After graduating from The University of Michigan with an MBA in Finance and Corporate Strategy, Tony Ruben, Illinois native and CEO of Blue Halo BioMedical, moved to Milwaukee to be an investment banker. He played a leading role with a telecom start-up that was acquired by AT&T for $130 million. In 2000, Ruben moved to Florida to become CFO of Compass Knowledge, a pioneer in distance learning.
From 2000 to 2019, Ruben served as CEO, President, CFO and COO of dynamic public, private and PE-owned companies in a variety of industries including software, technology and healthcare. Through his various roles, Ruben was instrumental in establishing and executing corporate strategy, raising capital, optimizing profitability, bringing new concepts to market and maximizing opportunities for shareholders and the community at large. In February 2019, he – along with three other founders – founded Blue Halo for the sole purpose of revolutionizing the catheter market; a market that has remained virtually unchanged since the Foley catheter was introduced in 1935.
“The founding group consists of Dr. Gaines Hammond, Dr. Byron Hodge, Rogers Kirven, and myself,” Ruben said. “Dr. Hammond, a serial entrepreneur and Board-Certified Urologic Surgeon, invented the Blue Halo Coil Catheter as his legacy in addressing the infection and quality-of-life problems associated with traditional catheters. He partnered with Dr. Byron Hodge, an internationally recognized clinical researcher and Board-Certified Urologic Surgeon, to come up with the Blue Halo Coil Catheter, an insertable male urinary catheter that materially reduces infection rates and patient discomfort– allowing users to live optimized lives, and engage in typical activities.”
The IP-protected device, unlike a traditional catheter, does not require an external collection device. Through a proprietary design, the Blue Halo Coil Catheter has been shown to materially reduce the Catheter Associated Urinary Tract Infection (CAUTI) rate by fully draining the bladder; patient quality of life is dramatically improved. According to Ruben, the Blue Halo Coil Catheter has been shown to reduce the CAUTI rate by over 80%. CAUTI is a major global problem that annually kills 13,000 Americans and costs the US healthcare system $36 billion.
“Together, we form a balanced and motivated team of healthcare professionals and experienced entrepreneurs working together to eliminate pain and infection, while improving patient quality of life,” Ruben said. “Our product is a revolutionary new take on solving an old problem. Similar to how Tesla is revolutionizing the automobile – we’re revolutionizing male catheters!”
Ruben added, “Besides reduced infection rates and increased patient comfort, our catheter utilizes traditional catheter insertion techniques, meaning no additional tools or (beyond a short video) training are required for urologists and their team.”
Ruben shared that Blue Halo has developed a risk-minimizing, four step, business plan. The steps include securing the Company’s IP, re-confirming claims in an independent clinical trial, working collaboratively with the FDA to secure clearance for commercial sale, and achieving $10 million in run-rate sales.
“Raising money is always a challenge – along with working within the regulatory confines of the FDA – but we’re pleased with our progress,” Ruben said. “In addition to working with urologists, we’ve had conversations with hospital groups that are excited about our product. For many hospital systems, reducing Hospital Acquired Infections (HAI) is a huge priority. They view the Blue Halo Coil Catheter as a potentially highly impactful tool in the war against HAI. Every day that you’re in the hospital with a traditional catheter, your chance of infection goes up by 5%. Even for patients that are only in the hospital for three days, reducing the chance of infection by close to 15% is highly significant.”
“Our ultimate goal is to reduce unnecessary patient suffering and have our device inserted in as many patients as possible.” Ruben noted, “Our culture is to be both urologist friendly and shareholder friendly.”
What advice does Ruben have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “When I mentor other entrepreneurs, I tell them to partner with someone that knows the business side of the operation,” he said. “It’s good to know the product, but you need the ability to raise capital, establish a business plan and execute a marketing strategy. Find someone you trust who’s an expert in these areas and partner with them. Remember, you get investors interested through your product, but committed by proving a solid business plan.”
Ruben continued, “Also, don’t underestimate the importance of a good cash flow model. I’ve seen so many great ideas that are undercapitalized. My first job out of business school was with United Airlines and I was fortunate to work with the President. We had a surplus of cash and I naively provided suggestions on productively deploying the funds. He responded by saying, ‘today, we can borrow as much as we want, but inevitably there will be a situation negatively impacting air travel, and when that happens, we won’t be able to borrow a dime. You don’t keep cash on your balance sheet for the good times, you have it for the unexpected times’. That lesson has stuck with me throughout my entire career.”
In terms of business and entrepreneurship related resources, Ruben recommends the Freakonomics podcast as a great way to conceptualize certain concepts and to make sense of facts and statistics.