September 22, 2014
As an early stage company showing huge potential in the field of automated disease detection systems, IDx made a decision to locate its operations in Iowa City. The company is home to a growing network of people, 19 with direct connections to the University of Iowa. From summer interns to the CEO, UI affiliations are everywhere. IDx has provided both veterans and beginners with the opportunity to participate in an exciting high-tech startup culture in the heart of the Midwest.
The science of early detection of certain diseases—like diabetic retinopathy, diabetes, stroke or even Alzheimer’s—centers on capturing detailed images of the retina, which is actually part of the brain, Michael Abramoff, UI professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences, said.
By developing algorithms and better imaging technology IDx can speed up the diagnostic process and give primary care physicians the ability to more easily check patients for these diseases, saving time and money for doctors and patients.
Abramoff is the president and a director of IDx as well as the mind behind the technology that makes the company’s products possible. He came to Iowa from his home in the Netherlands upon receiving an invitation for a one-year professional development opportunity at the university. Later when the university offered Abramoff a permanent position the decision was an “obvious” one.
“[The University of Iowa] is a leading place in the world — the best ophthalmologists are here,” Abramoff said. “The credibility is huge, and being from Iowa opens many doors.”
After working extensively to refine the business plan, Abramoff pitched IDx to Gary Seamans, the namesake of the Seamans Center Engineering building and the current chairman and CEO of IDx, who at the time was retired.
Seamans’ connections with the Iowa ophthalmology department goes back to before his time with IDx. Fifteen years ago he joined the Wynn Institute for Vision Research as a founding board member.
“I knew them and I knew what they were doing,” Seamans said. “I was excited about it so I unretired and became the chairman and CEO of a company that is going to do spectacular things.”
When Seamans first arrived the office building housed two employees. Since then the office has doubled in size from 1,800 to 3,700 square feet to accommodate the growing number of employees.
“I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to stumble across such a great company in the middle of Iowa,” Warren Clarida, an R &D software developer and UI physics Ph.D. graduate who is originally from Rogue Rive, Oregon, said. “Seeing how the vision has grown into IDx is pretty remarkable.”
IDx has brought on two graduates and an intern from Iowa’s MBA program; a graduate and summer intern from theCollege of Law; multiple employees with masters, doctorates or bachelor’s of science degrees from the UI’sCollege of Engineering and computer science and physics departments; as well a UI post-doctoral fellow. One of their newest board members is Marty Carver, whose family has been the philanthropic force behind the Carver College of Medicine, Carver Hawkeye Arena and the Carver Not for profit Genetic Testing Laboratory in the Wynn Institute for Vision Research. Carver serves together with UI’s Abramoff, M.D., Ph.D.; Jim Folk, M.D.; Wall Street executive Stefan Abrams; Ambassador Howard Leach; and Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
The combination of a liberal arts school with both medical and engineering complexes sets the stage for successful women and men as business executives, Seamans said.
“The people who graduate from the engineering and medical side and the Tippie College of Business and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences have the skills and the leadership to make a company like IDx and be successful,” Seamans said. “This is gold. I have lived all over the country, including near Silicon Valley, and I’ll take this team any day.”
Not only are Iowa alumni good for IDx, but IDx offers a lot to recent graduates as well. Employees of new companies have opportunities to grow their skillsets in a way employees of big companies often lack, Talmage said.
“It’s always going to be the breadth. I have visibility to more areas than I would ever have anywhere else. I make decisions that affect things that I would never touch at a bigger company because there would be an entire department of 50 people that dealt with it,” he said.
At all levels employees are undertaking a broad range of projects to get products to market.
“I would say in eight months we’ve been exposed to patents, the business aspect, FDA protocol, study design, product quality management, prototyping and then developing a final product and testing it,” Ryan Amelon, an R&D software developer and former UI biomedical engineering Ph.D. student from eastern Iowa, said of himself and Clarida. “With a team of this size you see the whole product through.”
That same environment also allows for easier communication among employees at all levels.
“Having access to people here like Eric and Ben (executive vice president and chief operating officer) and trying to understand that side of the business, and then in a broader context having access to people like Gary, who has such an incredible history and strong knowledge about business is great. And Michael’s just brilliant,” Clarida said.
“It’s pretty neat to have the COO’s office next door and just be able to stop in and start talking,” Amelon said.
That is specifically the type of culture that Seamans is breeding within the office.
“What makes a company, wherever it is, is the culture and leadership,” Seamans said. “I would want to believe as a CEO and chairman that I kind of set a stage for a culture and an environment.”
For Seamans, a veteran in the business world, the draw to create something out of IDx had nothing to do with gaining experience.
“I wanted to do this because of what it will mean to the university and the people and to society,” he said. “I’m doing it for these people in this building and I’m doing it for this university. When they can point to this bunch of people from Iowa and say that they put this together and they’ve changed medicine, that’s the story that I want told about the University of Iowa.”
By: Haley Hansel