The introduction of minimally invasive surgery in the early 1980s marked a new era in medicine. Also known as laparoscopic surgery, this technique of performing operations through small incisions results in fewer complications, shorter procedures and faster recovery times.
But for more than two decades, laparoscopy was hindered by available technology. The choices? Rigid instruments that—while affordable—were awkward and limited in dexterity. Or room-sized robotic devices that were intuitive and flexible, but cost millions and required extensive support and training.
Mechanical Engineering professor Shorya Awtar and Surgery professor James Geiger joined forces with medical industry entrepreneur Greg Bowles to create a new startup company, FlexDex Surgical, to develop minimally invasive tools.
With help from U-M Tech Transfer and working with U-M students, Awtar and Geiger overcame several technical challenges and developed highly functional prototypes. And Bowles provided the industry experience to enter this complex surgical care market.
“My firsthand experience selling surgical robots convinced me they bring tremendous clinical value to patients. However, hospitals, surgeons and nurses desperately needed a simple solution that doesn’t burden their system with unsustainable costs or complexity,” said Bowles.
FlexDex was awarded a Small Business Innovation Research Phase II grant from the National Science Foundation in 2014 and closed a Series A private investment at the same time. After appointing CEO Tom Davison, a serial entrepreneur with numerous successful medical device startups, FlexDex secured another $5 million in Series B funding in 2016 and is rolling out its first product: an articulating needle driver for suturing and knot-tying. Thee company employs more than a dozen people, including several U-M graduates, and operates out of an engineering and manufacturing facility in Brighton, Michigan.
FlexDex is closing in on its goal of building the best, most affordable and intuitive suite of laparoscopic and endoscopic devices on the market.