OSSimTech : Creators of VR Simulators for Surgeon Training !
“Right now, OSSimTech is riding a wave of success. And just like with surfing, a company must always stay a little ahead of the wave to avoid going backward or losing the moment,” explains the President of OSSimTech, André Blain. “We are therefore focussing on the field’s current opportunities and transformations to achieve our goals.”
Founded in 2013 in Montreal by two engineers, André Blain and Ngoc Huynh, OSSimTech develops simulators specialized in open surgery, which use virtual reality and haptic force feedback for personalized training of surgeons.
With one partner having extensive experience in orthopedics, and the other having worked at the NRC to promote neurosurgery simulators, the two founders chose to dive into the world of training simulators, a field that was mostly reserved for minimally invasive surgeries at the time. “We like challenges and we’re driven, so it made sense to choose projects that involve a lot of risk and technical complexity,” recounts André.
Since open surgery requires great strength and is very manual, OSSimTech wanted to create a simulator that could offer a very high fidelity representation of procedures and generate haptic and tactile forces that allow users to feel in their hand what they see on the screen. The simulators contribute to the training and evaluation of surgical residents, who can practice movements hundreds of times, like drilling a hole, sawing a bone, or even performing surgical procedures… all at a lower cost than using traditional methods, such as cadavers or plastic bones.
In 2015, the company created its first prototype, the Sim-K™, a simulator for installing total knee prostheses. OSSimTech, along with their collaborating doctors, have noted that in developing simulators useful for training, educational content is as important as the technological component. These tools must therefore help users develop not only their manual skills, but their cognitive and decisional ones as well.
A Saudi Arabian contract for the creation of a simulator for spinal column surgery fostered the company’s rapid evolution. In addition, Pierre Trahan, a major entrepreneur both in Quebec and internationally, joined the two original partners, and his investments also enabled OSSimTech to continue their trajectory.
With their extremely high-performing virtual reality simulators and haptic force feedback available at a reasonable price, OSSimTech has attracted the attention of the College of Physicians, universities, training centres and manufacturers, who ask the visionary company how to use these new technologies to improve their methods.
OSSimTech draws on the expertise of several groups of Canadian, American and European collaborators. For the development of their tools, the company teams up with many organizations, clinical experts and both local and international establishments. In Quebec, they collaborate with, among others: Inno-Centre, the CEIM, Global Affairs Canada, the NSERC, Polytechnique, Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital and the MUHC. Their international partners include major institutions and universities like: Cedars Sinai Medical Center in California, Bournemouth University in England, the AO Foundation in Switzerland, and the University of North Carolina in the United States. With Montreal’s ÉTS for example, OSSimTech integrated the simulation of bleeding into its simulator, a key element in the training of surgeons.
Financing is obviously unavoidable for any rising company and OSSimTech is pleased to be able to count on Investissement Québec, Canada Economic Development, Export Development Canada, Caisse Desjardins, IRAP, BDC and the government of Quebec.
A Captivating Sector and Workplace
While the OSSimTech team consisted of only 5 people a year ago, this pioneer of surgical simulation will soon have 35 talented and motivated employees.
When I visited the company’s premises with the president, I immediately noticed the young developers at work, visibly absorbed and passionate. “We believe in what we do because it’s an exceptional product. Many young people are interested in our company because we create something socially meaningful, useful and truly unique,” affirms André. “OSSimTech may not appear in the credits of a Hollywood movie like other names in the tech industry, but we are surely among the creators of disruptive technologies,” he adds. One of their employees started at the company by announcing that he wanted to put his PhD to good use. André laughs, “Needless to say, we are putting him to work!”
OSSimTech’s president also mentions that it is very important to better value the training and technical skills of young Quebecers.
The company is targeting a market of more than 500 orthopedic simulators. OSSimTech plans to develop simulators for other open surgery applications, especially those requiring a higher level of sophistication in tissue management. “To simulate the cutting of the liver for example, now that’s a high-flying tech project that we think we can master,” asserts André.
OSSimTech’s future prospects also include outstanding global outreach opportunities. The company is present throughout North America with a direct sales force in universities, simulation centres and hospitals. Internationally, whether in India, China, Europe or South America, the company is supported by a well-established distribution network with expert partners in both the simulation and medical fields.
It is important for the president of OSSimTech that the clinical and technological content of his company’s products stand out for their creativity, as well as their made-in-Montreal brand, of which local innovators have every reason to be proud.
Translation : Jenn Mierau