Digital Orthopaedics Transformation Tour Paris

Digital Orthopaedics
Transformation Tour:

I just completed an extremely compelling visit with digital change agents in Paris,  France, which is a hotbed of technology and innovation, particularly in surgical robotics.

Underlying the innovation frenzy is a desire by the Elysée Palace (think White House if you’re in the US) to double down on core competencies (what they refer to as “Deep Tech”). Covid 19 showcased for many European countries how interdependency has its down sides. France had no ability, for example, to manufacture their own masks. Thus, the government has implemented a long-term strategy to ensure that France leverages its many talents and assets to create and support a domestic digital and tech infrastructure. This policy is echoed in many countries including the US which recently announced an investment to shore-up domestic computer chip manufacturing and minimize reliance on Southeast Asian plants. In my quest to better understand digital transformation outside the US, a visit to France was a must.

I had the unique opportunity to speak with Meiline Swildens, who has had an extensive and broad experience leading digital innovation, global brand design and digital first products. She is currently Director at Google France. We discussed why innovation in France seems to be having a renaissance and the reasons Google chose to open their latest AI innovation hub in Paris, and revisited the key requirements for successful tech
adoption. To get closer to the action, I made a bit of a pilgrimage to the gleaming and super-hip Station F digital tech incubator in the heart of Paris hosting around 200 tech startups, as well as Parisante’ (a mash up of the words Paris + “Health”), a med tech research hub with another spectacular architectural footprint and many startups, though the latter are focused on healthcare. Both are government-supported research and innovation centers where startups are deliberately co-located with offices from all the major government and regulatory institutions.

These purpose-built government funded structures are specifically designed to ensure frequent communication and interaction between all the occupants. The goal, clearly, is to facilitate cross pollination and communication between startups and government agencies with the latter being tasked with supporting, not hindering, innovation. Larger companies also have staff and offices in these centers to keep a finger on the pulse of
French start-ups. Important to note that these are only two of the several tech incubators in Paris. I spoke about this dynamic ecosystem with the indomitable and brilliant Elodie Brient-Litzler in her office at Parisante’. She is the COO of AvatarMedical.ai which recently gained FDA clearance for their VR based surgical planning tool. From her point of view, the co-location strategy supported by the government is working and she was able to recount numerous practical benefits of  working in this gorgeous new building. She also explained how non-dilutive government funding as well as many government / private collaborations serve to de-risk early stage  startups to support broad innovation. Further, a recently launched government venture fund quickly became one of the largest such funds in Europe. Perhaps as a direct outcome of such policies, perhaps not, several well-funded and successful French startups with unicorn valuations have come out of France in recent years.

Hopping on the metro, I crisscrossed Paris to grab coffee with Sophie Cahen and Helene Hiebel, each at French robotics companies. Sophie is the storied, brilliant, and frequently featured CEO of Ganymed Robotics, a well-funded startup that is developing a next-generation surgical robot for orthopedics, while Helene is Head of People and Culture at Enchanted Tools where they are building a humanoid robot with amongst other things, health care applications. Both provided different but complementary perspectives on why robotics innovation is so strong in France, which is arguably home to the worlds’ most prolific robot inventors. Recurring themes echoed by both (as well as Meiline) was the deep talent pool available for hire, the competitive cost structure compared to the US, and the benefits of working in a context where the government can support innovation at scale.
The French are also pushing for VR adoption. I had a wonderful meal with my friend and colleague Dr. Thomas Gregory . Thomas performed the first virtual reality orthopaedic surgery using HoloLens back in the early days and hosted the extraordinary 24 hours of live surgery around the world in VR with Microsoft two years ago. I look forward to participating in this amazing experience later this year and help showcase the latest in digital tech applied to orthopaedics.

There were some truly terrific insights from all these successful change agents about working in France and in technology that I look forward to sharing in our podcast on Innovation and Robotics in France! More to come from Lyon where DOCSF is hosting a “robotics in orthopaedics” summit of several key surgeon innovators.

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