An alumnus translates medicine for investors.
Reda Jaber's parents never read about his work until he made the cover of Forbes in 2016. It's not because they weren't proud of their son, who earned an M.D. and an MBA from U-M in 2014 and two years later was on Forbes' 30 Under 30 list. It's because they don't speak English. Jaber's parents are Lebanese immigrants who had moved to the U.S. by the early 1980s. The cover story was published in Forbes Middle East, so they were finally able to read about their son's accomplishments in their native Arabic.
"I still don't think they understand what I do," he says. "They assumed I was going to be practicing medicine." Though you won't find Jaber in a hospital or clinic, the work he does is still patient-centered. Jaber began his career at the venture capital firm IncWell, where he had a hand in early-stage investments in companies such as Vivid Vision, a virtual reality solution for amblyopia (aka "lazy eye"). At that time, Vivid Vision was "basically a couple guys with a virtual reality headset" that created a game that tricked the player's brain into strengthening the weaker eye.
Jaber reached out to U-M optometrist Joseph Myers, O.D., who helped advise the firm on this investment. Since IncWell's initial investment, the company has raised a lot more money, moved to California, and deployed the technology in more than 350 eye clinics worldwide.
Being connected to medical experts is one benefit of Jaber's time at the Medical School. Another is his ability to translate medical concepts for investors. "Medicine is sort of its own foreign language," he says. "There's a lot of really great research and technology that's sitting on shelves at universities." Jaber sees professors create presentations for their peers that are "packed full of data and graphs and medical jargon … but how do you bring that out to a general audience?"
Enter Jaber, who is fluent not only in medicine but also in business lingo, a skill he learned early. Growing up in Dearborn, Michigan, with parents who didn't speak English, "My brother and I started handling adult matters for our parents early on," he says. They helped their parents navigate the health care system from an early age, in addition to handling business matters like helping with taxes and fielding calls from telemarketers, translating it all so their parents could understand the key points.
Jaber's family continues to inspire his work. In the same month Jaber graduated, a family member donated a kidney to his dad, a procedure that was done at U-M. Since then, Jaber has had a particular interest in nephrology. "Breakthroughs in medical technology and biofabrication are opening the doors to rebuilding kidneys and kidney care standards from the ground up," he says. "The core technology behind a dialysis machine hasn't really changed much in the last 40 or 50 years."
It will, though, if Jaber has anything to do with it. In 2019, he started Tubular Ventures, a startup advisory focused on advancing innovations in kidney health. This summer, his group of "strategic players" made their first investment in XenoTherapeutics, a clinical-stage, cell therapy company focused on overcoming the significant shortage of organs and tissues for transplantation.
His nephrology projects are only one part of his work. He recently accepted a Director of Innovation position at Emergent Holdings Inc., a group of companies that make insurance products, technology solutions, and services to improve health and safety. Prior to that, Jaber was the Senior Director of Operations and Clinical Development at Ocuphire Pharma, a private biotech company in Farmington Hills, Michigan, that develops drugs for ophthalmic disorders. Thanks in part to Jabers contributions, Ocuphire recently announced a merger agreement that has put them on track to go public on Nasdaq, and investors have promised more than $21 million to the company.
You might still find Jaber walking around campus, where he serves as an advisor to various innovation initiatives across the Medical School and Business School. Jaber also frequently volunteers his time helping fellow entrepreneurs navigate the local venture capital ecosystem. He especially loves to hear pitches from practicing physicians who are interested in learning how to commercialize their ideas or inventions.
For example, last year he helped Arash Javanbakht, M.D. (Residency 2015), assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Wayne State University School of Medicine, with an augmented reality platform that Javanbakht invented and patented. The platform helps administer exposure therapy for phobias and other anxiety disorders. Jaber gave him advice on getting funding, setting up a company, working through an option agreement with WSU, and recruiting a team. Now Javanbakht's team is starting to commercialize their product and pitching it to venture capital funds.
On top of all that, he's the father of two kids, ages 1 and 3. One might wonder how he manages all of his responsibilities. "I wake up a little earlier and go to sleep a little later," he says. "Parenting is definitely my priority." Jaber notes that companies are allowing more flexibility for employees like him, who are caring for both children and parents. The morning we spoke, he had woken up at 4 a.m. to drive his mother to Michigan Medicine for a doctor's appointment.