Coffee with a Purpose

Rotating through the endocrinology department as a resident physician at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia, Larry Istrail ’05 met a patient with a rare condition called a “pheochromocytoma.” This abnormal growth of cells in the patient’s adrenal glands leads to an excess of adrenaline in the body, and the patient’s main symptom was “feeling jittery.”

Istrail immediately thought the description of the condition matched the sensation one feels after a strong cup of coffee, and the idea for Pheo Coffee was born.

Passionate about combining an interest in entrepreneurship with a mission to help the greater good, Istrail says Pheo Coffee offers him a creative outlet that isn’t available in the hospital setting.

“It started as a silly idea, but as I thought about it more I saw a path to a successful business I could run while finishing my residency,” he says.

Pheo Coffee sources from wholesalers who purchase coffee in a sustainable manner and offer a fair wage to coffee farmers. Istrail sells Pheo via an e-commerce website with built-in integration to shipping software that allows him to print labels, track inventory, and manage his business.

“Each package is put together by hand by our team and ground minutes before it gets shipped to preserve the freshness, which adds a lot of time to the process,” he says. “We also try to ship the coffee within one to two days of being roasted, as opposed to coffee you buy at the store which often times was roasted months prior. I think it makes an enormous difference in the taste.”

Each bag of Pheo Coffee also features the story of a historic medical figure or discovery, and through a partnership with Watsi, a portion of the proceeds go to helping fund medical care in developing countries around the world.

Istrail says his postgraduate year at Lawrenceville played a pivotal role in the direction of his career.

“My year at Lawrenceville was probably the most valuable year of my life. It was when I decided I wanted to become a doctor,” he says “It was when I was able to take classes like robotics or architecture that got me interested in creating products and building interesting things. It was really the first time in my life that I saw a future in academics.”

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