Exclusive Interview of Jennifer Fried, CEO ExplORer Surgical

·5-min read

Jennifer started her career as an entrepreneur and investor with a prestigious healthcare investment firm in Silicon Valley. In graduate school at UChicago, she became involved in a research lab focused on enhancing surgical workflows and outcomes. That experience led to leaving her Silicon Valley job to start a company in Chicago. Over the past eight years, she has transformed an idea into a venture-backed global company.

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Explorer Surgical provides a cloud-based digital playbook for medical device companies to connect physicians during live cases remotely. Medical device companies can deliver an exceptional experience to strengthen techniques, accelerate product adoption, and support successful outcomes with an on-demand procedure playbook, real-time video collaboration, and performance tracking tools.

What motivated you to start Explorer Surgical? How did the idea come about?

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In 2013, while getting my MBA, I became involved with a research lab in the Department of Surgery at the University of Chicago. It was led by Dr. Alex Langerman, a head and neck surgeon currently practicing at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. Dr. Langerman's research focused on addressing the challenges he faced every day as a surgeon. For example, the variability of his team from frequent turnover of his staff or shift changes, or not having the right instruments in the room and led to delays or disruptions during surgery. The most difficult challenge he faced was anytime there was someone new to his OR, the learning curve for new team members often caused a delay in procedure time.

What was your mission at the beginning of starting your business?

When Dr. Langerman explained these challenges, it was hard for me to understand the full impact.

He invited me to observe a procedure so I could see these challenges for myself, and as a result, I wanted to become involved in his research. As I became more aware of the inefficiencies, I knew there had to be a better way. I envisioned a solution to address his challenges that could also be applied to any environment regardless of the physician's specialty. This solution was a digital platform that would provide access to procedural best practices for everyone in the room in a step-by-step guide of the entire workflow. In addition, physicians could connect with medical device companies or peers remotely, enabling access from anywhere in the world. And finally, the platform would provide an opportunity to capture previously inaccessible data and open the black box of intraprocedural information.

When times get tough, what would you say motivates you to keep going? To not hit the snooze button and to keep fighting for your goals.

First, it's the team. Dozens of people (and quickly growing) count on me to lead our company, deposit a paycheck into their bank account, and put food on their table for their families. Their commitment to me is something I don't take lightly.

Second, it's about the patient. They are the ones who ultimately benefit from our product. In every aspect of product design and software delivery, I ask myself how we would want this product to be used if my spouse or loved one were on the OR table?

What is unique about your business? Is there a competitive advantage that you have over the rest?

Explorer Surgical is unique because we offer a three-pillar approach to a solution beyond providing just a video conferencing platform. We take their procedural best practices, IFUs, training, instructional images, video, and physician preferences to create a digital playbook for the entire clinical team. So it doesn't matter if there is a new scrub tech or a shift change; everything is mapped out, play by play, so everyone in the room knows where the physician is in the case and can anticipate their needs. Through real-time remote connectivity, we create accessibility during a procedure used for medical education, clinical training, or procedural support. We also capture structured data for training assessments, clinical trials, research, or product development.

What sets us apart from our competitors is that no other company offers a digital playbook unique to a medical device company and physician preferences. The visibility and insight into what happens during a procedure have often been inaccessible to vendors or surgeons because travel is limited due to family, clinical practice, or the current global pandemic restrictions.

Have you ever gotten a disappointed client or customer? If so, how did you handle the situation?

Unfortunately, it does happen. I try to operate with a constant mission of customer discovery. So, when something goes wrong, I lean into it to learn as much as I can. As a company, we operate swiftly to course-correct as quickly as possible to do right by our customers. We will then hold post-mortems once we have resolved the problem to understand what went wrong and how we can do better in the future.

Is there any resource or resources that helped you on your journey to becoming a business owner?

Getting my MBA from the University of Chicago was a game-changer for me. The network, the coursework, and the broader experience helped shape me into the business operator and leader I am today.

What are the three best pieces of advice that you would give to anyone starting a business? What do they need to know from the very beginning?

1) Invest in high-quality service providers such as accountants and lawyers early on to avoid more costly mistakes down the road (thankfully, given to me from the very beginning!) A solid legal and financial foundation for your company is critical for long-term success. A great executive coach is also a significant investment for you and your leadership team.

2) You will make mistakes regularly. It's OK. Learn from them, improve, incorporate the learnings on a go-forward basis and move on.

3) Fundraise early and often if your company requires outside capital - keeping the lights on is the CEO's #1 job.

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