Armen Bakirtzian had one of his best moments last December in an operating room at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. After more than six years of developing and prototyping miniaturized sensor technology that improves the accuracy of implant selection and positioning during hip replacement surgery, Mr. Bakirtzian and his business partners finally saw their product used for the first time in the O.R.
“It’s a long journey to commercialize a medical device,” says Mr. Bakirtzian, CEO of Intellijoint Surgical Inc., the Waterloo-based company he founded with two former university classmates. “My co-founders and I were in the operating room when our product was first used in the surgical field – it was like an early Christmas present.”
Mr. Bakirtzian and his partners developed their product while studying engineering at the University of Waterloo. Other technologies that do the same thing are available today, but because they are large and very expensive, most hospitals in Canada don’t use them when doing hip replacements.
“Right now, implant selection and placement is done by eye, guided by the orthopedic surgeon’s professional judgement,” says Mr. Bakirtzian. “Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to the implant being positioned incorrectly or one leg being longer than the other. There are numbers out there that suggest 30 per cent of patients are dissatisfied with the outcome of their hip replacement surgery, largely due to discrepancy in leg length.”
Mr. Bakirtzian and his co-inventors knew they had a viable medical product, but they also knew that developing it and getting it to market would be a complex and costly undertaking.
That was certainly the case with Intellijoint. The young entrepreneur competition that it won in 2010 connected Mr. Bakirtzian and his partners with a doctor who opened doors for them at Mount Sinai Hospital. The same doctor is now a member of Intellijoint’s advisory board.
“We really benefited not just financially from government funding, but also by meeting people who supported us and by gaining validation with angel investors,” says Mr. Bakirtzian, whose company has now raised about $7-million in financing. “Applying for government and non-profit funding is a lot of work, but I don’t think people should be discouraged from doing it.
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