Healthy boost: Ottawa VR startup Realize Medical lands $1M in seed funding

Realize Medical photo
Realize Medical photo

An Ottawa biotech startup whose groundbreaking VR platform is used by medical researchers around the world to create 3D images of hearts, knees and other body parts has landed $1 million in angel funding as it prepares to ramp up commercialization of its software.

Realize Medical announced Thursday it has officially secured the seed round, which is being led by the Capital Angel Network with additional participation from Maple Leaf Angels and York Angels.

The two-year-old firm, which has nine employees, plans to use the fresh equity to expand its sales and marketing team and hire additional software developers and engineers as it lays the groundwork for a broader rollout of its products later this year.

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“The appetite is there. The interest is there. We think we have some really game-changing technology, and people have told us that,” says co-founder and CEO Justin Sutherland.

“It’s like we’re at the starting gate, and it’s about to drop.” 

Realize Medical’s system, dubbed Elucis, allows medical engineers to “draw” complex 3D images such as the inner workings of a patient’s knee in a VR environment using a hand-held stylus. 

“It’s like we’re at the starting gate, and it’s about to drop.”

Sutherland, a medical clinician at the Ottawa Hospital and a professor at the University of Ottawa, says his company’s tech will make such 3D models more affordable and accessible to hospitals and educational institutions ​– allowing a patient who needs brain surgery, for example, to visualize how the operation will go simply by strapping on a VR headset and being guided through the process step by step.

Sutherland says 3D medical models give a far more complete picture of the inner workings of the human body than traditional two-dimensional images from MRIs and CAT scans. He equates current technology to a mechanic trying to troubleshoot a problem by looking at a photo of a motor.

One researcher at the University of Utah, he adds, could hardly believe her eyes when he led her through a virtual demonstration of Elucis.

‘People’s minds are blown’

“She literally gasped,” Sutherland says with a grin. “That type of reaction is not uncommon. People’s minds are blown.”

The company began gaining momentum last year, raising $270,000 in a friends-and-family round before signing a deal to use software giant Logitech’s high-tech styluses in its platform. 

So far, a handful of customers have purchased the software for research purposes. But the firm really expects to start firing on all cylinders once it gets the green light from regulators to sell the product to hospitals for medical use, approval it’s hoping comes before 2021 is out.

Management was initially eyeing a seed round in the $1.5-million range, but scaled back its expectations after testing the waters and realizing its market niche was a bit too narrow and its profile a little too low to spark that much interest from big-name venture capitalists.

“That Venn diagram of available investors in that space from a VC standpoint was just a little too small,” says chief financial officer Taylor Fantin, who joined the firm in early 2020 after a six-year stint at Ottawa-based online natural supplement dispensary Fullscript.

Savvy management

Capital Angel Network executive director Nolan Beanlands thinks the firm has a good chance of getting there eventually. 

He lauds the founders for assembling a management team that features a savvy mix of biotech veterans such as Fantin and Sonya Deveau – a former sales manager at Spartan Bioscience who is now Realize Medical’s vice-president of sales and operations – along with technical experts who include Sutherland and co-founder Dan La Russa, a researcher at the Ottawa Hospital and a professor of radiology at the University of Ottawa.

“So many great companies are built from entrepreneurs seeing a problem and solving it themselves,” he says.

Fantin says the company has set “aggressive goals” for the next 12 months, including doubling its headcount and earning $1 million in revenues. Then it will be time to go back to the capital markets.

“It’s about proving that traction … where we become very investable to VCs,” he says.

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