Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ash Prabala of DVC – Providing ‘enabling technology’ to Life Sciences and BioTechnology OEMs

I’ve known Ash Prabala for about five years now. He started a company called DVC back in 1998 which previously performed consulting work in the area of scientific imaging for several years before identifying a key market in life science applications using digital cameras. I had the opportunity to catch up with Ash the other day.

What does DVC do?

We provide a combination of hardware and software to solve imaging problems in the life science area – primarily to key companies who OEM our product to enhance their solution. One example is a company which has the first (and only) FDA approved process of detecting and quantifying breast cancer through a routine, clinical blood test. The system utilizes DVC cameras and software to quantify Circulating Tumor Cells (CTCs) in a blood sample.

How did the market evolve?

Customers got tired of trying to use machine vision cameras for life science applications. Ten years ago, I saw customers take my cameras and apply them to new applications in life science. After a while the light bulb went off that there’s an under-served niche in the market – especially in fluorescent microscopy. My management team and I re-tooled our product strategy and we created OEM-friendly, feature-rich, modular cameras that were well-suited to Life Sciences OEM applications.

How is the growth?

We’re seeing steady and continuing growth. It started in 2005 after the 2002-2004 slowdown. During the down years we didn’t do what most other companies did – many tech companies chose to reduce head count, particularly in R&D. Instead we continued to invest in R&D. You can imagine how hard that is to do when sales are flat or trending down and you’re continuing to spend on R&D. But it paid off in 2005 because we had better products. We focused on the OEM portion of the market which grew faster than the end-user market.

How do you win against the competition?

We have better people than the competitors; in the Life Sciences niche, we have better products. We win most of the opportunities that we get a chance to bid on. Also, the product has to be high quality and we make that a priority. Our customers operate in the high-end of the market, and our quality processes have to be second-to-none.

How was DVC financed in the past?

We’ve done very well as a bootstrapped company. Our profitability and success is a validation of our strong business model. In my opinion if a business model is sustainable it should be able stand on its own and grow itself – at least up to a certain point. If it isn’t, all you’re going to do is take someone else’s money and throw it away at some point. That’s not the objective when you start a company. Our business model also imposes a strong fiscal discipline – and it is one that is embedded in the DNA of the company.Our conservative, disciplined approach helped us go through some tough times and ensured that we didn’t lose a single key person during the downturn. We still have them today.

How about for the future?

We are reaching the point where we are seeing large opportunities. We want these large orders but it’s difficult to fulfill them. Our average order size is increasing by a factor of ten. We have a technological need, but now need to convert that into a market lead. Having the team, the products and a proven, profitable business model will help us attract the right type of investment, to take the company to the next level.

Are you still in the same office?

One of the few privileges of founding a company is choosing the office location. I chose a building only a few minutes from my home near the old Motorola office in Oak Hill. We have outgrown our existing space, and will be seeking ‘flex space’ in the near future.

Best regards,
Hall T.

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