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Two inventors who created their first product as students in a Merseyside bedroom, are poised for major expansion after landing a series of investments.
Dr Elliot Street and Jordan Van Flute founded healthcare company Inovus Medical six years ago, after developing a medical simulator for training doctors in keyhole surgery. They marketed the product at a fraction of the cost of existing models and have attracted hundreds of orders from healthcare providers in the UK and abroad.
Now, they have secured £100,000 funding from the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) for Healthcare; plus €50,000 through the European Institute of Innovation and Technology Health’s Headstart competition.
The venture began when Jordan was carrying out undergraduate research into psychomotor testing and predicting operator performance in laparoscopic surgery. He was refused access to affordable simulators, which typically cost between £3,000 and £100,000 and were available only through university and hospital clinical skills labs.
Inspired by their frustration, Elliot and Jordan began working on a prototype for an affordable and accessible alternative in the bedroom of Jordan’s family home in Widnes. Launch of the first product was followed by scaling up operations to Jordan’s garage followed by two further moves to progressively larger units in St Helens.
Elliot was a medical student when the company was founded and is now a fully qualified doctor and maintains his clinical practice by working at weekends alongside his full time role as chief executive of the company.
Elliot said: “It is astonishing how far we have come since starting the company. From bending pieces of plastic with rudimentary jigs, we are now using thermo forming, CNC machining, laser cutting, 3D printing and silicone injection moulding all from our plant in St Helens.”
The company now has eight different healthcare simulators on the market including a number of versions of their original keyhole surgery simulator, which has been sold in over 40 countries worldwide and is used by nearly 100 hospitals in the NHS. Their laparoscopic simulators are also used by many of the world’s largest medical device companies for product demonstration and training.
Their latest investment from the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) for Healthcare fund will enable them to introduce augmented reality and software additions, to enhance the existing products.
“The funding from SBRI will allow us to deliver a premium product whilst maintaining our affordable price point that has become so popular among our customers. It will ultimately increase the access to high quality and realistic surgical simulation across the globe and level the playing field when it comes to accessing augmented and virtual reality simulation products. Our aim is to become the number one choice in surgical simulation, globally,” said Elliot.
The SBRI fund is jointly delivered by NHS England and the country’s 15 AHSNs (Academic Health Science Networks) and it was the Innovation Agency, the AHSN for the North West Coast, which introduced them to the opportunity.
The announcement of the SBRI funding followed days after winning €50,000 through the European Institute of Innovation and Technology Health’s Headstart competition, which will enable them to market their soon to be released turnkey hysteroscopy simulator in the UK and abroad.
Earlier investment came in 2017 and included £80,000 from the MSIF Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund and privately raised capital.
Jordan is the company’s chief technical officer and he has used his design and engineering skills to build the Inovus product portfolio. He said: “This has been an incredibly hard six years to get to this point, where doors have begun to open; it is a testament to our enormous resilience in pushing through some difficult times in order to put ourselves in a position to capitalise on these opportunities. I am extremely excited for the future, for us and for our growing team at Inovus.”
Elliot is one of a cohort of ‘NHS Clinical Entrepreneurs’ supported by NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Innovation, Professor Tony Young.
Professor Young said: "It is great to see the clinical entrepreneur programme and SBRI Healthcare initiatives coming together to support the work of one of our entrepreneurs. This is what innovation is all about, let our front line clinical staff highlight unmet needs and then support and empower them to solve those needs.”
Andy Cairns, commercial programme manager at the Innovation Agency, predicts rapid growth for the company. “They have become well established across a significant portion of the NHS. We are now introducing the company to surgeons in the Merseyside region and I predict the orders will soon be flooding in from local NHS Trusts – Inovus has a fantastic offering and Jordan and Elliot have spotted a real need in the field of surgical training and wider healthcare simulation.”
Inovus now employs seven people including Jordan and Elliot and in the last few weeks has won two awards – Insider Media Made in The North West Collaboration Award; and St Helens Chamber Small Business of the Year Award.
The Innovation Agency provides tailored support to small and medium size businesses trying to access NHS and social care markets in Cheshire, Merseyside and Lancashire, through an ERDF-funded service. This is in addition to their NHS funded role as a channel for spreading health innovations and initiatives nationally and regionally, as one of 15 Academic Health Science Networks.
Photo caption: From left, Dr Elliot Street and Jordan Van Flute with the Innovation Agency’s Andy Cairns