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Alumni venture FormusLabs raises $5m towards AI powered orthopaedic surgery software

29 June 2022

FormusLabs, a venture co-founded by University of Auckland Professor Thor Besier and alumnus Dr Ju Zhang, has raised $5m USD towards their pre-operative planning software designed to assist orthopaedic surgeons with delivering joint replacement surgeries. 

Current ‘templating’ solutions for planning orthopaedic surgeries rely on 2D X-rays and manual manipulation by surgeons to determine an appropriately sized implant. However, joint replacement surgeries involve 3D geometry, and existing planning software does not account for the biomechanics of the joint. 

FormusLabs’ software combines medical imaging data with biomechanical simulation to optimise implant selection and placement for an individual patient. It automatically creates a 3D model of a patient’s joint, then selects and places implants that restore the native biomechanics. Surgeons can then interact with the 3D model to make adjustments to the plan according to their expertise and preferences. They are the first solution on the market to offer a completely automated workflow, which saves surgeons time and enables scalability.

“Our ageing and increasingly overweight population is leading to an epidemic of joint disease, with almost one million hip and knee joint replacement surgeries performed annually in the United States,” explains Besier. “One in five patients are dissatisfied with the outcome of their surgery and one in ten patients will require revision surgery due to implant failure. Our software improves patient outcomes by selecting implants that best match the anatomy and biomechanics of an individual from the get-go.”

Besier’s entrepreneurial journey began in 2013 when he entered the Velocity (then, Spark) $100k Challenge, their flagship entrepreneurship competition run with the support of the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). His wearable sensor company developed through the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, IMeasureU, won the competition and got Besier and co-founder Mark Finch a spot in an incubation programme run by the Icehouse. In 2017, IMeasureU was acquired by VICON, a global leader in motion capture technology, and they continued to expand in the international sports market with a focus on load-monitoring solutions for NBA athletes.

“The connections we made through Velocity and the Business School were extremely important for making our journey a success,” says Besier. “Creating an idea is actually the easy bit. Commercialisation is hard. There are many decisions that you have to make and it took us a long time with IMeasureU to really understand our value proposition. The mentors at Velocity really enforced the importance of getting market validation – we totally underestimated how important and necessary that was. 

“Since then, it has been really rewarding passing it on by creating opportunities for younger academics that I work with to step up and commercialise our ideas. If you are curious about starting a company and have some ideas, then the easiest path forward is to enter a Velocity challenge and give it a go. You have nothing to lose and if anything, the experience will give you a different perspective on problem solving and learning from failure. I think academics have become a little risk-averse due to our funding model, so it’s refreshing for our research mindset also to get out of the lab and think a little differently.”

In February, FormusLabs raised $5m in a round led by GD1, with participation from Punakaiki Fund, Icehouse Ventures, Pacific Channel, and Flying Kiwis. Besier’s advice on raising funds is to be prepared for criticism, be flexible with your pitch, and ask for support. 

He says, “Raising money can be a hard slog and you have to be prepared for a lot of criticism and rejection. Academics develop pretty tough skin from constant grant rejections, so we are used to showing a bit of tenacity, which helped! However, unlike grant applications, you get to adjust your pitch in quick succession, taking on board the comments from the previous experience. Perhaps your initial ideas are not the best way forward and you need to be flexible in your thinking. The more you pitch to investors, the better your story becomes and the more likely you are to strike a chord. This is where Velocity can also help, as you get access to some ‘friendly fire’ before having to do the real deal! We have also found the angel investing community and UniServices to be really helpful and engaging, so don’t be shy to pitch your ideas to them and ask for support.”

FormusLabs recently launched their hip planner in Australia and have already delivered over 700 surgical plans via their channel partner, ZimmerBiomet. They are currently gaining FDA approval that will enable them to reach the US market by the end of 2022, and have plans to become the global leader in hip replacement pre-operative planning within the next two years.

Inspired? The Velocity $100k Challenge is now open. Applications close midday 1 August.

University of Auckland wins international award for entrepreneurship education
University of Auckland wins international award for entrepreneurship education

29 June 2022

FormusLabs, a venture co-founded by University of Auckland Professor Thor Besier and alumnus Dr Ju Zhang, has raised $5m USD towards their pre-operative planning software designed to assist orthopaedic surgeons with delivering joint replacement surgeries. 

Current ‘templating’ solutions for planning orthopaedic surgeries rely on 2D X-rays and manual manipulation by surgeons to determine an appropriately sized implant. However, joint replacement surgeries involve 3D geometry, and existing planning software does not account for the biomechanics of the joint. 

FormusLabs’ software combines medical imaging data with biomechanical simulation to optimise implant selection and placement for an individual patient. It automatically creates a 3D model of a patient’s joint, then selects and places implants that restore the native biomechanics. Surgeons can then interact with the 3D model to make adjustments to the plan according to their expertise and preferences. They are the first solution on the market to offer a completely automated workflow, which saves surgeons time and enables scalability.

“Our ageing and increasingly overweight population is leading to an epidemic of joint disease, with almost one million hip and knee joint replacement surgeries performed annually in the United States,” explains Besier. “One in five patients are dissatisfied with the outcome of their surgery and one in ten patients will require revision surgery due to implant failure. Our software improves patient outcomes by selecting implants that best match the anatomy and biomechanics of an individual from the get-go.”

Besier’s entrepreneurial journey began in 2013 when he entered the Velocity (then, Spark) $100k Challenge, their flagship entrepreneurship competition run with the support of the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). His wearable sensor company developed through the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, IMeasureU, won the competition and got Besier and co-founder Mark Finch a spot in an incubation programme run by the Icehouse. In 2017, IMeasureU was acquired by VICON, a global leader in motion capture technology, and they continued to expand in the international sports market with a focus on load-monitoring solutions for NBA athletes.

“The connections we made through Velocity and the Business School were extremely important for making our journey a success,” says Besier. “Creating an idea is actually the easy bit. Commercialisation is hard. There are many decisions that you have to make and it took us a long time with IMeasureU to really understand our value proposition. The mentors at Velocity really enforced the importance of getting market validation – we totally underestimated how important and necessary that was. 

“Since then, it has been really rewarding passing it on by creating opportunities for younger academics that I work with to step up and commercialise our ideas. If you are curious about starting a company and have some ideas, then the easiest path forward is to enter a Velocity challenge and give it a go. You have nothing to lose and if anything, the experience will give you a different perspective on problem solving and learning from failure. I think academics have become a little risk-averse due to our funding model, so it’s refreshing for our research mindset also to get out of the lab and think a little differently.”

In February, FormusLabs raised $5m in a round led by GD1, with participation from Punakaiki Fund, Icehouse Ventures, Pacific Channel, and Flying Kiwis. Besier’s advice on raising funds is to be prepared for criticism, be flexible with your pitch, and ask for support. 

He says, “Raising money can be a hard slog and you have to be prepared for a lot of criticism and rejection. Academics develop pretty tough skin from constant grant rejections, so we are used to showing a bit of tenacity, which helped! However, unlike grant applications, you get to adjust your pitch in quick succession, taking on board the comments from the previous experience. Perhaps your initial ideas are not the best way forward and you need to be flexible in your thinking. The more you pitch to investors, the better your story becomes and the more likely you are to strike a chord. This is where Velocity can also help, as you get access to some ‘friendly fire’ before having to do the real deal! We have also found the angel investing community and UniServices to be really helpful and engaging, so don’t be shy to pitch your ideas to them and ask for support.”

FormusLabs recently launched their hip planner in Australia and have already delivered over 700 surgical plans via their channel partner, ZimmerBiomet. They are currently gaining FDA approval that will enable them to reach the US market by the end of 2022, and have plans to become the global leader in hip replacement pre-operative planning within the next two years.

Inspired? The Velocity $100k Challenge is now open. Applications close midday 1 August.


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