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What it takes to scale innovation

How did a two-doctor start-up in Canada expand to the globally recognized company they are now? Turns out, it’s all about balance.

On this episode of Boldly, Nancy Crain, Joule’s Chief Innovation Officer, interviews Dr. Brian Courtney about what it takes to scale innovation. Dr. Courtney is a Joule Innovation grant recipient and founder of Conavi Medical.

Dr. Courtney built Conavi Medical to help cardiologists see inside the heart in surgical procedures. What began as two doctors with a vision in 2007 has grown to become a company of more than 85 employees, training hundreds of students and medical professionals across Canada.

Listen to learn how Dr. Courtney and his team managed company growth―balancing continued expansion while supporting existing technology.

tweetable: “Our ultimate hope for Conavi is that we’re a long standing, commercially-successful, Canadian-based medical device company―that is recognized worldwide and able to help a lot of patients.”

Key takeaways

What inspired Dr. Courtney to become an entrepreneur?

  • His father, who was an entrepreneur, inspired him throughout life;
  • He chose to focus on medicine because, coupled with his engineering skills, it would help him find solutions to key issues in hospitals;
  • His initial vision was to create a suite of technologies to help doctors get a better view inside the heart in procedures. They used image guidance and visualization technologies to achieve this and more.
tweetable: “The hospital really is a place where…there’s something we’re able to develop that might help a large number of people.”

What is Conavi Medical?

  • Conavi Medical employs 85 people and has their own manufacturing company.
  • Their leading products are the Novasight Hybrid and the Foresight ICE.
  • The Foresight ICE can be used in 10-15 different types of procedures.


How does being a physician-led organization affect Conavi Medical?

  • It’s an advantage, since much of the work they do is motivated by solving clinical problems.
  • It also helps Conavi communicate more easily with clinical peers and potential customers.
  • One disadvantage is the day-to-day priorities of clinical workers competes with corporate responsibilities.
tweetable: “One of Conavi’s strengths is that it is so strongly linked to the clinical community.”

Why is transitioning to scale so difficult, especially in Canada?

  • The start-up process is slower in Canada due to intellectual property procedures at academic institutions.
  • Canadian health care is designed to buy technology that is commoditized. There is little incentive to be an early adopter in our country.
  • Hospitals and governments are working to fix these issues and become earlier adopters of their own technology.
tweetable: “Intellectual property inertia is one issue that some institutions have been effective at learning how to manage, and others I think need a bit more experience.”

How can Canadian health care providers help encourage the early adoption of technologies?

  • Allocating medical spending for new technologies from all over the world would help get experience to people in the health care field.
  • Many new technologies are more expensive initially, but save money in the long run. While this is helpful, it can make it difficult to pitch investing in them.
  • Spending more in the beginning to save later will help push Canada towards becoming early adopters.
tweetable: “The government and the hospitals are realizing that it is important to provide pathways so that we can become an early adopter of our own technologies.”

What is most rewarding about Dr. Courtney’s experience with Conavi Medical?

  • When the company started, there were only two experienced people building a new technology. Now over 100 students have been trained by Conavi and 80 people are full-time employees.
  • Conavi Medical has created a lot of opportunities for passionate people in this field.
tweetable: “We’ve created a lot of opportunities for people with strong academic backgrounds and a strong passion towards looking after people, and given them an opportunity to gain some really world-class experience.”

Where does he see the company in the future?

  • The immediate focus is on scaling up current technologies and manufacturing in higher volumes.
  • They also plan to continue research and development iterations of existing technologies and explore new areas of need.
tweetable: “We need to…strike the right balance between being successful with what we have right now…while at the same time having some expansive opportunities created so that we can be [successful] for years to come.”


Recommended resources

Government announces $3.9 million for Conavi Medical to improve cardio procedures, a Betakit article

Conavi Medical announces Health Canada approval of Novasight Hybrid System for visualization during coronary angioplasty procedures, a Financial Post article

Joule Innovation Grant recipient brief on Conavi Medical and Dr. Courtney

Novasight Hybrid System, a Conavi video

Foresight ICE System, a Conavi video

Scaling a business: What you need to know, a Forbes article

The dilemma of scaling health startups, a Cornell Tech article



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The opinions stated by podcast participants are made in a personal capacity and do not reflect those of the Canadian Medical Association and its subsidiaries, including Joule. Joule does not endorse any views, product, service, association, company or industry mentioned in this podcast.