John Bottjer ’81 is changing how doctors detect skin cancer.
by Mary Seymour ’80 | photo by Sharon Kay
John Bottjer ’81 has a way of getting under people’s skin. He’s not a pest, mind you. His propensity to focus on the dermal region is purely professional.
John is president and partner of 3Gen, a manufacturer of state-of-the-art dermatological products. The company is hot, thanks to its DermLite line of small, handheld devices that allow dermatologists to detect skin cancer and other lesions by sight. Their biggest seller right now is the DL3, a multifeature dermatoscope small enough to snap onto an iPhone.
DermLite’s success stems from sobering statistics: Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. More than 2 million Americans are diagnosed annually, and one in five will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.
“I’m incredibly proud to have built a company that’s changed how dermatologists practice medicine and saved many lives by detecting melanoma while it’s in treatable form,” John says. For John, the road to success was paved with hard work. In fact, when asked to describe himself in five words, he chooses only one: hardworking.
John majored in biology at Rollins, where he met his wife, Lauri McIntosh ’82, then headed to New York City to work as a pharmaceutical rep. At night, he attended Pace University to get his MBA, with the end goal of running his own medical product business.
After a decade of selling electrosurgical instruments, John bought Geiger Medical Technologies in 1995. He and Lauri moved the company from New York to California and immersed themselves in the world of thermal cautery.
While working at a dermatology show in 1996, he met Nizar Mullani, a professor from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Nizar signed on to help John design a circuit board for a new cautery device. An art student named Thorsten Trotzenberg agreed to design the packaging.
“While the three of us were working on the cautery project, Nizar showed us a device he’d been working on for many years,” John recalls. “He’d obtained some [National Institutes of Health] grants to develop a unique device for looking at skin lesions. We formed a new company to develop this technology in 1999.”
And so 3Gen was born. When the company introduced its first DermLite product at an American Academy of Dermatology meeting in 2001, John and his partners left with enough orders to make the company profitable. “We’ve never looked back,” says John.
The Today show has featured DermLite’s products, and Martha Stewart used a DL3 to check out her moles on air. In fact, this type of consumer body check is the wave of the future, as evidenced by DermLite products popping up on Amazon. “More and more patients will be imaging their suspicious lesions and emailing them to physicians for analysis,” John says. “Currently this is limited to high-risk patients, but the trend is moving toward the general population.”
John and Lauri remain a tight business team, though she reduced her involvement in 3Gen after their daughter Kendall was born in 2000. Lauri, who earned her law degree after moving to California, helps 3Gen with all legal matters and serves as a sounding board for future strategy.
As president of 3Gen, John travels the world (more than half of DermLite’s business is outside the U.S.), making frequent presentations at dermatology shows. He treasures the time when he can relax at home—at least as much as a hardworking guy can relax. On weekends, he walks his dog on the beach, passing sun-worshipping tourists who may be in a dermatologist’s office someday. Odds are the doctor will be examining their skin with a DermLite device, and John’s work may just save their lives.