technique.
“I certainly learned that you can’t give up halfway through,” she says.
But once the surgeons saw the new technology and how well it worked for the patient and the physician, Ezeife says, for most the decision to adopt Avitus was a ‘no-brainer.’
“Enuma did an amazing job and had a big hand in building our sales this summer,” Budyansky says. “We’re now demonstrating surgeries in hospitals based on the leads that she established.”
Ezeife says her internship with Avitus was a very valuable experience.
“It was enriching to see a business strategy for a United States startup that was just going to market,” she says. “I saw what they were doing, how they were doing it, and what they were doing right.”
‘This is My Growth Phase’
Ezeife, who was born and raised in Nigeria, has always been interested in business. At the beginning of her career, she owned her own leather-goods trade company, which also manufactured custom jewelry. Next, she worked for four years as a commercial relationship manager for the nation’s largest bank, handling loans and risk assessments for her many clients, including oil companies and law firms.
“I wanted many experiences that would broaden my knowledge,” she says.
After much online research and many international phone calls, she chose UConn, sight-unseen, for her graduate work, where she is now a top MBA student. In addition to her strong background in marketing and sales, she is also sharpening her knowledge of finance and consulting.
“Now that I’m an MBA student, this is my growth phase,” she says. “I want to learn all I can, and eventually hope to own my own business again.”
She says the second-year MBA classes are even more challenging than the first-year. “Everyone is more serious, and our work is more complicated. We are learning about mergers and acquisitions, business law, negotiations, brand strategy and so much more.”
Ezeife says UConn has been a great choice for her. In addition to traditional skills, the MBA program has included classes in organizational behavior and communications, which will supplement her knowledge.
“One of the things I will take with me from my MBA experience is the tremendous enrichment that I received from the people I’ve met,” she adds. “I’ve made many valuable relationships here. Where I’m from, they say that your value is based on the people you know, not the money you make. Friends are the mark of your wealth.”