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From School Project to Multinational Social Enterprise: Canada’s Arbutus Medical Drills Down to Impact

Arbutus Medical is a Vancouver based social enterprise developing devices that break down barriers to safe surgery. Michael Cancilla, Director of Engineering and Co-Founder of Arbutus Medical states:

“From the beginning, we have been focused on expanding surgical care and we do that through frugal innovation. That means we look for simple solutions to complex problems to break down barriers to care.”
Michael Cancilla, Director of Engineering and Co-Founder of Arbutus Medical

Arbutus Medical was founded in 2014, through a collaboration between a group of biomedical engineering students from the University of British Columbia’s Engineers in Scrubs program, and surgeons from the Uganda Sustainable Trauma Orthopaedic Program (Vancouver, Canada) and Mulago National Referral Hospital (Kampala, Uganda).

The original problem this ambitious group decided to tackle was the lack of surgical power tools around the world. They were able to verify how expensive the tools were through extensive research. Michael explains:

“Hospitals in Canada pay around $20,000-$30,000 for their surgical power tools and that is out of reach for the majority patients and hospitals around the world. This contributes to the bigger picture, which is the rising cost of health care in general as a global problem.”

The first device Arbutus Medical made was the DrillCover Hex. They worked with the large manufacturing company Dewalt and created a partnership to source a drill to match the exact specs for surgery. The crux that Arbutus Medical and Dewalt overcame together was designing a drill cover as you cannot sterilize the drill after surgery.

DrillCover Hex
“We have discovered the same kind of problem in veterinary hospitals.” says Michael. “Surgeons can’t always afford the tools they need so we can come in and provide a solution that is more affordable.”

In September 2019, Michael had the chance to go to Bernard Mevs Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti with Team Broken Earth (TBE) as part of their global surgery outreach. Michael states:

“Arbutus Medical was able to leave behind our tools at the request of the hospital, so that Bernard Mevs would have the ability to use them moving forward.”

Read more about this trip here:

The Team Broken Earth trauma team operates at Bernard Mevs Hospital in Port-au-Prince. (Photo courtesy of Team Broken Earth)

Recently, Arbutus Medical has been focused on an exciting new opportunity: this year they launched the DrillCover at their first US hospital. The hospital is a world leading trauma center and they were able to save time and money.  Read more on their first US site here:

Ultimately, having the power of tools affects the ability of hospitals to do surgeries. Arbutus Medical has impacted 53,000 human patients, 38,000 animal patients in 36 different countries and they continue to grow. Michael concludes:

“From the beginning, we have focused on surgery as a basic human right and are very excited to use the power of social enterprise because we thought and still think it is the most sustainable way to create impact long-term.”

[box] The Trico Social EnterPrize is a biennial award celebrating Canada’s social enterprise ‘stars’ –organizations that have reached such heights of best practice, impact and innovation in social enterprise their example can help others navigate their own social impact journey.

The Haskayne School of Business and the Trico Charitable Foundation believe Calgary can be a global hub for social entrepreneurship and leaders in the evolution of capitalism. The Trico Foundation Social Entrepreneurship Centre was established at Haskayne in 2019 thanks to a $5-million gift from the Trico Foundation to support student experiences inside and outside the classroom including community-based learning, internships, curriculum development and research. To build on this momentum, both organizations are collaborating on the Social EnterPrize award for outstanding Canadian social enterprises and What’s Next YYC, which awards prize money to Calgary & area based social enterprises. Learn more.

This blog series spotlights some of our 2019 Social EnterPrize finalists.  [/box]

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