Activ Surgical raises $15 million to advance autonomous and collaborative robotic surgery

Until quite recently, advanced surgery was primarily reliant on operating rooms with large and often time-consuming waiting areas. Today, advances in high-definition imaging and wireless connectivity are making surgery more portable and responsive, including an emerging role for robots in the operating room.

Enter an Oregon startup called Activ Surgical. It’s raised $15 million in Series A funding to bring portable, collaborative robotic surgery to thousands of other operating rooms, not just the OR itself.

“The old idea of bringing our tools into our operating rooms is over,” says CEO Adam Sheppard. With the help of a growing operating room infrastructure and an aging adult population, which tends to have higher rates of advanced or non-invasive surgical procedures, he expects to expand Activ Surgical’s presence to 18,000 to 20,000 surgical rooms, including in all 50 states.

In four years, in fact, Activ Surgical has grown from three employees to 15, and as much as 20. The company, which has an office in New York and a joint venture in Brussels, Belgium, hopes to expand that to 40 by year-end.

The fundraising round included money from existing investors Bain Capital Ventures, Khosla Ventures, and Medallia, as well as new investors, like LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Yale University bioengineering professor David Eagleman. Activ Surgical is in the process of expanding beyond surgical rooms to use the platform in other kinds of robotics.

Mr. Sheppard says that surgeons want to be able to access patient data about various organs and tissues during their surgeries. “The more detail that we could provide surgeons, the better a procedure would be for them,” he says.

Activ Surgical will also help hospitals manage robotics technology, dealing with insurance disputes, network billing, and piracy. “I can sit at a computer and start to decide exactly what type of experiments I want to do,” Mr. Sheppard says. “As an organization, we become your equipment provider, your software provider, your carrier — we become the health outcomes network for you.”

He also says that enhanced autonomy and health outcomes could generate new business models:

“In the old business model, if you treat patients, they pay you. For us, it’s going to be more a game of differentiation. Can we help you lower your cost for surgical volume, so you have more time for interactions with patients and doctors? Is it going to be our software and our automation that helps you reduce operating time and, as a result, reduce the cost of patient care? All of those things will be a differentiation for us.”

“We are the only company that’s taking the network design approach,” says Mr. Sheppard. “The basic concept is that wherever we go, we build the infrastructure to connect with the other facilities.” That includes linking multiple hospitals in a state, say, so that doctors and patients are connected at the same time. The system’s fundamental architecture is designed to decentralize those connections, so that although there may be a single participating facility, it is a shared platform.

“To get a woman into her baby’s birth canal, that’s quite complicated,” Mr. Sheppard explains. “We are looking to combine that information and having information sharing right from the operating room.”

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