Able Innovations operates in a space that Dr. Gaurav Puri, chief of Newmarket, Ontario-based Southlake Regional Health Centre’s emergency department, describes as “not particularly sexy.”
The Toronto-based robotic medical device startup focuses on the problem of patient transfer—a run-of-the-mill, labour-intensive procedure that usually involves some combination of porters, nurses, and orderlies lifting a patient from point a to point b, sometimes using bed sheets or a slider board.
“The best [medtech] solutions are the ones that change the standard of care, and sometimes they’re super, super simple. And this is that thing.”
-Dr. Gaurav Puri
In an interview with BetaKit, Puri described the typical patient transfer process as “pretty crude,” adding that it can cause pain to patients and result in hospital staff experiencing injuries. Amid an already short-staffed healthcare system during COVID-19, the issues associated with this routine task have become magnified.
Enter Able Innovations, which has built a robotic medical device designed to address the problem of patient transfer, called the ALTA Platform. To date, the startup has secured $7.5 million CAD in previously unannounced venture capital and grant funding, and the support of doctors like Puri to develop and begin rolling out its solution.
“The best [medtech] solutions are the ones that change the standard of care, and sometimes they’re super, super simple,” said Puri. “And this is that thing. It’s very, very simple—it’s a lateral transfer. It happens millions, if not billions of times a day, around the world, but nobody cares about it.”
Founded in 2018 by CEO Jayiesh Singh and CTO Philip Chang, Able Innovations’ ALTA Platform automates the patient transfer process, enabling a single caregiver to painlessly move an immobile patient between surfaces, such as from a bed to stretcher, or vice versa.
Pre-pandemic, the startup had few bites. “There was a point in 2019 where no hospital would talk to us and we were like, are we doing the wrong thing?” Singh told BetaKit in an interview. “Everybody would say, ‘I want a quick fix, I want a robot that disinfects and kills COVID.’”
But according to Singh, “the complete opposite” started happening towards the end of 2020, when hospitals began to realize that short-staffing had become a serious issue, making patient transfers harder to execute, and less worth the associated risk.
Able Innovations has raised a total of $7.5 million in funding, including a $2 million seed round in December 2020, and a $2.5 million seed extension in March 2022, both raised via convertible note. The startup has also secured a total of $3 million in grants and non-dilutive funding over the past three years, but did not disclose the exact breakdown of this financing to BetaKit.
Both of Able Innovations’ venture rounds were supported by medtech-focused, Cambridge-based NorthSpring Capital Partners, Ontario Centre of Innovation’s Market Readiness Fund, as well as Puri and Dr. Andrew Vellathottam, who runs his own private practice specializing in occupational health, while University of Waterloo’s Velocity Health Tech Fund also invested in Able Innovations’ initial December 2020 round.
Singh and Chang have been developing and commercializing technologies since 2010, first at Morgan Solar, a Toronto-based renewable energy semiconductor designer, and then Envest Product Development, a “one-stop-shop” for Toronto-based manufacturers and hardware development companies.
Both have seen the issues associated with patient transfers firsthand. Chang experienced it when he was hospitalized for a long period of time. Singh learned about “the everyday struggle and indignity” staff and patients faced on a daily basis while orchestrating transfers through volunteering at long-term-care (LTC) facilities. He has also seen his mother, who worked in LTC, suffer injuries related to executing patient transfers.
According to Vellathottam, Singh’s mother isn’t alone. In his own practice, Vellathottam told BetaKit that he serves many healthcare workers who have hurt themselves doing patient transfers. “I can’t tell you how many times I had people come in saying … I have an injury with my back, with my shoulder, because they had to do a lot of moving,” he said.
According to Puri, there have been staff shortages “across the board in all clinical areas” during the pandemic. This environment has benefitted Able Innovations, which Singh said started to see “a lot of traction” when COVID-19 hit.
Able Innovations raised its March seed extension to ensure it was capable of delivering units to key early adopters interested in piloting its devices. In addition to doing so and deriving clinical data, the startup also plans to use the proceeds to start growing its manufacturing operations, develop some additional features, invest in documentation, certification, and file patents for its underlying tech.
The startup has already secured partnerships with Toronto’s University Health Network (UHN), Ottawa-based Élisabeth Bruyère Hospital, and multiple United States Veterans Health Administration (VHA) hospitals, with which Able Innovations is currently “in discussions to implement” the ALTA Platform.
According to Puri, while there are other people working on patient transfer devices, most solutions still require “a lot of manpower.”
“I haven’t really seen anything that’s like this,” said Puri, alluding to the ALTA Platform with its single caregiver solution.
Frustrated by the slow adoption of tech in the healthcare space, Puri and Vellathottam—who met in medical school—got into investing and advising medtech companies to help “bridge that gap,” with an eye towards startups building simple solutions to common procedures.
After suffering a rib fracture playing basketball, Puri tested out the ALTA Platform firsthand and experienced no additional pain. “With a rib fracture, if you move in the wrong way, you’re just gonna have this excruciating pain,” he said. But when Puri tried ALTA out, he “didn’t feel a thing.”
Puri described Able Innovations as “a strong team behind a good idea,” emphasizing the startup’s focus on preserving patient dignity and its potential to be disruptive. “We believe in the mission and we believe in the product,” he added.
Feature image courtesy Able Innovations.