CIE » Newsroom » Velocity alumnus receives $4.3m in investment to take bowel disease technology to the world

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Velocity alumnus receives $4.3m in investment to take bowel disease technology to the world

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Surgical Design Studios (SDS) has developed a range of medical devices that reduce the time it takes until patients can use their guts again following bowel surgery from five months to two weeks. The technology developed is truly revolutionary and has attracted $4.3 million through early stage capital raising. SDS raised the money through its first angel fundraising round led by Icehouse Ventures fund Tuhua II. The company will use the funds raised to bring its devices to market, with plans to launch in New Zealand later this year, and then overseas once it gains regulatory clearances.

SDS was founded two years ago at the University of Auckland’s Medical School department of surgery. Trials at Auckland City Hospital showed extremely promising results.

Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer Greg O’Grady is an alumnus of the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Velocity programme, and continues to work as an Associate Professor at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences. 

What does the $4.3m in investment mean to Surgical Design Studio in terms on enabling its potential as a venture. What will the funds be used for?

We are very grateful to our investors for making this round possible, and I would also like to especially acknowledge our co-founders – John and Rob Davidson (our lead Engineers) and Prof Ian Bissett (Surgery) – as well as UniServices and the MedTech CoRE who have supported us from day one.  Importantly, it is not only about the money – the partnerships we are building through this round are exceptional.  These are investors who really care about New Zealand, healthcare, and our mission, and are able to assist in execution. The funding will be used to bring our products to market globally, starting with Active-Link but then also other very exciting and disruptive products currently in our pipeline.  We are setting a high bar and aiming for our products to become a new global “standard of care”.

Healthcare ventures are challenging and expensive to build. You can’t just hammer out an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and start selling and tweaking it on the fly. There are fairly intense rules around clinical evidence and safety that must be met.  The regulatory and compliance barriers to get to market are substantial, and the market itself is complex and multi-faceted. We are fortunate to have partnered with an exceptional commercial CEO in Garth Sutherland, who has been through these challenges before, and are really enjoying his leadership.


Bowel cancer is a terrible disease and it must be uplifting to be involved in fighting the devastation it causes. What does it mean to you to see your device functioning? How have you seen it impact the lives of others?

This is what it is all about for me. There is no other metric of success that matters.  If we enhance patient care with excellence, then everything else should follow.  As surgeons, we are privileged to treat one patient at a time.  However, the leverage with medical research – and amplified further by venture development – is the opportunity to not just impact the life of a single patient at a time, but the lives of countless patients around the world at once.  This is our Everest: achieving clinical impact at scale.  

We have been running clinical trials at Auckland Hospital and beyond, and some of the patient stories we are starting to achieve – especially for those patients struggling in intestinal failure who can be treated with the Active-Link – are really satisfying. On the back of these results, we recently became the first New Zealand company to receive Breakthrough Device designation from the US FDA.  But it is only the beginning for Surgical Design Studio.

You’ve been involved in Velocity since 2010, with multiple venture ideas explored. What first drew you to be involved in entrepreneurship?

I led one venture as a PhD student in 2010, then after returning to the University as an Academic Surgeon have introduced several of my students to Velocity, and supported them as an advisor.  Every year we seem to have a few students interested in entrepreneurship, so it is great to be able to direct them to Velocity and the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE).  

The attraction is the opportunity to take my research out of lab and into the “real world” with a chance to have exponentially greater impact.  I found that my research could become genuinely accessible if we attempted to build a product that people could physically use. That seems very powerful compared to only generating academic papers that people can read but not apply.  But developing a product is extremely challenging – let alone the commercial vehicle to go with it – and requires an entirely different set of skills and abilities.  That has been a steep learning curve. And that is where programmes like Velocity are crucial to help people take their first steps in that path.   

I cut my teeth in the Velocity programme, and still highly recommend it to anyone.  You learn best by doing.  The structured programme and mentorship that comes with it is both fun and rewarding.  I have also benefited from excellent mentorship and advice from UniServices and within the CIE, and I continue those relationships today.

How is entrepreneurship compatible with a career as a medical professional and educator? And how do you manage multiple responsibilities?

Being across clinical surgery, academic research, and entrepreneurship is to be honest, too busy.  Each could be a career in itself.  I am stretched and constantly optimising.  However it is also the intersection of these areas that is the catalyst for what I enjoy. I depend on good systems and am incredibly fortunate to work with teams of simply outstanding friends and colleagues, who make this path not only possible but extremely enjoyable.   

What advice would you have for students are staff looking at exploring venture creation?

Venture creation is not for everybody, but if you feel the pull and have the appetite, then take the plunge. It is hard work and takes courage to step into the ‘unknown’. It also requires significant vision and great persistence, but venture creation is the best lever there is for changing the world, so why not give it a shot?  You only live once. Risk and failure go with the territory, but I think the keys are to find great advisors and mentors, surround yourself with experienced hard-working people, and learn fast.  The CIE and UniServices teams are great contacts for starting this journey.                  


What would you most like people to be aware of in terms of bowel cancer and inflammatory bowel disease?

The gut is not a particularly glamorous organ, and gut diseases are not ‘prestige diseases’.  But the complexity of the science underlying the gut is incredible.  For example, there are a trillion micro-organisms living in your gut that contribute to our health in a multitude of ways, and they need our help to do so.  So don’t take your gut for granted, feed it good choices, and get checked out early if unusual symptoms arise.  

What’s next?

We are currently rebranding Surgical Design Studio into a healthcare company, and are very excited about building that new name and brand.  We are working hard on our second product, which we feel could be a blockbuster.  And we need to navigate the path to regulatory clearance through the FDA. These are the immediate goals.  

In future, our university team have a simply amazing pipeline of research happening at the Department of Surgery and Auckland Bioengineering Institute, and I could not be prouder to be part of these efforts. I wake up every day energised to help bring these awesome ideas to life as products.      

Stuff: Kiwi medical device maker ready to commercialise groundbreaking bowel disease technology

From left: Greg O’Grady, John Davidson and Rob Davidson at the Icehouse Demo Day
From left: Greg O’Grady, John Davidson and Rob Davidson at the Icehouse Demo Day

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Surgical Design Studios (SDS) has developed a range of medical devices that reduce the time it takes until patients can use their guts again following bowel surgery from five months to two weeks. The technology developed is truly revolutionary and has attracted $4.3 million through early stage capital raising. SDS raised the money through its first angel fundraising round led by Icehouse Ventures fund Tuhua II. The company will use the funds raised to bring its devices to market, with plans to launch in New Zealand later this year, and then overseas once it gains regulatory clearances.

SDS was founded two years ago at the University of Auckland’s Medical School department of surgery. Trials at Auckland City Hospital showed extremely promising results.

Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer Greg O’Grady is an alumnus of the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Velocity programme, and continues to work as an Associate Professor at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences. 

What does the $4.3m in investment mean to Surgical Design Studio in terms on enabling its potential as a venture. What will the funds be used for?

We are very grateful to our investors for making this round possible, and I would also like to especially acknowledge our co-founders – John and Rob Davidson (our lead Engineers) and Prof Ian Bissett (Surgery) – as well as UniServices and the MedTech CoRE who have supported us from day one.  Importantly, it is not only about the money – the partnerships we are building through this round are exceptional.  These are investors who really care about New Zealand, healthcare, and our mission, and are able to assist in execution. The funding will be used to bring our products to market globally, starting with Active-Link but then also other very exciting and disruptive products currently in our pipeline.  We are setting a high bar and aiming for our products to become a new global “standard of care”.

Healthcare ventures are challenging and expensive to build. You can’t just hammer out an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and start selling and tweaking it on the fly. There are fairly intense rules around clinical evidence and safety that must be met.  The regulatory and compliance barriers to get to market are substantial, and the market itself is complex and multi-faceted. We are fortunate to have partnered with an exceptional commercial CEO in Garth Sutherland, who has been through these challenges before, and are really enjoying his leadership.


Bowel cancer is a terrible disease and it must be uplifting to be involved in fighting the devastation it causes. What does it mean to you to see your device functioning? How have you seen it impact the lives of others?

This is what it is all about for me. There is no other metric of success that matters.  If we enhance patient care with excellence, then everything else should follow.  As surgeons, we are privileged to treat one patient at a time.  However, the leverage with medical research – and amplified further by venture development – is the opportunity to not just impact the life of a single patient at a time, but the lives of countless patients around the world at once.  This is our Everest: achieving clinical impact at scale.  

We have been running clinical trials at Auckland Hospital and beyond, and some of the patient stories we are starting to achieve – especially for those patients struggling in intestinal failure who can be treated with the Active-Link – are really satisfying. On the back of these results, we recently became the first New Zealand company to receive Breakthrough Device designation from the US FDA.  But it is only the beginning for Surgical Design Studio.

You’ve been involved in Velocity since 2010, with multiple venture ideas explored. What first drew you to be involved in entrepreneurship?

I led one venture as a PhD student in 2010, then after returning to the University as an Academic Surgeon have introduced several of my students to Velocity, and supported them as an advisor.  Every year we seem to have a few students interested in entrepreneurship, so it is great to be able to direct them to Velocity and the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE).  

The attraction is the opportunity to take my research out of lab and into the “real world” with a chance to have exponentially greater impact.  I found that my research could become genuinely accessible if we attempted to build a product that people could physically use. That seems very powerful compared to only generating academic papers that people can read but not apply.  But developing a product is extremely challenging – let alone the commercial vehicle to go with it – and requires an entirely different set of skills and abilities.  That has been a steep learning curve. And that is where programmes like Velocity are crucial to help people take their first steps in that path.   

I cut my teeth in the Velocity programme, and still highly recommend it to anyone.  You learn best by doing.  The structured programme and mentorship that comes with it is both fun and rewarding.  I have also benefited from excellent mentorship and advice from UniServices and within the CIE, and I continue those relationships today.

How is entrepreneurship compatible with a career as a medical professional and educator? And how do you manage multiple responsibilities?

Being across clinical surgery, academic research, and entrepreneurship is to be honest, too busy.  Each could be a career in itself.  I am stretched and constantly optimising.  However it is also the intersection of these areas that is the catalyst for what I enjoy. I depend on good systems and am incredibly fortunate to work with teams of simply outstanding friends and colleagues, who make this path not only possible but extremely enjoyable.   

What advice would you have for students are staff looking at exploring venture creation?

Venture creation is not for everybody, but if you feel the pull and have the appetite, then take the plunge. It is hard work and takes courage to step into the ‘unknown’. It also requires significant vision and great persistence, but venture creation is the best lever there is for changing the world, so why not give it a shot?  You only live once. Risk and failure go with the territory, but I think the keys are to find great advisors and mentors, surround yourself with experienced hard-working people, and learn fast.  The CIE and UniServices teams are great contacts for starting this journey.                  


What would you most like people to be aware of in terms of bowel cancer and inflammatory bowel disease?

The gut is not a particularly glamorous organ, and gut diseases are not ‘prestige diseases’.  But the complexity of the science underlying the gut is incredible.  For example, there are a trillion micro-organisms living in your gut that contribute to our health in a multitude of ways, and they need our help to do so.  So don’t take your gut for granted, feed it good choices, and get checked out early if unusual symptoms arise.  

What’s next?

We are currently rebranding Surgical Design Studio into a healthcare company, and are very excited about building that new name and brand.  We are working hard on our second product, which we feel could be a blockbuster.  And we need to navigate the path to regulatory clearance through the FDA. These are the immediate goals.  

In future, our university team have a simply amazing pipeline of research happening at the Department of Surgery and Auckland Bioengineering Institute, and I could not be prouder to be part of these efforts. I wake up every day energised to help bring these awesome ideas to life as products.      

Stuff: Kiwi medical device maker ready to commercialise groundbreaking bowel disease technology


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