French Tech Tuesday is a monthly networking event from French Tech Austin/French American Business Council of Austin to help our French entrepreneurs make connections across Austin’s ecosystem.  It’s also just about having everyone who loves “La French Tech” and Austin’s booming France-Austin connections get together and meet a fascinating cross-section of Austinites.  At one of our recent events, we met another French entrepreneur, Estelle Garcia, who decided to come to Austin to work on building a startup. French Tech Austin’s Liz Wiley sat down with Estelle to learn more about why Austin and what she’s up to with LivaFortis.

Liz W:  Estelle, it’s great to have you and your company, LivaFortis, in Austin.  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the company, including when you arrived in Austin?

Estelle G:  I have been here in Austin for LivaFortis since July 2017.   At LivaFortis we are developing a medical wearable device to increase the efficacy, safety and accessibility of physical therapy for patients with scoliosis. This device has integrated sensors connected to an app to assist patients during their daily physical exercises and make sure they do their exercises correctly.

As for my training and background, I have a mechanical engineering background.  I studied at the French engineering school “les Arts et Métiers,” and I pursued an M.S. in Advanced Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bristol in England during my last year of school.   But because I have always been very interested in medicine, I decided to specialize in the development of innovative medical devices with an additional degree: a Master in Translational Medicine, which is a joint program between UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco.

Liz W:   I understand you have a connection to the “porteur de projet” of our French Tech Austin initiative, Christophe Lavigne, who is well known for the success of LDR spine, an artificial disk company—which was acquired in recent years for $1.1 billion.  Can you tell us about how you started down this path to creating a medical device company, and how that is connected with Christophe Lavigne/LDR Spine?

Estelle G:    As you know, Christophe Lavigne is a co-founder of LDR Medical in Troyes, France who moved to Austin to start LDR Spine here. My connection is that I worked briefly at LDR Medical in France before moving to the U.S., and that is how I started to hear about Christophe. I have never actually met him, but I would be very interested to do so!

When I was at LDR, I worked on spinal implants that can be used to surgically treat scoliosis. This is how I got interested in this condition and its treatments.

Liz W:   For those of us who do not have a medical device background, can you describe the market in which you operate and the problem LivaFortis is solving?

Estelle G:  About 2.5% of the global population suffer from scoliosis, a three-dimensional deformation of the spine affecting quality of life as it results in pain as well as a reduction of lung capacity, activity, and self-esteem. Current treatments for progressed scoliosis include bracing and surgeries, which can be painful and traumatic for patients and their families.  Those treatments also have very high costs, especially in the U.S.

Fortunately, some new physical therapies have started to demonstrate their ability to stop the progression of scoliosis, reducing the need for bracing and surgeries. However, their efficacy is currently limited as their personalization can be difficult and patients (mostly adolescents) are required to do daily exercises alone at home and adherence to treatment can be low. In addition, executing the wrong exercises can result in worsening the scoliosis.

Our aim is to help patients with scoliosis get the most benefit from physical therapy by providing therapists with tools to help them with treatment personalization and assisting patients at home to make sure that they do their exercises correctly.

Liz W:   What are your impressions of Austin: how do you see this ecosystem helping you succeed?

Estelle G:  I believe that Austin is a really great place to start a company or work for a startup.  There is an amazing ecosystem here composed of novel and experienced entrepreneurs and of all the different actors that gravitate around them (investors, lawyers, potential partners, consultants, mentors, etc.).

I highly recommend to anyone who founds a startup in Austin to join one of the great co-working spaces the city has. I am working with my team at one of them—Capital Factory—and it grants us access to more than 150 mentors.  These mentors can help us on a lot of different topics, and this access facilitates making the key connections that we need to grow our business.  Being in this type of setting also allows us to evolve among other entrepreneurs going through the same process as we are.

I also think that Austin is a very welcoming city and I truly never felt discriminated or rejected because I was French. Besides, having a business there is definitely cheaper than in cities like Boston and areas like the Silicon Valley.

As another plus, Austin is a really great city to live in, and I encourage everyone to come visit it!

Liz W:  Do you stay in touch with ecosystems in France for medical device companies?   How do you see that market in France, and are barriers to entry lower/higher in Texas versus France?

Estelle G:  We are also considering the potential business for LivaFortis in Europe. France is a good place for us to operate part of our development through different partnerships (research, consulting, etc.) and the establishment of a local team to support our development on the European market, which is also really strategic for our application.

Liz W:  Are you thinking about doing any fundraising from here in Austin?

Estelle G:  We are very lucky as we already have a French investor who financially supports our development for now. However, in the future, we will investigate different ways to raise money, including potential investors in Austin.

Many thanks to Estelle for taking the time to talk about her Austin experience and how she is working on making a big difference in the quality of life for scoliosis patients.  Know a French or French-speaking entrepreneur or techie in Austin who should be featured here? Please contact us at the Facebook page or here on the site.   Better yet, come meet us at a French Tech Tuesday, which happens the second Tuesday of every month (except for March, which is SXSW season).

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