CLEVELAND — Cleveland-based Lazurite announced in late August that it’s partnering with University Hospitals Ventures to “conduct a formative human factors study on its ArthroFree wireless surgical camera,” according to a press release.
The announcement is the latest milestone in the company’s roughly six-year journey to improve and streamline operating room procedures with updated technology.
ArthroFree is a wireless light and camera system that replaces a whole cabinet of equipment that CEO Eugene Malinskiy says has barely changed in operating rooms over the last few decades.
“The physicians have been asking for wireless really since cell phones have started coming out,” said Malinskiy.
He says he once witnessed a Physicians Assistant (PA) trip and fall in an operating room on the wires needed to conduct the procedure. The PA was hurt so badly that the surgery was canceled even after the patient had been put under anesthesia.
The company announced earlier this year that it closed a $10 million fundraising round that it expects to carry it through FDA approval for ArthroFree in 2022, hoping to be a working part of operating rooms at some point during that year.
How Lazurite got here
Malinskiy and Lazurite President and General Counsel Leah Brownlee agree that Cleveland was an optimal location to create ArthroFree because of the expertise that is often accessible, willing to help, and nearby.
“You can’t go 20 minutes in Cleveland without hitting a hospital,” said Brownlee. “So given that who we talk to and who we iterate our designs with are surgeons, that’s really important for this company.”
“Every time we wanted help here in Cleveland, it’s a lot easier to just call somebody up,” said Malinskiy. “You can probably get a meeting that same week.”
While developing the wireless technology that Lazurite says will replace wired operating room technology, Malinskiy says he often reached out to local experts in a variety of fields to find solutions. He credits a connection to researchers at NASA Glenn Research Center with quickly figuring out how to extend battery life for the device, making it last long enough to complete most procedures.
“All of this here locally, we don’t have to wait a long time,” said Malinskiy about making new connections in Cleveland compared to harder-to-reach experts on the coasts. “Also, frankly speaking, we don’t have to pay exorbitant west coast or east coast rates for some of these things.”
Helping others get here too
Business, political, and community leaders in Cleveland have recognized for years that Cleveland-based start-ups would benefit from a more robust support system in the region.
Shah says that realization a few years ago kicked off a series of projects and initiatives, often with overlapping names, to help support start-ups. He says the names are less important than the overall mission of supporting Cleveland-based companies in a similar way to what is found in places like Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
“There was a recognition that while we have great innovation occurring, we didn’t have the innovation ecosystem fully built out to really capture the benefit of that innovation,” said Shah.
Lazurite’s Brownlee originally started working with the company as an outside lawyer while she was working at a law firm looking to provide legal services to companies looking to raise venture capital. Eventually, she left the law firm to become the General Counsel, but she says Cleveland has seen many more professional services businesses, like accountants and lawyers, ready to work with start-up companies, making it much easier for those innovators to find what they need in the region.
“It’s really about density, so Cleveland is getting there,” said Brownlee.
Shah says when start-ups can find those professional services, investors willing to take a bet on them, and the talent they need from local universities or other start-ups, there is no longer the need to run to the east or west coasts, where talent and investors have generally stayed.
“What we need to do as a community is nature each and every one of those elements and make sure those elements are connected to one another and accessible to entrepreneurs like the entrepreneurial team behind Lazurite,” said Shah.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s Cleveland Innovation District grabbed headlines in early 2021, announcing that, “the State of Ohio, through DSA, and JobsOhio, and Cleveland Clinic, will commit a combined $565 million to the Cleveland Innovation District,” according to a press release. Partnerships with Ohio Development Services Agency (DSA), JobsOhio, Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, The MetroHealth System, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, and the City of Cleveland made it all possible.
“The announcement of the Innovation District, the announcement of facilities being built, the announcement of money being made available is actually incredibly important for companies to feel and for leaders of those companies to feel that they can open up shop here, that they have the backing of the community beyond even the science and research community,” said Malinskiy. “That they’ll have some political backing as well, that they’ll be able to grow their companies.”
Shah says that level of investment helps but other work that more directly assists individual companies is also vital to the greater start-up community. He says investors in other parts of the country don’t pay attention to the differences between a business in Cincinnati, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh. Instead, they consider businesses from the Great Lakes or Midwest region as a whole when thinking about which opportunities to invest in and which ones get a pass. Boosting the reputation of companies across Ohio can only stand to help the whole region.
“Investors nationally look not only for success but they look for successful entrepreneurs in particular they can bet on again and again,” said Shah.
So far, it appears to be working.
News 5 told you about Cleveland-headquartered MedPilot which merged with Vytalize, proving to other Cleveland founders that a headquarters on the coast isn’t necessary for a successful exit. MedPilot attracted funding from Cleveland-based sources as part of the $3.5 million it raised over the last few years from investors.
Shah says the region had a goal for local companies to pull in $250 million in venture capital in a year. In 2020, he says local companies passed that goal, and so far in 2021, roughly $400 million has been invested.
That money is going to companies like Lazurite, which pay employees that usually live around Greater Cleveland, rent office space, do business with other local companies, and support local restaurants.
“When you have density as it relates to innovation ecosystems, you have greater success that powers the entire region’s economy,” said Shah.
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