Today's entrepreneur: David West, co-founder and CEO of Proscia

Steven Loeb · October 28, 2021 · Short URL:

Great people are key to success. It’s hard to over-index talent.

Today's entrepreneur is David West, co-founder and CEO of Proscia, a company that uses AI to help pathologists to improve patient outcomes.

Proscia's platform is called Concentriq, and it allows diagnostic laboratories and life sciences companies to ingest, view, manage, and analyze images of tissue biopsies to power their data-driven pathology practice. Proscia's customer base includes 10 of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies, as well as Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Joint Pathology Center. Proscia also recently established a Computational Pathology Center of Excellence with University Medical Center Utrecht; as part of this collaboration, UMC Utrecht will deploy Proscia’s AI applications into its high-throughput workflows.

In all, there are now 5,000 pathologists and researchers using the Concentriq platform, including those in laboratories, research organizations, and life sciences organizations, which have seen between 13 and 21 percent efficiency and productivity gains over the traditional method of practicing of pathology.

The company raised a $23 million round of funding in December 2020, bringing its funding total to $35 million. Investors include Scale Venture Partners and Hitachi Ventures.

West is an entrepreneur and technologist with a background in computational biology. He co-founded Proscia in 2014, inspired by research at Johns Hopkins Medicine. He has been recognized by EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year 2021 Program, Forbes 30 Under 30, and Inc. Magazine as one of the top 50 Global Entrepreneurs Under 25.

He has a degree in Biomedical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University. 

I am a(n):


Companies I've founded or co-founded:


If you're an entrepreneur or corporate innovator, why?

I want to work on big problems that have impacted me and many others personally.

My favorite startups:

Benchling, Kernel, Upside Foods (FKA Memphis Meats)

Why did you start your company or why do you want to innovate inside your company?

We founded Proscia to fight diseases like cancer by changing the way the world practices pathology. For me, this mission is very personal – I’ve seen family and friends battle cancer with good and bad outcomes. I’ve always viewed cancer as a big problem for humanity, and as a technologist with a background in biomedical engineering, my passion lies at the intersection of medicine and technology.

I got involved in digital and computational (AI) pathology at Johns Hopkins almost 10 years ago. At the time, the field was much more of an academic niche. There was a well-established body of evidence demonstrating the potential of data-driven, image-based approaches to pathology – a discipline at the center of disease diagnosis and biomedical research but still based on microscopes and glass slides. We knew that we could use the data in tissue images to solve key challenges in medicine; however, the technology for unlocking and leveraging this data lacked a bridge to the real-world.

My co-founders and I set out to build this bridge. What started as a humble project has evolved into a rapidly growing company that is accelerating pathology’s digital transformation and changing the way we look at diseases like cancer. Today, our enterprise software platform powers digital pathology workflows at leading laboratories and more than 10 of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies, enabling the shift from microscope to image and from brick-and-mortar operations to a globally connected, data-driven paradigm. On top of this platform, AI applications help to streamline operations, reduce diagnostic subjectivity, and unlock new insights. This shift to AI-enabled digital pathology is helping to accelerate breakthroughs and improve patient outcomes – and we are proud to play a role in powering it.

What's most frustrating and rewarding about entrepreneurship/innovation?

Trying to make big change happen in any field – especially in a discipline like pathology that has remained largely unchanged in its 150-year history – can be like pushing a boulder up a mountain. It can be frustrating when others don’t see the potential of the change you’re trying to drive. In our case, digital pathology is opening entirely new possibilities, from remote collaboration to integrated diagnostics and the ability to leverage AI applications; yet many pathologists are comfortable with the microscope and have been slow to recognize this impact.

Over the past 18 months, digital pathology adoption has rapidly accelerated, partially in response to the pandemic. This surge has demonstrated its benefits unlike ever before and has put pressure organizations that have not yet gone digital to keep pace. It has been incredibly rewarding to watch this unfold and know that Proscia is now better positioned than ever before to continue advancing a standard of care that could impact millions of lives.

If you genuinely believe in the work that you’re doing, you’ll remain determined to drive change and stay motivated to keep pushing the boulder through the many valleys and peaks - or frustrations and rewards - that come along the way.

What's the No. 1 mistake entrepreneurs/innovators make?

Many entrepreneurs get stuck believing that their solution is the only way, or the best way, to solve a problem when every problem has multiple solutions. It’s a mistake to think that there’s only one way. If you’re not reasoning first principles, it’s going to become an issue.

What are the top three lessons you've learned as an entrepreneur?

  1. The role changes with scale. The faster your company grows, the faster the role changes. Adaptability is key. I’m reminded of a book by Matt Mochary called The Great CEO Within. This originally published as a Google document titled “From Founder to CEO,” which I find to be a more appropriate title. The book is tactical, but the message is deep: the tools for starting a company are different from the tools for scaling a company. It’s not a given that a founder can make the jump to CEO (or CXO). Many get lost in the chasm. In a founding-era day, there might be 10 important decisions to make. At scale, 1,000 important decisions need to be made. Making them all by oneself is a fool's errand. Scale means recruiting great people, empowering and entrusting those people, and setting a north star. That way, you can still make the 10 most important decisions and not get lost in the other 990.
  2. Great people are key to success. It’s hard to over-index talent. I’m very lucky to have colleagues who I can trust on a very deep level and who are extremely talented at what they do. This is especially important early on. The saying goes that A-Players attract other A-Players, and B-Players attract other B-Players and C-Players. Talent is either a positive feedback loop or a negative feedback loop.
  3. Momentum is everything. When you’re trying to knock down a really big domino, but you have to start with a small one, you need to determine a path between the two. Or else, you’ll never have the momentum needed to knock it down, or achieve your goal. The “master plan” for Proscia is essentially: 1) build software that enables the transition to digital pathology in a low-barrier market (life sciences / research); 2) use that momentum to help laboratories transition to digital pathology in a high-barrier market (the regulated diagnostic pathology vertical); and 3) layer data-enabled applications and services, which offer transformative value, on top of the software platform. There are many intermediary dominoes between those steps. Trying to knock down a big domino with one too small can stop the whole chain. This applies in all cases. Tesla, for example, did not start by mass-producing an every-man’s electric car.

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