U of A Medical Device Startup Lands $500,000 Grant for Commercialization

Lapovations executives, from left, Spencer Jones, Jared Greer and Nhiem Cao pose with Abgrab, the company's innovative surgical assistance device for use in laparoscopic surgery.
Whit Pruitt

Lapovations executives, from left, Spencer Jones, Jared Greer and Nhiem Cao pose with Abgrab, the company's innovative surgical assistance device for use in laparoscopic surgery.

Lapovations, a medical device startup launched in the graduate-level New Venture Development program at the U of A, has received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to bolster commercialization of AbGrab, its innovative surgical assist device. 

The award, announced earlier this month, comes in the form of a Phase IIB Small Business Innovation Research grant, which will provide additional research-and-development funding, according to a company news release. 

"Securing non-dilutive funding opportunities has been a crucial part of our capital strategy since inception," said Jared Greer, Lapovations' founder and CEO. "The $1.25 million oversubscribed Series A we closed in January 2023 allowed us to maximize the $500,000 in non-dilutive matching funds from Phase IIB." 

Non-dilutive funding doesn't require an owner to give up equity in their company. For companies awarded a Phase IIB grant, NSF matches 50% of qualifying third-party investments, with a maximum award of $500,000 per company, according to the release. This Phase IIB award brings the total grant funding secured by Lapovations to $1.725 million since 2019.

"This funding further verifies the commercial opportunity of AbGrab and also validates our ongoing commercial efforts," said Nhiem Cao, also a New Venture Development alumnus and chief operating officer at Lapovations. 

Lapovations in March began a national rollout of AbGrab, its novel, non-invasive device that uses suction to lift the abdominal wall at the start of laparoscopic surgery. Before the advent of AbGrab, surgeons had to either manually lift the abdominal wall, which can be difficult to grasp on thin or obese patients, or use invasive towel clips, which can cause painful bruising. 

Over the next year, the company hopes to continue the buildout of its sales force, with a goal of 125 sales reps. They have also set a goal of having at least 100 laparoscopic surgeons actively using the device by 2024. 

The company first worked out of Startup Village, the U of A's free co-working space for startups. Since then, Lapovations has "graduated" from the facility and gone on to become the U of A's most successful startup, winning seven state, regional and national business plan competitions while securing more than $1 million in funding.  

An intensive, incubator-like sequence of courses, the New Venture Development program helps students develop the knowledge and skills to bring new innovations to society — whether by creating their own company, working for a startup, taking a greater role in an established company or founding a non-profit. Coursework includes identifying new venture opportunities, evaluating their feasibility and developing a business plan for a new entrepreneurial venture.  

The courses are co-taught by Sarah Goforth, executive director of the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and David Hinton, executive director of Technology Ventures

About the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation: The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation creates and curates innovation and entrepreneurship experiences for students across all disciplines. Through the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, McMillon Innovation Studio, Startup Village, and Greenhouse at the Bentonville Collaborative, the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation provides free workshops and programs — including social and corporate innovation design teams, venture internships, competitions and startup coaching. A unit of the Sam M. Walton College of Business and Division of Economic Development, the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation  also offers on-demand support for students who will be innovators within existing organizations and entrepreneurs who start something new. 

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