There are thousands of different, not to mention disgusting-looking, skin conditions out there that all look similar to one another. It can be difficult to distinguishing skin issues.
LuminDx, a digital health startup that recently graduated from Techstars Boston and was part of MassChallenge Boston last summer, is looking to cut through the noise of figuring out what condition or disease a person might have through visual search.
LuminDx’s Founder and CEO Susan Conover sat down with us to discuss the story on how she got started, how their easy-to-use app differentiates diseases, and advice she has for other first-time founders.
Colin Barry [CB]: It’s always interesting hearing the background of a first-time founder. What was the inspiration behind the company?
Susan Conover [SC]: When I was going for my Master’s at MIT, my thesis was focusing on problems with identifying skin cancer. I talked to a lot of patients, primary care doctors, and dermatologists to get a wider view of the field. I learned many primary care doctors misdiagnose skin conditions, for example, the word “rash” is used to describe hundreds of different diseases.
I was diagnosed with melanoma when I was 22. My mom found it on my back. A lot of things had to go right in order for me not to need chemotherapy. I’m grateful for the care I received, but it was a scary time for me, being in my 20s and not feeling like I had control over my own health.
My master’s thesis at MIT helped me understand this issue further and refine the product and business model to get where we are today.
CB: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a first-time founder?
SC: I think the hardest challenge is figuring out what to focus on within the next month and what is going to move the needle.
Think of it like this; you have many things you could be working on, but there is 10% of things that will significantly move your company forward within the next month. On the other side of it, you have 5 to 10% that could potentially kill your company and those can be not paying attention to payroll or filling out the right paperwork for your product that requires FDA regulation. Between both of those, is all the rest of what you could be working on. The challenge is identifying the 10% of things that need to get done.
One of the best things about being a part of Techstars is forming personal relationships with all the other founders and mentors in the program. We have CEO roundtables every week where all the other Techstars CEOs get together and share problems with one another and how we can tackle them. I didn’t understand the benefits of this until the program. Investing in personal relationships has been part of my own 10% of high priorities.
CB: How does the LuminDx platform work?
SC: You simply upload a good picture and enter other information about yourself and your health history. When the user submits this, our AI and machine learning algorithm identifies the most visually similar conditions. From there we help users connect to appropriate medical resources.
CB: AI and machine learning are some of the most popular forms of technology with tech entrepreneurs. Do you, and the rest of your team, have experience with it? And how long was the development process on the application?
SC: We have an AI expert on our team, Josh Joseph, who got his degree from MIT, and he built the core model.
As for the development process, it’s a mix of technology and business pivots. We pivoted away from melanoma for a variety of business reasons. Since then, we’ve been building out our datasets to focus on this problem. Eventually, I would like to address skin cancer, because delayed diagnosis is still an issue.
CB: You’ve been a part of Techstars and MassChallenge. What is some advice you could give to an early-stage startup that is thinking of joining or applying to an accelerator?
SC: I think, as a founder, you’re always thinking about how you can find resources to build out this idea you want to work on and accelerators are a straightforward way to do that. Last summer, at MassChallenge we had the opportunity to talk to the FDA and we brought in the former SVP of Marketing at Vistaprint and she’s now an advisor. The program has helped us connect to the community and get us out there.
CB: How did you come up with the name, LuminDx?
SC: The original name, back when this was just an idea at MIT was Illuminate. However, it’s a common word that you really can’t own or copyright, but Lumin was a root of that. And “Dx” means diagnosis in the medical world.
And LuminDx.com was available!