Friday, May 3, 2019
By Rebekah Tilley

Gary Seamans has had two moments of profound intuition in his professional life. The first was in the early 1990s and involved the introduction of DSL. The second was when he sat across from Michael Abramoff, MD, PhD, and listened to him describe how autonomous artificial intelligence (AI) could diagnose the leading cause of blindness without a physician’s input.

Seamans immediately saw the commercial potential.

“I remember telling him, ‘Michael, you should take this thing public,'” Seamans recalls.

Over a decade of efforts to get the technology into the marketplace would go by before Abramoff circled back to Seamans and asked him to come out of retirement to work “a few hours a week” as CEO of the company Abramoff decided to launch in 2010: IDx Technologies Inc.

“There is no company that can succeed without bringing together the right products, the right people, the right customers, the right financial drivers of the company,” says Seamans.

To find the right people, Seamans reached out to the Tippie College Department of Finance. Semester after semester, IDx gave teams of MBA and later Master of Finance students consultation projects as the company worked through each stage of the formidable process it takes to bring new medical devices to market. Along the way, it hired on those who demonstrated skillsets and passions that matched the needs of the growing company.

This included Benjamin Clark (MBA13), now president and COO, whom Seamans convinced to drop out of the Full-time Iowa MBA Program and complete his degree in the part-time program instead. As of this printing, four members of the IDx executive leadership team are Tippie alumni.

“There is something special about Tippie students,” says Seamans. “They are very smart people. They have a moral compass that points to true north. They have a work ethic that drives what they do, how they do it, why it's important to do it. When you bring people like that into a company, you do your best to support them and let them go run with their native set of skills and talent. That’s when magic happens.”

After the Food and Drug Administration granted formal approval to the IDx-DR diagnostic system in April 2018, IDx raised $33 million in series A funding to support its ability to scale and commercialize. After the series A funding round was completed in September 2018, IDx tapped Nick Viner (BBA07/MBA15) to join them as director of finance and controller.

“I knew I liked the people, the mission, and what they're trying to accomplish,” says Viner, who was part of an MBA consultant team during the company’s angel funding round. “Being able to be a part of something like that is hugely attractive. We’re working with the most forward-thinking institutions to bring a better treatment at a better cost base.”

The tradition of working with Tippie finance students continues on at IDx. In the fall 2018 semester, Levi Howze (MBA19) and Elisa Suarez Gil (MS20) were part of a student consultation team that worked to develop a financial model so IDx salespeople can quickly compute a potential client’s return on investment.

“It’s been a great opportunity to not only analyze numbers, but tell the story behind the numbers,” says Suarez Gil.

“The key was ensuring the tools were flexible enough to provide real insight and actionable recommendations about an industry as complex as the US health care system,” Howze adds.

“The consultation projects continue to expose us to some of that very special talent that exists in the business school,” says Seamans, who recently transitioned to the role of executive chairman. A small step closer to working the couple hours a week Abramoff originally promised him, made possible by a team of Tippie talent.

This article first appeared in the 2019 edition of Exchange, a magazine for alumni and friends of the UI Department of Finance. Photo courtesy of IDx Technologies Inc.