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Start-up - InSimo

Patrick Philipon - Technoscope - 30/07/2013

Interview with Jérémie Allard

©InSimo

It was a request from an American charity that got everything going for InSimo.
Co-founder and Chairman Jérémie Allard looks back at that episode and explains what is so special about his young company's medical simulators.

What was your background before coming to Inria?

As an academic (University of Orléans, University of New Orleans, INP Grenoble), I have always been interested in the research aspect. I did my PhD at Inria Grenoble, then did a post-doc at Cimit (Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology) in Boston. After being hired at Inria Lille in 2007, at the same time as Stéphane Cotin, who had also just come back from Boston, I worked on an interactive simulation platform. In 2010, with Stéphane and two other researchers, I set up the Shacra team on medical simulation.

How did you come to take the step of setting up a business?

Towards the end of 2010, several factors combined. Firstly, the good research results had created an active community of scientists using our software. Secondly, more and more businesses were contacting us, showing that there was also considerable industrial interest in the software, which it was difficult for us to respond to directly. So we started to think. It took time, as there were five or six of us, each with his own ideas and preferences. In the end, I went for it along with the two engineers in the team (Pierre-Jean Bensoussan and Juan Pablo de la Plata Alcalde). The other two researchers, who stayed at Inria, remained involved as scientific experts. I wanted to get out of the laboratory and, in particular, to see how great technology can be used in tangible products.

From the initial idea stage in 2009, Inria helped us to refine our projects. We took part in the IT-Translation barcamp in late 2010 and, since the start of 2012, the project has officially been "incubated" at SEMIA (Strasbourg).

What was your first big project?

What really got InSimo going was a cataract operation simulator. An American charity, HelpMeSee, wants to cure 20 million blind people worldwide using a new operating method that is less costly than the traditional procedure. To do this, it needs to train countless surgeons. Since the founder of HelpMeSee had been a pioneer of flight simulators for training pilots, it occurred to him to go down a similar route for surgeons. In 2012, he asked us to compete against existing companies. We worked very hard and he was convinced by our prototype. 

What is InSimo's market positioning, and how is the company coming along?

We have chosen to act exclusively as software suppliers. That is our core business and what sets us apart on this market. The robotics part (the force feedback that simulates the reaction of the tissues) and the visualisation aspect are handled by other companies.

The Ministry of Higher Education and Research prize (see opposite) will allow us to develop other medical applications of this technology: laparoscopy, arthroscopy neurosurgery, etc. We have taken on a fourth person and we are looking for further staff for our R&D. Although it was born out of work done at Inria Lille, InSimo is based in Strasbourg. It was drawn to that city by the creation of a University Hospital Institute specialising in image-guided minimally invasive surgery, a structure encompassing both technical and medical research, surgeons and patients, large companies and start-ups. 

Keywords: InSimo Medical simulation Shacra HelpMeSee Software Simulating surgical procedures

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