When Robert Lord cofounded Protenus with Nick Culbertson in 2014, it required choosing to put medical school on hold.
After six years and plenty of growth at the Fells Point-based healthcare analytics company, Lord is returning to Johns Hopkins this month to complete training to become a physician. With that move, he will transition from a day-to-day leadership role to chairman of the board. The transition has been in the works for several months, and his responsibilities were apportioned across the company in that time.
“Every founder dreams of building something that endures beyond the original founding team (in our case, Nick Culbertson and I), and Protenus has assembled an amazing set of leaders,” Lord said. “It was my confidence in our market position and leadership, and the incredible momentum Protenus has already, that gave me the confidence to pursue a dream I set aside several years ago.”
With the transition, he will keep a further foot in the startup world as a partner with LionBird Ventures. The Chicago-based venture firm is tapping Lord to provide insight on a part-time basis as it prepares to focus on digital health for a forthcoming third fund.
“LionBird is a team that I’ve worked with and respected for years as one of our earliest investors and board members,” he said. “It’s an honor to join them on the other side of the proverbial table.”
Having built a digital health company, finishing medical school will add another set of skills for Lord. It’s a path he can see growing in the future.
"I remain steadfast in my belief that Baltimore remains a uniquely remarkable city for digital health innovation."
“It’s my belief, and this is another driver for my decision to return to medical school, that we need more individuals cross-trained in the clinical and administrative realities of patient care, as well as the art and science of building high-growth companies,” Lord said. “I think we’ve seen success in healthcare innovation coming from both perspectives, but I think an all-new generation of companies and entrepreneurs that blend these perspectives are really going to transform the field in the coming decades.”
After meeting at medical school in Johns Hopkins and realizing the privacy risks presented by electronic medical records, Culbertson and Lord launched Protenus out of Dreamit Health Baltimore. Used by hospitals and health systems, the company’s technology uses AI to detect when patient records have been accessed inappropriately. After posting growth that led to doubling its headcount from late 2017 to late 2018, Protenus last year moved into new offices in Fells Point and raised $17 million in Series C funding. Throughout, there’s been change. That’s a given as new folks join the team, Lord said.
“The biggest privilege of being a founder is seeing the development of a remarkable team and culture that emerges not top-down, but organically with every new team member,” he said. “Focusing on ‘culture-add’ instead of ‘culture-fit’ has allowed us to bring on talented individuals with so many different backgrounds and life experiences, and the privilege of learning from each of them every day is perhaps what I’ll miss most.”
In that time, Lord has also briefed Congress on cybersecurity, and weighed in on how the state can grow more startups. Lord said Baltimore has also played a big role in his path, from Johns Hopkins to the team that’s rapidly bringing on more experienced tech talent from the city. And with the transition, he’ll still be in the city.
“It’s been such an amazing ride, and I know that it will continue to be,” he said. “I remain steadfast in my belief that Baltimore remains a uniquely remarkable city for digital health innovation, and I am excited to explore even more aspects of that in the coming years.”-30-