Orthopedic device companies seeking to address unmet needs may find inspiration in Ortho Founders, a network of more than 40 orthopedic surgeons who have started companies to implement efficiencies in their day-to-day work.
Founded by Drs. Will Kurtz, Michael Havig and Jay Crawford in 2018, Ortho Founders’ primary goals are to provide support and networking opportunities for its 40+ surgeons and their roster of companies. The group wants to be the “go-to” authority for surgeons with entrepreneurial interests and for professional societies that want to provide content for their members, according to Dr. Crawford, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon and founder of nextDoc Solutions, a platform that helps surgeon practices with in-bound appointment requests.
Over the years, we’ve interviewed nearly a dozen of the surgeons affiliated with the organization, profiling their companies and seeking their clinical expertise. The community that they have formed, in the interest of overcoming challenges in and outside of the O.R., is noteworthy for members of industry who seek technology inspiration and a means to offer guidance.
“Starting a business is extremely hard,” said Dr. Kurtz, a hip and knee surgeon and founder of AdviceHub. “We all need help to make our companies successful. [The members] try to utilize each other’s products and give feedback.”
It is this practice of feedback and networking that has made the group successful in a short amount of time—and why the group hopes to change orthopedic care delivery for the better. Orthopedic device companies can play a role in this innovative partnership.
“Ortho Founders has amazing companies that are solving important orthopedic problems,” Dr. Kurtz said. “Many of our companies welcome the opportunity to work closely with orthopedic device companies. There are lots of amazing mentors in these orthopedic device companies who would love an opportunity to work closely with an exciting startup, but it is often difficult to know who inside a device company is interested in innovation. My advice to [OEMs] is to start an innovation center and publicize it to the orthopedic community.”
Ortho Founders’ surgeons have started companies such as JointPoint, Monogram Orthopaedics, Precision OS and Tensor Surgical. Advancement in orthopedics is important to Ortho Founders for myriad reasons, and it’s occurring rapidly in software and digital health, the space where the majority of Ortho Founders’ companies are playing.
“Software startups are less capital-intensive and scale faster than hardware startups, which makes software startups attractive to start,” said Dr. Kurtz, whose AdviceHub website connects surgeons’ former and new patients. “The hard part is that there are so many digital health startups these days that it is hard to break through all the noise and gain traction with the patients or doctors.”
That’s why, Dr. Kurtz added, data is going to be the new battleground for orthopedics.
“Whether it is robotic surgery, wearable technology or virtual scribes, many startups are looking to capture ‘training data’ to feed into their machine learning or artificial intelligence,” he said. “In robotics, every company is trying to tie what happens in the O.R. to patient outcomes. In wearables, you see Zimmer Biomet partnering with Apple Watch to capture patient activity levels. With virtual scribes, companies like Notable and Robin Healthcare are learning what questions doctors ask their patients to figure out how to interview a patient. Companies are trying to learn what it means to be a great orthopedic surgeon so they can slowly take over parts of our jobs. Whichever company captures the best training data will gain an insurmountable lead on their competition.”
There’s no doubt that passion plays a key role in Ortho Founders’ mission. For Kurtz, orthopedics will forever be a love because he can combine intellect with hands-on experience—and he is optimistic for Ortho Founders’ future.
“We don’t have to wait for a patient to take a medication for six months—joint replacement surgery is a dream job, because our outcomes are tangible and immediate,” he said. “I hope Ortho Founders provides significant investment opportunities to orthopedic startups. There are lots of great ideas out there, but determining which startups are likely to work is hard. Ortho Founders is well-suited to pull the wheat from the chaff and help jumpstart young companies with capital and early customers.”
Dr. Havig, a sports medicine and joint replacement surgeon and founder of the self-pay marketplace HealthMe, believes that orthopedic surgeons lead the stream of innovation and that Ortho Founders is a direct link to that path.
“At one time or another, I am sure almost every orthopedic surgeon has had an idea for a product that will improve some aspect of their practice and the care of their patients,” he said. “We all complain about the inefficiencies in healthcare and have thought of an innovation to improve healthcare—a medical device, implant or software solution that will improve our practice and those of our colleagues. Advances in our field will be led by those ‘in the trenches’ of an orthopedic practice—the surgeons who live the problems we face daily. So, if we all have great ideas, why aren’t more innovative solutions developed by orthopedic surgeons?”
Havig added that the biggest hindrance to creating innovative solutions is the lack of knowledge on how to take your idea from concept to company.
“How do you form a company, protect your intellectual property, develop a prototype, build a software platform, finance the company, sell and market it? It’s not simple; it’s very time consuming. Add to that your full-time job as an orthopedic surgeon, and it’s no surprise that most don’t pursue their ideas,” he said. “Fortunately, Ortho Founders has taken on a leadership role in promoting entrepreneurship among orthopedic surgeons. Our goal is to promote and assist orthopedic surgeons in taking their idea from concept to company.”
Ortho Founders, which is free to join, holds monthly web conversations and hosts networking events at most large society meetings to discuss orthopedic startups, innovation and commercialization best practices.
As for the year to come, Dr. Kurtz says Ortho Founders wants to provide more investment opportunities for its affiliated companies.
“We want to create an angel fund in which any orthopedic surgeon can invest in these startups alongside other surgeons,” he said. ”If there are individuals out there who want to invest or provide the necessary structure to start an angel fund, please contact us via orthofounders.com.”
Ortho Founders will attend the entrepreneurial fair at the OrthoForum meeting in February, speak about orthopedic entrepreneurialism at AAOS’ Annual Meeting in March, and participate in a Shark Tank pitch competition at the Anterior Hip Foundation meeting in April.
Natalie Shawver is an ORTHOWORLD Contributor.