Serial entrepreneur Maurice Ferré, who co-founded MAKO Surgical, contemplates his next endeavor now that it has been bought by Stryker for $1.65 billion. He’s starting a robotics program for kids, mentoring, investing and of course innovating.
BY NANCY DAHLBERG
“Today marks a milestone, a watershed moment,” Maurice R. Ferré told his employees last December, on the day of the sale of MAKO Surgical. “It is the end of a nine-year startup company that grew up, a company that went against all odds and succeeded in starting the orthopedic robotic revolution. . . . Remember that this journey is far from over, rather it is being catapulted to new levels and opportunities.”
And, he added, “there is so much more to do” — words he has personally taken to heart.
You could have forgiven Ferré, the chairman and CEO, for taking time off after selling the robotics company he co-founded in Davie for $1.65 billion in December. After all, that was an intense ride, as he and his top team grew the company to 500 employees and more than $100 million in annual revenue.
While Ferré says he did take “a pause” to figure out his post-MAKO life, it was a short pause. Ferré revealed that his post-MAKO plan includes building another company, investing and advising in others, and giving back through mentorship and board involvement.
Ferré is also building a robotics education program for school age children. As part of that, 20 fifth- and sixth-graders participated in a four-week summer camp last month at Phillis Wheatley Elementary School in Overtown. The students built robots, got a virtual tour of the world-renowned robotics lab at Stanford University, saw how they were designed and assembled at Styrker-MAKO and saw them at work in a Larkin Hospital operating room. This was the pilot program for a bigger, scalable initiative he is working on with Nola Garcia of StarBot to take the program into schools.
Then there’s the next big thing Ferré is involved with, which he will only say will be transformational robotic technology for the brain, and he has taken on advisory roles with companies in South Florida and around the world doing cutting-edge work in the field.
Leadership and entrepreneurship run deep in Ferré’s family. His grandparents came from Venezuela and Puerto Rico to call Miami home. Ferré said his grandfather, Joe Ferré, was an industrialist who took control of Maule Industries, one of the world’s largest cement companies, in 1955. His father, Maurice A. Ferré, was a six-term mayor of Miami. “His dedication and commitment has made Miami the great city that we see today,” Ferré said of his father.
The Miami Herald visited Ferré in his Key Biscayne office to ask him more about his post-MAKO life and to reflect on his MAKO years. Here are excerpts from that conversation:
Q. What’s life like after MAKO?
A. I wake up in the morning, run with the dogs, take my shower and then come over here (his office is next door to his home) and get my day going.
As a serial entrepreneur, I had been at this for 19 years, back to back, nonstop. My first company was up in Boston (called Visualization Technology), another transformational company in image-guided surgery. That company was sold to GE, and it took 10 years from start to exit. At that time I promised my wife, Maria Dolores, I would move back to Miami, and it was great to come back here, but I went right into MAKO.
Coming out from MAKO six months ago, I finally had a great opportunity to take a pause and spend quality time with my family, especially Maria Dolores, who enabled me by supporting the demanding schedule of a CEO running a publicly traded company.
I have had time to reflect, read books, and look at different perspectives. I got a lot of advice from a lot of different people. I immediately got several offers and was asked to run two companies, one publicly traded, one private, on the West Coast, which I declined. I really don’t want to leave South Florida; this is my home. … In the early days of MAKO when I was up against the wall and had to raise money to keep the doors open, I found an investor that sent me a term sheet. The condition was to move the company to the Bay Area. I’m glad I said no because we created a great success story in South Florida.
I have been very fortunate and I thank God for all my success. I concluded that I am too young to retire and really I want to continue to innovate and produce and also want to start giving back. In business I have learned first you learn, then you execute, then if you are like most people you fail, then you get back on your feet and then produce once again. And once you succeed, you are obligated to give back.
Q. Tell me more about the give-back part.
A. I joined three nonprofit boards, two that impact South Florida. The Everglades Foundation is a scientific-based organization that is really making an impact on restoring the Florida Everglades. The flow of clean water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades will have a material impact for generations to come. … We are moving the agenda, but have a lot to do.
I also joined the Endeavor Miami board. Endeavor is an international organization that brings business leaders to help mentor and foster entrepreneurship at a local level. The Endeavor Entrepreneurs around the world have generated over $6 billion in revenue. The model works. In Miami it is supported not only by the Knight Foundation but also a stellar team of successful business leaders. It’s exciting because Endeavor Miami, formed only a year ago, has been chosen as the first U.S.-based program. I have the opportunity to mentor young entrepreneurs, and it’s the type of catalyst we need in South Florida.
Finally, I recently joined the board of Boston University, my alma mater. My grandfather, my brothers and sister all went there. BU has really helped me out in my career. It allowed me to get a medical degree and combine business and medicine. It really kicked me off in my career, so I am really indebted to BU.
Q. Why are you starting a robotics program for kids?
A. At MAKO, we had over 100 engineers and were doing all these H1 Visas. It didn’t make sense to me why there weren’t more American engineers coming out from the education system that can contribute directly. I started working with a lot of the schools and universities here. For the United States to continue to be strong, we need more engineers to innovate. The data were showing where you can have the largest impact on influencing directionally is to get more middle school students excited about engineering. We’ve supported various efforts over the last five years in inner-city schools. It has been rewarding, but I felt we weren’t moving fast enough and struggled with how to measure success and how to scale. So this year we took on a different approach.