Headshot of Tim Harvey, CEO of Owl Peak Labs

5 Questions With Tim Harvey, Co-Founder and CEO of Owl Peak Labs

“5 Questions With…” is a weekly BioBuzz series where we reach out to interesting people to share a little about themselves, their work, and maybe something completely unrelated. This week we welcome Tim Harvey, Co-Founder and CEO at Owl Peak Labs.

Owl Peak Labs develops novel cancer screening technology. Under Tim’s leadership, Owl Peak Labs has successfully closed a $1.5 million seed round investment and added key talent, moving the company closer to achieving its goal of revolutionizing diagnostic imaging and making screening solutions available to traditionally underserved patients.

Tim is an Operational Partner with QDS Capital and has advised several startups, including Kentegra Biotechnology, RocketFrac, Digital Direct Infrared, ParaForge, and Digital Direct Infrared. He previously served as executive director at MKM Partners and held senior positions at Weeden & Co and Talton Capital Management.

Tim holds a B.A. from the University of South Alabama (where he captained the varsity football team…more on that below) and an M.B.A. from the University of Virginia.

1) Please introduce yourself to our audience by looking back at your education, training, and career.

I have always been passionate about impacting people and being an agent of positive change. I’m most in my element when taking on the most challenging opportunities. During my academic, athletic, and professional career, I have been at my best when driving towards a higher purpose and mission. Healthcare technology at the bleeding edge is an incredibly important and challenging space — we love it.

I was born and raised in Chicago, IL, and was in full pursuit of becoming a professional athlete. That desire expanded as a high school student at Loyola Academy in Chicago, where great coaches expressed how important quality leadership is to the overall team success.  

The opportunity to pursue college athletics presented itself, and I was ready to take on the challenge of being a student athlete at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, AL. I was undersized and overlooked, which was a welcome challenge as I was tasked to build the foundation of a new division 1 program. Great coaches and incredible teammates drew the best out of me — it was an honor to be named captain and help foster success both on and off the field.

After football, I was looking for a job that was as competitive and fast-paced, so I thought finance was the best of both. After one year, I was already working on early-stage ideas of my own, leading to years of working with young companies to help foster growth. During that time, I worked in capital markets on both the buy and sell side, did some acquisition integration, and helped launch new internal business lines. Seeing how the investors and the market worked through their valuation assessment never told the complete story. My general knowledge base and outlook on both efficiency and execution were crafted during my time on wall street, but I had a genuine drive to find new ways to create value. 

I decided to lean into bolstering my academic work, including a stop at Northwestern University for a post-baccalaureate in finance, and years later to UVA’s Darden School of Business. It was at UVA where I met my co-founder and launched Owl Peak Labs while completing my M.B.A. Working to better understand the complexities of healthcare would be a key component of our leadership, so I went through the MIT program for drug and medical device development to continue to bridge the gap. Nothing truly prepares you for every situation, but knowing the strength of our team, and how many analogous situations I have seen throughout my career, I work to leverage both traditional and non-traditional levers for the best outcome using the information we have at the time.

Getting involved in some consulting work with a biotech company in Kenya further confirmed my passion for improving preventative medicine and patient outcomes. Owl Peak Labs is growing, and it has been rewarding to see our vision become reality. 

2) Tell us a bit about the work Owl Peak Labs does. What inspired you to start this business?

I’m proud of the fact that we are a mission-driven company. Our mission is to revolutionize diagnostic imaging and save lives by leveraging novel technologies that detect cancer early. Everyone in our organization, including our partners, are bought into the mission, which helps us achieve tremendous results with a small team.

Colorectal cancer is known as the most preventable but least prevented form of cancer because there are so many pain points for patients to get screened. And with the new CDC-recommended screening age lowered to 45, millions more people are eligible for screening. There simply aren’t enough gastroenterologists to perform colonoscopies on such a large patient population, and other at-home screening methods are inconvenient or unworkable for millions of people.

That’s where we come in.

The technology we’re developing uses thermal imaging to power alternative screening modalities for colorectal cancer that are more effective and efficient than screening methods on the market today. Our goal is to create a product that solves key pain points in the value chain so that more patients can catch colorectal cancer early and get the treatment they need.

3) What made you want to start a company in Charlottesville, VA, and how is the area supporting Owl Peak’s growth?

The idea for the company actually came to Dr. Taison Bell and me while we were Executive M.B.A. students at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. Every Global Executive M.B.A. student takes at least four international trips with classmates, and we were on our trip in Europe, specifically Berlin. All night, we talked about promising technologies that, with the right research and development, the right team, and the right company built around it, could make a big difference in cancer diagnostics. That’s when we decided to start Owl Peak Labs.

We started the company in Charlottesville, Virginia, because it has so many resources critical to success for young companies like ours. Talent, a supportive community, and a thriving life sciences sector are all in Charlottesville. We worked with CvilleBioHub, a local organization that brings together other life sciences companies and leaders, from the beginning. The city and the community have been critical to our success. The life sciences sector in the region continues to grow right alongside our company, and that’s exciting.

4) As we put the previous year behind us, what was, in your opinion, the most meaningful milestone of 2021, and what are your hopes for 2022?

In 2021, we reached several milestones that we have been striving to achieve for over two years. 

We completed the first real-world study of our product prototype. This was a pivotal moment for our company, and I am so proud of the team. Our Chief Science Officer, Dr. Abigail Pape, did a masterful job bringing our clinical sciences partners and the rest of the Owl Peak Labs team together. The data from the study will drive product development throughout 2022. It’s also incredibly validating to see scientific data for a product that was only an idea when we first started Owl Peak Labs. 

In addition to continuing to develop our cancer diagnosis technology next year, we hope to continue growing our team and completing several other studies. 2022 is shaping up to be the best year yet for Owl Peak Labs.

5) We heard that you were a college football player at one point in your life – not something you commonly see in biotech CEOs! Are there any similarities between playing college football and leading a startup?

The rumors are true! I played Defensive Back at the University of South Alabama and briefly (emphasis on briefly) tried out for NFL teams. It feels like a lifetime ago, but my experience playing football shaped who I am as a leader and prepared me to work with a team to overcome challenges.

I learned it’s better not to panic when things don’t go as planned. In football terms, that means waiting to see the play develop before committing to your move. In business, sometimes you have to let ideas develop over time without interfering. 

Another example is when the defense breaks down, but you did your homework, you are more prepared to make a play. In business, that would be a form of creative problem-solving. Making sure my team at Owl Peak Labs has all the tools they need to accomplish tasks is a priority. 

In both sports and business, there’s a competitive angle that really meshes with my personality. I try to ask hard questions and push my team to do the same. How can our company win? How can we build the best team that reflects the same populations we are working to serve?

Sometimes the answers to those questions change on a weekly, or even daily basis. But we’re always moving the ball downfield to achieve our goal of fundamentally changing diagnostic imaging for patients.

Want to learn more about the growing biotech hub in Charlottesville, VA? Check out our recent coverage on CvilleBioHub, and be sure to check out our previous “5 Questions With…” segments!