A family of passionate professionals raised Zaid Atto.
Originally from Iraq, Zaid Atto comes from family of pharmacists and physicians on his father’s side and a family of engineers on his mother’s side. Growing up around these accomplished medical professionals and engineers, it was no surprise that Zaid also developed a passion for medicine and engineering. Learning about the professional experiences of his family in healthcare, he recognized that the day-to-day life of a physician can be more relationship-based than technically-oriented. There is usually a deep and sacred relationship between a physician and their patients, that is extremely gratifying and impactful. But there are only so many working hours in a day and the physician-patient dynamic is not scalable, unlike technology.
“In a physician’s lifetime, they may be able to help tens of thousands of patients. But if you develop a new standard-of-care technology in medicine, it can have a much more scalable and global impact that can help millions of patients.” said Zaid.
Ultimately, he wanted to improve the standard of care for patients receiving surgery.
After his family moved to Toronto when he was fifteen, it was natural for him to apply to the University of Toronto’s Biomedical Engineering program. Through this program, he had the fortunate opportunity to find an internship to work with Dr. Brian Courtney, co-founder of the Medventions program and researcher and medical device inventor at Sunnybrook Research Institute. Zaid worked with Dr. Courtney both in his lab and at Conavi. For his undergraduate capstone thesis, he developed a medical device which was inspired by surgeons, that would later form the foundational concept for Xpan, his very own medtech company.
Before he enrolled in the Medventions program, he had started to build on his medtech idea from his capstone course but was unsure how to get it off the ground.
“At the time, I knew this idea posed great potential for minimally invasive surgery, but I had no clue what was involved in running a start-up company, especially a medtech one,” said Zaid. “Learning the technical skills to develop my device was something I accomplished with my [undergraduate] degree; what I was missing was the hands-on entrepreneurial skills and knowledge.”
Working with Dr. Courtney, he was introduced to the Medventions program and immediately applied after attending a Medventions Innovation Day, an annual conference that brings together Medventions fellows, medtech CEOs, researchers, inventors, and thought leaders. He realized that the Medventions program would give him the skill set and knowledge he needed to take Xpan from an engineering project to a real company.
“I was inspired by Dr. Courtney’s journey and the impact Conavi was making. I wanted to follow in stride and pursue my own idea,” said Zaid.
Access to industry mentors, current market research, and medtech best practices helped to build Zaid’s capabilities in running his own medtech company in Canada.
During his time in the Medventions fellowship program, Zaid encountered some unexpected surprises. “I had no idea how much easier needs-finding would be in-person, in the hospital,” said Zaid.
The Medventions program invites students to observe and witness the daily occurrences within the healthcare setting to identify pain points and inefficiencies and then strategize solutions for those issues.
“Observing the day-to-day hospital experience was critical to my knowledge acquisition and retention. From the social and academic aspects of the program, it solidified my new skills and understanding of healthcare innovation,” said Zaid. “I had the opportunity to discover and discuss tens of problems with surgeons and design different technological solutions while evaluating their commercial potential.”
To Zaid’s delight, the Medventions program helped him realize he was sitting on a golden egg. His Xpan concept achieved a right balance of a compelling, unmet medical need, large market size and commercial gap, and a relatively-speaking straightforward technology and regulatory development pathway, as far as regulated surgical devices are concerned.
Having the opportunity to connect with other accomplished medtech entrepreneurs further inspired him and boosted his confidence. Today, one of those mentors made a lasting connection and is continuing to make an impact on Zaid. Stefano Picone, a Medventions mentor, now sits on the board of Zaid’s company, Xpan.
“After completing the fellowship program, I felt that I was confidently capable of developing the skills and acquiring expertise I needed to get Xpan off the ground,” said Zaid. “It was exhilarating.”
Through the Medventions program, Zaid gained the hands-on entrepreneurial training needed to fully commit to his company. Today, Xpan has raised capital from Canadian & US-based Life Science investors, won numerous prestigious awards, scored two issued US patents, completed its product development goals, and received FDA 510(k) clearance.
It’s safe to say that Zaid’s family is beaming with pride as he continues to grow Xpan to support minimally-invasive surgeries around the world.