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Success Stories

Client Spotlight: Phillip Mohabir, Founder of Vivo Surgery

Vivo Surgery is on a mission to bridge the gap between surgical expertise and accessibility. Founder Phillip Mohabir is leading the startup’s development of a SaaS platform to help remotely train medical professionals on the latest surgical advancements during live surgeries.

July 18, 2023

If you’re a parent of a school-age child, you remember the challenges of managing virtual learning during the pandemic. Parents quickly found themselves in new roles as facilitators, network administrators, and IT help desks.

But the challenges for virtual learning weren’t restricted to K-12 students. Medical students and surgeons who relied on live training in an operating theatre suddenly could not get the hands-on instruction they needed. Not being in the operating theatre meant surgeons couldn’t learn innovative new procedures that their patients required to get the best possible care. For Phillip Mohabir, co-founder and CEO of Vivo Surgery, it was the perfect challenge for the experienced digital transformation professional.

Vivo Surgery’s cloud-based platform provides a live, high-definition, multi-view video display from an operating theatre to more than 30 remote locations. The platform delivers a secure, zero-latency livestream to surgeons who need to learn a new procedure. The interactive platform allows surgeons to ask questions and get responses during the procedure.

Taking a detour on the path to entrepreneurship

Mohabir brings over 15 years of experience in digital transformation to his role as co-founder and CEO of Vivo Surgery. Before starting the company, Mohabir worked at IMAX, leading the company’s expansion into China, Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America. But before joining IMAX, Mohabir had different plans.

“I did my undergrad with the intention of becoming a neurosurgeon. I studied neuroscience and advanced molecular biology during my undergrad. I decided to take a year off before doing the MCAT. I took a job at IMAX and stayed there for over a decade,” Mohabir said.

Working at IMAX as the Canadian-founded cinema projection innovator expanded its footprint and gave Mohabir a front-row seat to seeing digital transformation in action. Along with traditional movie projection systems, the industry was making the switch from film to digital projection. During his time at IMAX, the company went from 250 theatres to more than 1,600 across 85 countries.

“With a very lean team, we were able to scale the operations to allow us to grow in these new markets and figure out things since there are always exciting challenges,” Mohabir said.

From the big screen to the operating theatre

During the pandemic, Mohabir was contacted by a former executive at IMAX about a problem his neurosurgeon cousin was facing. Pandemic restrictions in health care facilities and hospitals meant a limited number of people allowed in an operating theatre. This restriction greatly limited the opportunities for medical students and surgeons to learn new procedures.

“Dr. Aleksa Cenic is an academic neurosurgeon at McMaster University, and he came to me with the problem that he wasn't getting the shadowing opportunities for medical students that he usually would. He had this idea that since we were seeing digital transformation happen with K to 12 students on Zoom, shouldn’t it be possible to do the same thing with medical students and a surgeon in an operating theatre,” Mohabir said.

His former colleague said there was a way to deliver a solution, but he wanted Mohabir’s thoughts on the business case for the solution.

“He needed someone to do the due diligence to see that once COVID ends and people can go back into the operating theatre, will there still be a need for this solution,” Mohabir said.

Customer discovery as surgical prep

Mohabir began the process by interviewing surgeons and residents who had already completed their medical school degrees to understand what the experience of shadowing surgery was like. He said those conversations showed not only was there a business case for the live stream solution, but there were more opportunities to improve surgical training.

“If you're in the ER as a medical student, there is often a seniority ranking of who gets to be in an operating room to see a procedure being performed. You’re not even really going to be able to see what's happening in the sterile field because you're usually in the back corner trying not to get yelled at for making noise with the other two students,” Mohabir said.

Another challenge is that medical students need to find a hospital that performs the specialty they want to shadow — and hope it aligns with their rotation schedule. Medical students must spend valuable time researching hospitals, making arrangements, and paying for travel if required.

“That's where the opportunity was for us. We could centralize and simplify the process using secure and interactive live streams. We also saw a larger problem we could address with diversity and inclusion in surgical training. We saw how the lack of surgeon diversity could lead to potential misdiagnosis and poor patient outcomes because of the biases,” Mohabir said.

Vivo Surgery provides an opportunity to expand the number of surgeons medical students can access. He said there are less than 40 Black women neurosurgeons in the United States today that medical students can shadow.

“It seemed like it was a big value proposition that we could help solve the diversity problem in surgery. So that's what we initially started pursuing — working to create more diversity in neurosurgery and orthopedics, which are the two specialities that have the biggest diversity gaps,” Mohabir said.

Accelerator Centre to the E.R. — STAT

Like a medical operation, building a startup is not a one-person job. Mohabir knew he needed to find a community for support and mentorship. Luckily, that community came into view within weeks of him leaving IMAX to focus on Vivo Surgery.

“I had moved into investor relations at IMAX’s New York office and they had recently acquired a company called SSIMWAVE, which was an Accelerator Centre grad and headquartered in the David Johnston Research + Technology Park. That’s how I learned about the Accelerator Center and AC:Incubate — through doing due diligence on the company,” Mohabir said.

He added that the Accelerator Centre team and mentors helped give them the structure they needed to pivot from an education marketplace model to a B2B SaaS play.

“When we came into the Accelerator Centre, the original business model was to make it so simple for a surgeon to live stream a surgery that we could perhaps increase the number of surgeries that you're able to watch and create a marketplace. But right at that time, it became difficult to raise money because of interest rates. To build a marketplace, you need a lot of upfront capital to spend on marketing and it's just not the environment for it,” Mohabir said.

Working with our Accelerator Centre mentors helped Mohabir and his fellow founders see the potential of moving to a SaaS business model. The new model provides an end-to-end solution for institutions that can be customized to their unique needs. Navigating that transition wasn’t the only significant challenge for the Vivo Surgery team. As a new startup, the lure of raising capital is always there — but the secret is knowing if you need to raise it and, if so, when.

“I came in with the idea that we needed to raise a pre-seed or angel round. Instead, the mentors gave us the focus to look for a bigger problem to solve first. We evolved the idea to what it is today — to train surgeons on new procedures using our platform. We’ve now done that,” Mohabir said.

In June, Vivo Surgery was used to live stream a 13-hour procedure at Hamilton General. That live steam was remotely attended by 18 wartime trauma surgeons spread across Ukraine, who used this to learn a new technique for reconstructive surgery

“The big problem that we solve is making sure patients are getting access to the best care by removing the bottleneck of training surgeons on new procedures and tools — we’re excited to bring this to more medical students and surgeons around the world,” Mohabir said.