Exact Sciences CEO Conroy Talks Growth, Foxconn, Startups & More
Kevin Conroy left a law firm job in his early 30s, right after he had just made partner, to work for a venture capital-backed startup in California called Outcomes.
The outcome was not what Conroy had hoped. About a year later, the business ran out of money and went bust. Even so, Conroy, now the 51-year-old president and CEO of Exact Sciences (NASDAQ: EXAS) never considered leaving the world of company-building to reenter the legal field.
“I think opening up a hot dog stand would be more exciting than going back and practicing law,” he told a crowd of entrepreneurs, investors, and others on Wednesday.
Conroy took the top job at Madison, WI-based Exact in 2009. The company’s flagship product is Cologuard, a stool-based DNA screening test for colorectal cancer. The test has been used to screen more than 1 million people for the disease since it went on the market four years ago.
Still, Exact has yet to turn a profit in the 23 years it’s been in business. Conroy said its long-term goal is to increase Cologuard’s share of the U.S. colorectal cancer screening market to 40 percent, from its current 2.6 percent market share.
Conroy spoke as part of Madwaukee Talks, a series of events organized by the Milwaukee Institute that features leaders of Wisconsin-based technology businesses. The talk, which also featured Daniel Lawton, co-founder and president of Milwaukee-based Promentis Pharmaceuticals, is part of an effort to strengthen the ties between Wisconsin’s two most populous cities.
After the event, Conroy talked with Xconomy about Exact’s past and future expansion plans, educating patients and doctors about cancer screening options, supporting entrepreneurship in the life sciences, and other topics. Our interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Xconomy: Looking back on the past nine years since you joined Exact as CEO and the company moved to Wisconsin from greater Boston, do you feel like most or all of the big things that had to go right went right?
Kevin Conroy: We didn’t know how many things had to go right. We thought willpower would help us identify the problems and solve them. It’s been a combination of hard work by a lot of people and good fortune along the way.
It’s an amazing thing now to see that we just had our 1 millionth person [tested]. Out of those 1 million, statistically about 7,000 likely have caught colon cancer. Statistically speaking, maybe 75 percent of them were stage 1 or stage 2 [cancer], which is eminently curable. We know that we’re having an impact, and giving peace of mind to the people who get a normal Cologuard result.
X: Supposing hypothetically that Exact isn’t involved in any major mergers or acquisitions in the next few years, do you expect the company’s focus to largely be on getting more doctors to learn about Cologuard and order the test, and also getting insurers to cover it?
KC: Yeah. It’s deepening the understanding of Cologuard in the minds of physicians and consumers alike.