Intuitive, the parent company of robotics manufacturer Intuitive Surgical, on Tuesday launched a $100 million venture-capital fund to invest in startups working on minimally invasive surgery.
Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Intuitive Surgical is best known for its da Vinci system, a surgical system often credited with popularizing robotic surgery in the early 2000s.
The $100 million fund, dubbed Intuitive Ventures, is part of the company’s vision for “accelerating the future of minimally invasive care,” according to Dr. Oliver Keown, Intuitive Ventures’ director, who joined Intuitive last year to co-found the fund. Keown previously was an investor at General Electric’s venture capital subsidiary, GE Ventures.
Keown will lead Intuitive Ventures with Julian Nikolchev, Intuitive Surgical’s senior vice president of corporate development and strategy who will also serve as president of the fund.
Intuitive Ventures will invest in early-stage startups developing precision diagnostics, digital tools, focal therapies and other technologies that support minimally invasive surgical care.
“We see the future of minimally invasive care as spanning the entire continuum, from disease detection to follow-up,” Keown said. The fund will back companies “across that spectrum.”
Intuitive Ventures marks Intuitive’s first move into the venture capital space.
It joins other medical device companies with venture-capital arms including GE Ventures, Johnson & Johnson’s JJDC and Royal Philips’ Philips Ventures.
Investors overall poured $21.8 billion into healthcare startups during this year’s third quarter, up 61.6% year-over-year, according to a report from CB Insights, a firm that analyzes data on venture capital and startups. Medical device companies, a sector that includes robotic surgery, raised more than $5 billion in funding—a new quarterly high.
Intuitive Ventures’ first investment went to KēlaHealth, a software company that uses artificial intelligence to predict patients’ risk of experiencing surgical complications and to recommend interventions. KēlaHealth’s risk stratification tools could save $231 to $458 per vascular surgery patient by reducing surgical site infections, according to a study published in the Journal of Surgical Research this year.
The San Francisco-based startup, part of a growing ecosystem of companies applying AI to surgery, was founded by physicians at Duke University Health System.
Intuitive Ventures and KēlaHealth aren’t disclosing how much the fund invested into KēlaHealth, according to Keown. But Intuitive Ventures co-led the startup’s $10 million Series A funding round with Santé Ventures, a healthcare and life venture-capital firm.
Intuitive Ventures as a “value-add investor” will connect KēlaHealth’s leadership team with others at Intuitive to see if there’s opportunities for additional partnership and collaboration down the line, but those aren’t part of the investment deal, according to Keown.
“We’re making investments into independent initiatives,” he said. “We really back … KēlaHealth to be a stand-alone success story in the digital health market.”
Intuitive posted $1.1 billion in revenue for 2020’s third quarter, down 4% year-over-year, which the company attributed to lower system placements during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as lower service revenue from credits it distributed as part of a customer relief program. Intuitive’s operating income was $270.4 million, down from $365.7 million during 2019’s third quarter.