Think Florida is part of “flyover country?” Think again.

Or at least that’s the reasoning behind Immertec’s decision to stay put in Tampa, Florida, after the medical tech company assembled a paid pilot with Johnson & Johnson and debuted its virtual reality ‘ware at Facebook’s headquarters.

Maltais was formerly “Staff-Sergeant.” In this photo he dons Magic Leap’s VR headset and hand controller.

Grit Daily caught up with the company’s Marine-turned-entrepreneur CEO, Erik Maltais, after Synapse — Florida’s answer to Texas’ SxSW and Charleston’s DigSouth — to take a deeper look at why the company has a shot at investors and media to take a more serious look at Florida tech.

  1. You have your own interesting background before you became an entrepreneur. Share that.

I am a first-generation American from a strong, Peruvian, single mother who taught me morals, work ethic, and a passion for learning. I am blessed for this foundation.

Like many people, my life was not without its trials and tribulations. My younger self, affected by the turbulent trauma of a broken family separated by child protective services, dove headfirst into a life of escape and bad behavior. By age seventeen I had hundreds of days of truancy and zero credits in school.  

I bought a ticket to Europe and spent the next six months roaming alone finding jobs in different cities to survive. This was a great experience where I learned how big and amazing this world was and that life was not about what happens to us but rather what we do about it. From this realization, a commitment to growth and change was born.

The early foundation my mother provided was my road map to this growth, which helped realign my life and I’m grateful for it. To this day graduating high school remains the hardest thing I’ve done, even more so than my experiences of combat in Iraq as a Marine. It required me to reevaluate everything I believed about the world. That is an exercise of great value and in many ways scarier than a bullet.

  1. What “opportunities” is Immertec looking to solve?

As you saw in the demo, our intellectual property provides medical device companies with the capability to connect physicians in real-time to real-life training scenarios. Physicians and their staff can learn, communicate, and collaborate. The procedure you experienced was a recording from a live surgery at Baylor Surgical in Ft Worth a few weeks ago where physicians from Harvard, Cleveland clinic and other locations around US trained on the use of a new ENT medical device developed for patients suffering from eustachian tube dilation dysfunction.

We are a software startup solving a serious global issue that is only getting worse as more and more doctors suffer from physician’s burnout.

Their is a global shortage of physicians, which, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), leaves five billion people without access to safe and affordable surgery. This problem is responsible for nineteen times as many deaths as AIDS and tuberculosis combined. We have to double the amount physicians by 2030 to meet WHO’s ambitious goals. This will only be possible by disrupting the way physicians are trained by increasing access to real-life, real-time surgical experiences. This is exactly the problem our software solves.

  1. Why style Immertec a software company and not VR?

Startups are special organizations. By their nature, they are born to solve big problems, increase efficiency and disrupt industries. To survive and overcome the great hurdles to success, their products must provide extreme value and solve compelling issues.

Most VR startups help people disconnect by giving them access to entertainment while our software connects people by giving them access to real-life, real-time OR training situations.

We tackle the huge problem of not having enough trained physicians to support global demand for safe and affordable healthcare. Basically, our software facilitates training and happens to use a VR headset as the medium.

  1. What’s behind the name?

Immertec’s name was created to describe the immersive technology that we create.

“Immertec” = Immersive + Technology. It’s that simple.

  1. Most media see Tampa, where you’re headquartered, as a backwater for startups. What are you doing differently that could raise eyebrows?

After debuting our technology at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California my co-

Facebook’s Menlo Park campus.

founder and I made the decision to return to Tampa, Florida to build our company.

The time we spent in San Francisco taught us that, at the early stages of a startup life cycle, it was quite easy to raise capital and get momentum; however, the cultures of the early-stage startups we observed were generally not conducive to success. Simply, the people they were hiring, in many cases, were building their own businesses on the side while living off the startups runway, leading to turnover in under a year. Building lasting relationship with talented employees who are fully commitment isn’t easy in San Francisco until series A or B, from what we saw.

With that said, in our first use case, we solve a healthcare problem as a business-to-business play. Florida is a healthcare state where we could build a culture of experienced people committed to this company, its product, our customers, and ultimate future. This, in our opinion, is the recipe for success.

However, please do note we live in the 21st century. After closing our seed round we will open a

Immertec’s operating room camera set up.

office in San Francisco and continue to build those key relationships on both the west coast and in New York.

  1. What’s the latest news with Johnson & Johnson?

We are very excited to be in a paid pilot with one of the worlds largest medical device companies. Johnson & Johnson shares our commitment to increasing access to real-time, real-world operating room training experiences.