Growth Story: Eric Fish of Lacuna Diagnostics
Welcome to our Growth Story series, where you’ll meet startup team members—either natives, boomerangs or transplants—in Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Eric Fish, Chief Medical Officer of Lacuna Diagnostics, a startup that offers digital pathology services for the veterinary market, reducing diagnosis time from days to minutes.
Where are you from? Are you a Tampa Bay native, transplant, or boomerang?
I'm originally from upstate New York and transplanted to Tampa. However, since New York, my wife and I have been all over the place. We're both veterinarians and both recently accepted jobs in Tampa. We've only been here a few weeks!
Tell us more about your role at Lacuna Diagnostics. What does a day in the life look like?
At Lacuna Diagnostics, I'm the Chief Medical Officer and as an early stage startup founder I wear a lot of hats. Much of my job involves reading pathology cases and reviewing the reports from the other digital pathologists on our team. We have a total of 18 pathologists in 4 different countries on our team that I help manage. My main goal is to provide quality assurance and that the pathology cases, received from customers, are completed in a timely fashion. I often review our case notification system to manage surges and urgent cases to ensure we get back to customers as quickly as possible, essentially managing the supply and demand. I also serve as the case management system expert and provide any technical support to both our team and customers.
Aside from those tasks, I also help weigh in on product development, research and development. Originally Lacuna Diagnostics started with one product, now we have three. While similar, they each have different iterations and hardware to operate. My goal is to work on streamlining these products to become less hardware dependent and more scalable with internet technology, as well as to innovate new products and revenue streams. When I'm not doing those tasks, I will support our marketing efforts by writing copy for our blogs and posting on social media. On the sales side, I talk with customers from a technical standpoint and as a medical professional on our diagnostic practices and the functionalities of our product. In turn, I'm involved in most client install calls and company meetings.
How did you get your career started and what challenges did you face along the way?
My career in business started in an interesting way because I had planned a career in academia doing veterinary research. I went to California to study to be a veterinarian and received my DVM in 2012 which was quickly followed by a pathology residency and PhD training in Auburn, Alabama. I joined the faculty at the Auburn University vet school and was dedicated to being on their research team. Through a series of connections, a consulting business fell in my lap in 2017.
One of my colleagues in Canada that I had worked closely with, Dr. Norm Lowes, owned a consulting business called CytoVetStat where he would provide pathology consultation to veterinary health professionals. His structure at the time was very ad-hoc. He would have clients scan or take pictures of their pathology results and other lab results to send to him via email or phone. He would then review them quickly and send back his findings through the same method. He approached me once his health began to decline and he was unable to keep the business afloat and asked if I would carry the torch. I was very passionate about the business he was doing, but had no idea how to run a business. Either way, I told him I'd do it.
From 2017 to mid-2018, I worked on CytoVetStat and grew it by 900%, servicing clients in Taiwan, Singapore and the US — some of which have now converted over to Lacuna Diagnostics. In late 2017, my work with CytoVetStat had caught the eye of the Lacuna founders, and they asked for my help on a proof-of-concept research study. At the time, the company had the bare bones of what Lacuna Diagnostics is today. They were still navigating product-market-fit, looking for seed funding, and fine tuning their business model. And ultimately the business I was working, was projected to move towards the tech innovation and integration they were working on. After helping out with an early proof-of-concept, I sold my company to Lacuna Diagnostics and joined as a co-founder.
How has this region shaped your career or startup journey?
I'm excited there is a diverse and vibrant startup community in Tampa Bay. I got plugged into this community by Vikas Bhatia, founder of JustProtect. He mentioned he was moving from Manhattan to Tampa and that he was connected with people here. He also mentioned how great the startup community was here and how organizations such as Tampa Bay Wave and Embarc Collective are here to support startups. Not only is the cost to start a business here lower than other established startup regions, but I believe resources like these provide a competitive edge and infrastructure to help startups go to market, get funding and succeed. Overall, I'm excited to have a community I can learn from, events I can go to and people I can commiserate with over the lows and celebrate the highs.
What tactical advice can you share from building your startup or career?
I think a basic principle is to be open to any opportunity that comes across your door. I certainly didn't plan to be an entrepreneur or a founder, but it found me and has been an amazing journey. I believe I'm a small part, by way of Lacuna Diagnostics, of the change happening in pathology in veterinary medicine. A lot of big companies see what we're doing, which is taking a traditional process and making it digital, and want to acquire us. It's exciting but also reassuring that we're moving in the right direction. What we're doing is changing the way pathology is done now and innovating the way it will probably be done going forward. Everything is digital now and being a part of this transition in veterinary medicine and pathology is amazing. I wouldn't be where I am if I had said no. Be willing to say yes and embrace the uncertainty, risk and fun.
Where do you see Tampa Bay next? How do you play a role in this future?
I would love to have a role in connecting the human health care companies in this region to other vet health care companies. There is a One Health movement that wants to holistically look at the health of all species to correlate similarities or differences in illnesses, diseases, prevention and treatment. I think we have a lot to learn from each other. IT has been slow to develop in the vet industry but advancing in human health care. Vet health care uses similar tech to human health care but ends up being much more expensive because of limited availability. Sometimes there are findings in each industry that can help the other. I think bringing them together would help close a lot of those gaps and allow us to improve care for both people and animals. I would love to connect with human health care companies in Tampa Bay.
Lacuna Diagnostics is headquartered in Fort Collins, Colorado. Coming to Tampa, I have the opportunity to build our virtual second headquarters here. I feel that being here and making Tampa Bay a home base, with the connections and community to support us, we will be super charged to get things done.
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