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A pathological entrepreneur

PathXL is a global pioneer in web-based solutions for digital pathology, providing software for education, research and clinical sectors worldwide.

To date the small team of 25 at PathXL, originally a spin out from Queen's University, has worked mainly with UK clients, like John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, Royal Liverpool University Hospital, and Guys' & St Thomas Hospitals. But plans are under way to grow its international client list.

With over 25 years senior management experience, Des Speed is perfectly placed to drive that growth.

"For us the opportunity to do more in cancer research is a big theme going forward," Des said.

"We are probably the strongest in the world at digital pathology education. That's a great base, but research is where you can make a much bigger impact, so that is a big focus for us," he added.

"To be recognised as world leaders in our niche within digital pathology in the research sector internationally is the next big goal."

After studying mathematics at Queen's University, Des (55), from Belfast, worked for Shorts, ICL, Harland and Wolff, and then NIE Business Systems, running its IT division.

He took 405 people out of NIE, still within the Viridian Group to form Sx3 and then from 1999 built up Lagan Technologies until it was sold to Kana at the end of 2010 following a period of rapid expansion.

"After I came out of that I wanted to do something in health care technology of some sort," Des said.

"I got really intrigued by the potential difference that technology can make in this area. The idea of making a significant difference and growing a good commercial business is very motivating."

Des told Ulster Business that having a clear vision is important to him and that he is a big believer in the power of teams and empowering people then to fulfil themselves.

"There is a great satisfaction in seeing people develop, so it's not just about the figures, the money, the business, but about individual people," he said.

"It's a cliche, but at the end of the day, every company is the sum of its people, the culture that's built."

Des said frustration with "big company cultures" was part of his motivation for becoming an entrepreneur and at Path XL he tries to help create a culture that is comfortable.

A typical day for him starts at 6.30am and he tries not to arrange meetings before 8.00am. His role also involves frequent travel to Dublin, England, Scotland, Europe and the US.

"It's pretty non stop," he said. "I don't count the number of hours, but it's full on. Having time at the start of the day helps me feel in control before I get stuck into it. Likewise at the end of the day, having enough things wrapped up brings a sense of closure."

Des says being in control means he feels pressure rather than stress and as he is running a small company competing with typically much bigger companies, everybody pitches in and does more than their core job description.

He says having a passion for his work is important and offered this advice to budding entrepreneurs.

"It's not a cosy sort of existence, so wanting to achieve, to create, to build things, in some way I think is a really important attribute," he said.

"Not being too swung by the highs and lows but charting a middle course in terms of temperament is important otherwise you can be up and down in terms of mood as the latest events occur, either positive or negative.

"Being prepared to take considered risks is also a key thing, because you can't grow a business from small roots to something significant without taking some risks of some sort along the way."

And of being recognised as one of our leading entrepreneurs the PathXL CEO is modest and practical.

"If you're on a pedestal its awfully easy to fall off," he said. "You're only as good as your last quarter."

To find out more about PathXL visit www.pathxl.com