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Dr. Entrepreneur

Pediatrician and FoundHer Fellow Ruchi Gupta created Yobee, a scalp-relief startup, to help her daughter.

Portrait of Dr. Ruchi Gupta
FoundHer Fellow Ruchi GuptaImage: Shane Collins

By Diana Babineau
Winter 2024

Ruchi Gupta could barely sleep through the night. Her infant daughter, lying by her side, had a severe case of cradle cap, a skin condition similar to eczema that causes chronic irritation and itching on the scalp. “I had to put her little hands in gloves, and she had to sleep with me because she would wake up so frustrated, wanting to scratch,” Gupta recalls. 

Desperate to soothe her child, Gupta tried using the only treatments available at the time: topical steroids and oils. But they made her daughter’s head greasy, and Gupta was skeptical about using strong chemicals on her baby. What’s more, the moment she stopped using the topicals, the cradle cap came back in full force.  

Being unable to help her daughter was unbearable, says Gupta, professor of pediatrics and medicine and founding director of the Center for Food Allergy & Asthma Research at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “It became my mission to find a better way to treat this.”  

That was 2006. Today, she can proudly say: Mission accomplished.  

Gupta and her husband, Tarun Jain, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Feinberg, are the co-founders of Yobee, a startup that makes an all-natural scalp mask that restores the skin’s microbiome and reduces flakiness, itching and redness. The topical scalp treatment is a blend of probiotic extracts, honey, turmeric and vitamin B12 — a mixture Gupta first concocted in her kitchen in 2008.   

The skin, Gupta explains, has its own microbiome, or community of microorganisms and bacteria. She suspected that cradle cap might be caused by an imbalanced or unhealthy microbiome — and that replenishing the microbiome with healthy bacteria might help tackle the problem at its source. Honey and turmeric, she adds, act as natural anti-inflammatories as well. 

After testing the mixture on her daughter’s scalp, “it resolved [the cradle cap] so well that [my daughter] only needed periodic treatments [with it],” says Gupta, who is also a clinical attending physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. It was so effective, she says, “I started giving it away in my clinic at Lurie Children’s.”  

In 2021 Northwestern’s Innovation and New Ventures Office (INVO) helped Gupta file a patent for the probiotic blend, and also awarded Yobee an N.XT Fund. In July 2021, Feinberg published an independent clinical trial, which showed that using Gupta’s mixture reduced scalp dryness and inflammation by 50% in two weeks.  

In spring 2023 Gupta was one of three women chosen to be part of the inaugural class of FoundHer Fellows, alongside Yevgenia Kozorovitskiy, associate professor of neurobiology, and Julie Kim, the Susy Y. Hung Research Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Hosted by the Querrey InQbation Lab, the program supports women faculty members at Northwestern who are first-time founders of entrepreneurial ventures. Fellows receive one-on-one mentorship, pitch presentation resources, networking opportunities and more.  

“Women aren’t founding companies at the same rate as their male counterparts,” says Lisa Dhar, Northwestern’s associate vice president for innovation who also oversees INVO. “So we established FoundHer to address this gender gap.” 

The program, Gupta says, taught her valuable entrepreneurial skills and allowed her to make dramatic advances in building Yobee. 

“There are a ton of great ideas out there just waiting to be discovered from women scientists at Northwestern. So to recognize that and to create something like FoundHer is just brilliant,” Gupta says. “It’s hard as an academic researcher and doctor [to] move into that world of direct-to-consumer products and startups. It’s very exciting! But it’s not anything you’ve been trained in.”  

This past summer, the FoundHer Fellows attended a networking event in Boston, where they pitched their startups to nearly two dozen venture capitalists and received feedback on their performance. 

“One of the best things I learned is how to turn your academic lingo and ideas into something compelling and easy to understand for consumers,” says Gupta. 

This fall Yobee expanded its offerings to include a shampoo, conditioner and body cream. Having developed products for children and adults of all ages, Gupta is now working on something for our furry household companions, too. “Expect itch-relief products for pets in the near future!” she says.  

Diana Babineau is senior editor & writer for Northwestern Magazine. 

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