William Zhang, Contributing Photographer

The Trumbull Head of College House hosted a college tea with biotech entrepreneur Mark Silverberg ’90 on Tuesday about the “pearls and pitfalls” of transforming innovative ideas into a business.

As an undergraduate at Yale, Silverberg was a student in Trumbull College and went on to attend medical school at the University of California San Francisco. He currently serves as the director of pediatric ophthalmology at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and a volunteer clinical instructor at the University of California Los Angeles’ Stein Eye Institute. He is also a volunteer for Surgical Eye Expeditions and has performed eye surgeries in Kenya, India, Fiji and Vietnam.

In addition to practicing medicine, Silverberg also successfully ventured into entrepreneurship and invented Upneeq — the first FDA approved and non-surgical treatment for ptosis, which is when the upper eyelid droops over one or both eyes. This condition can limit or completely occlude vision, and occurs when the muscles that raise the eyelid are not strong enough to function properly.

“Healthcare and innovation are symbiotic and a natural fit for each other because healthcare lends itself to innovation,” remarked Silverberg.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, ptosis can be acquired at birth or acquired in adulthood, the latter being most commonly brought on by age. In most cases, ophthalmologists can correct ptosis through eyelid surgery for both children and adults, with the goal of improving vision

However, not everyone is a candidate for surgery.

Upneeq, invented by Silverberg, is an eye drop that contains oxymetazoline hydrochloride or a combination of oxymetazoline and phenylephrine as active ingredients. Oxymetazoline is the same drug found in the nasal spray Afrin, but is formulated to be safe for long-term use in Upneeq. This contracts the Müller’s muscle — a muscle which helps to open the eyelid — to widen the eye.

Upneeq has also appeared on the cover of Vogue for providing an awake and alert cosmetic effect, given that ptosis can cause an appearance of sleepy or tired eyes. The drug creates a lift that lasts about six hours and occurs within minutes.

In his talk, Silverberg described three entrepreneurial projects he engaged in during his time at Yale College. In accordance with the title of his talk, he presented a “pearl” and a few “pitfalls” for each. For example, Silverberg started a singing telegram service, with the pearl being his “unbridled enthusiasm” and a pitfall being that this venture was not in his area of expertise. 

He then shared his innovation journey with Upneeq, starting with a goal in 2010 and a commitment to “listen to the patient and solve an unmet clinical need.”

Silverberg is no stranger to pivots, having majored in philosophy at Yale College. During his talk, he touched on his engagement with the liberal arts at Yale, given the University’s strong reputation for the humanities, and reflected on his own experience as a liberal arts major.

When asked by an audience member how his liberal arts background helped with studying medicine, Silverberg replied that “it makes you a better doctor … and it gives you a depth of humanity you can’t get from a chemistry textbook.”

Cara Chong ’26 said that she had previously been trying to decide between pursuing a humanities or more medicine-focused major, but that this talk “helped [her] commit 110 percent in majoring in the humanities and the arts.”

Silverberg further engaged attendees with a call-to-action, emphasizing that the next generation of graduates will be leaders who will come up with new ideas on how to deliver better healthcare.

The talk appealed to students from a wide range of majors. Caleb Samson ’25, an ethics, politics and economics major, said that he “learned a lot about the entrepreneurial spirit and to be strong in the face of adversity.”

When asked how it felt to be back at Trumbull College as a speaker at Trumbull Tea, Silverberg replied that it felt “fantastic.”

“This was a dream of mine; I remember when I was an undergraduate going to teas and hearing these speakers and being so inspired and awed by the accomplishments of the alumni … I feel so grateful and fortunate that I have something to share,” Silverberg said.

Noah Silverberg ’26, who is considering a pre-medical educational track, described it as “a cool feeling” to see his father presenting at their shared residential college, a generation later.

The Trumbull Head of College House is located at 100 High St.