by: Amee Kapadia
David West (2016, WSE, Biomedical Engineering) is changing the way cancer is diagnosed. In his sophomore year, West and two friends founded Proscia, a digital pathology company that uses artificial intelligence to analyze tissue samples and ultimately remove human bias from pathology. West and his friends entered an early iteration of Proscia into the 2014 JHU Business Plan Competition. We spoke to him about his experiences competing and advice he has for this year’s teams.
The origin of Proscia and West’s business acumen
In his freshman year at Hopkins, West was involved in developing a device that improved the sensitivity of urine cytology tests for bladder cancer. Working with John Kim (2012, WSE, Biomedical Engineering), West was brought onto the team to help handle the business side of the venture. He developed a commercial plan, competed in business plan competitions, and gained his first exposure to the steps required to commercialize a business. Although the company, Karcinex Diagnostics, didn’t succeed, West picked up valuable entrepreneurial skills and credits the experience for sparking his interest in digital pathology, which ultimately led to his dream job, CEO of Proscia.
How participating in the JHU Business Plan Competition helped West further develop Proscia
West and his team entered Proscia into the JHU Business Plan Competition in 2014, the same year they founded the company. He says that the commercial nature of writing a business plan encouraged him to think about the implications of his business idea, which was integral to Proscia’s development. Looking back, West realizes participating in the JHU BPC opened his mind to the business world and expanded the way he thinks about products from his engineering background. As an entrepreneur, West says that it’s easy to make classic mistakes like starting with a solution rather than a problem. West credits the JHU BPC for showing him that a business should be based on a big problem that is worth solving and will hopefully improve lives.
After submitting their executive summary to the competition, West’s team did not advance to the final round. Though they knew they had a great idea, they were disappointed they did not get the opportunity to pitch it. However, the team was anything but discouraged. West and his teammates continued to develop Proscia, enter competitions, and seek funding. In fact, West closed on his first round of financing during his graduation ceremony, two years later. Although they didn’t win, competing in the JHU Business Plan Competition helped West and Proscia develop their business idea and gain a deeper understanding of what it takes to commercialize.
One piece of advice West has for Hopkins’ student entrepreneurs
Wests hopes student entrepreneurs will not get discouraged by the challenges that come with thinking big. In business you often have to work on the big problems and see the big picture to drive value.
Registration opens for the 2020 JHU Business Plan Competition on November 18, 2019. Learn more at bpc.jhu.edu.