UChicago Startup Investment Program makes first investment

ExplORer Surgical
UChicago Startup Investment Program has made its first investment in ExplORer Surgical, an interactive surgical software platform.
Courtesy of
UChicago Startup Investment Program
Mark Peters
News Director and Social Sciences SpecialistUniversity Communications

The University of Chicago has made its first venture investment from the UChicago Startup Investment Program. ExplORer Surgical, which is based on technology developed at the University of Chicago Medical Center, provides an interactive surgical playbook that promotes optimal teamwork in the operating room. It will receive an investment of $500,000 from the University as part of its $3 million Series A financing.

Announced in December, the UChicago Startup Investment Program is a new initiative where the University co-invests alongside established venture funds in startups led by UChicago faculty, staff, students and alumni. The University has set aside $25 million from its endowment to invest in startups raising early funding rounds. The program is overseen by the University's Office of Investments, which manages the $7.5 billion endowment, as part of its private equity and venture capital portfolio, in collaboration with the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

“The goal of the UChicago Startup Investment Program is to invest in University-affiliated companies that can grow and create economic opportunities,” said Mark Schmid, University vice president and chief investment officer. “ExplORer Surgical has a record of success, both from their time at the University and in recent years, and we are pleased that they will be receiving the first investment from this program.”

The $500,000 investment from the University is part of ExplORer Surgical’s oversubscribed $3 million Series A. It was led by Aphelion Capital and saw investments from Elliott Management, M25 Group and HBS Angels. It follows the company’s $1 million Seed round in 2016.

ExplORer Surgical is an interactive surgical software platform that reduces disruptions and wasted disposables incurred by existing manual practices by improving surgical team communication in the operating room. ExplORer Surgical also enhances quality of care and efficiency by providing real-time performance and scheduling data to operating room administrators. Surgical teams use ExplORer Surgical’s software to coordinate their activities while managing their operating tools and supplies.

Connecting UChicago resources

ExplORer Surgical was formed in 2013 at the Polsky Center Collaboratorium—an annual event hosted by the Polsky Center that connects UChicago scientists and researchers with Chicago Booth MBA students. Alexander Langerman, at the time a surgeon at the UChicago Medical Center running a research lab focused on operating room efficiency, described his methods to bring efficient operational principles into surgery to a crowd of MBA students. In the audience was Jennifer Fried, MBA’15, a Chicago Booth student with health care consulting and venture capital experience. Langerman, Fried, along with surgical resident Marko Rojinica and Raza Jafri, MBA’15, connected on a passion to improve a critical medical experience through operational efficiency, and ExplORer Surgical was born.

The Polsky Center Collaboratorium was to be the first of many University-affiliated entrepreneurial programs that ExplORer Surgical participated in, and at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey.

“ExplORer Surgical would not be where we are without the support of the University of Chicago and the Polsky Center,” said Fried, co-founder and CEO of ExplORer Surgical. “From early team formation, to the training and investments received through the Innovation Fund and New Venture Challenge, and to the support I’ve received since graduating from Chicago Booth, the Polsky Center has been with us on every step of our entrepreneurial journey.”

ExplORer was a member of the Autumn 2014 cohort of the Polsky Center Innovation Corps program—a National Science Foundation-supported program to empower UChicago scientists, researchers and students to test the commercial potential of their research and ideas. In Innovation Corps, scientists and researchers undergo entrepreneurship training—over seven weeks they are given funds, mentoring, resources and training in areas such as customer discovery and market validation.

In the spring of 2014, the team received a $50,000 investment from the UChicago Innovation Fund—a multi-million dollar fund run by the Polsky Center that invests in proof-of-concept and early business development work for viable new startups created by faculty and students. At the time, the investment from the Innovation Fund was used to enhance the production of ExplORer Surgical’s surgical workflow software.

ExplORer Surgical participated in the 2015 Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge—the Polsky Center’s nationally-ranked capstone program, offered through Chicago Booth. ExplORer took second place, receiving an investment of $50,000, in addition to the months of education and mentorship provided throughout the program.

“ExplORer is making operating rooms safer and more efficient, it’s having a real impact on the world,” said John Flavin, associate vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation and head of the Polsky Center. “That’s the Polsky Center’s mission: to go from idea to impact, and we’re doing it in a way that harnesses and connects the resources of the entire university—from the business school to the medical center—and advances Chicago’s economy.”