Economic Development, Health Care, and Manufacturing

Medical companies tap new markets at Arab Health

West Michigan contingent builds global reach at trade show for life science manufacturers.

February 8, 2019
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Arab Health
Walker-based Altus, which develops personal mobile workstations for clinicians in the health care industry, sent representatives to Arab Health for the first time. Courtesy Altus

Three West Michigan businesses had the chance to make inroads with global buyers and distributors at a health care congress in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, last month.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) brought eight Michigan companies — three of which are West Michigan-based — to be part of its pavilion at the 2019 Arab Health show Jan. 28-31 in Dubai.

Arab Health is the world’s second-largest health care congress and exhibition, according to the MEDC. The 2019 exhibition consisted of more than 4,150 companies showcasing their latest innovations to more than 84,500 health care professionals attending from over 160 countries.

This is the seventh year MEDC has led a group of businesses to Arab Health as part of its International Trade Program. The program is designed to increase Michigan’s export opportunities by helping businesses identify and enter key emerging foreign markets. Participating companies since 2013 have reported a combined total of more than $28 million in increased sales as a result of attending Arab Health.

Only a few other U.S. states were represented at the conference besides Michigan. Participants received in-country briefings about doing business in the region before commencing meetings with international buyers and distributors.

West Michigan companies that attended included Belmont-based AvaSure, Walker-based Altus and Walker-based SunMed.

All of the businesses in the Michigan contingent were in related fields but not necessarily competitors, which allowed for greater synergy and harmony, according to Hernando Fajardo, VP of international sales at SunMed. The company designs, manufactures and distributes medical devices for airway management, respiratory, anesthesia and emergency care.

Some of the Michigan companies attended to open business in the region for the first time, and others, like SunMed, were there to strengthen existing relationships with distributors.

“We could all relate to each other and recommend some strategies because we haven’t been selling in the Middle East for too many years,” Fajardo said. “It’s good networking being part of the Michigan pavilion.”

SunMed has been attending Arab Health with the MEDC for four years now and for three years prior to that before the company moved from Florida to Michigan. Altogether, SunMed has been exporting to the Middle East, Asia-Pacific, Africa and the Far East through distributors for 10 years now.

Fajardo said he saw more foot traffic at the confab this year but lower attendance numbers from companies and distributors based in the Middle East. He blamed it on continued political tensions among countries such as Iran and Qatar and the rest of the world.

“But there were many people from other parts of the world, like other parts of the Middle East region, where it’s still people trying to do business,” he added. “The good thing is to be in the U.S. pavilion because (international attendees) really like to come and see what is going on in America, what new products, etc.”

He added show organizers have said they will be grouping companies in the convention center by type next year, which will put U.S. companies at a disadvantage, as they could be neighbors with Chinese or other global competitors.

Altus, which develops personal mobile workstations for clinicians in the health care industry, sent representatives to Arab Health for the first time.

Eric Kahkonen, chief revenue officer, and Sarah Leitz, director of marketing, said they did not bring product samples for their inaugural year but played a video that explains their company, set out product literature at the booth and spent most of their time in meetings the MEDC helped them set up ahead of time with distributors and hospitals.

“Our primary goal was to find a good distributor or two to partner with, and we absolutely did that,” Kahkonen said. “We could not have done it without the MEDC, and that matchmaking service, so to speak, was the most beneficial portion of the whole trip.”

He added the company does most of its business in North America and Europe, so its goal for attending Arab Health was to expand further east and south.

Leitz said the pair was able to network with the Michigan companies to learn how they “grew their international market from one region to multiple regions.”

“It was an amazing opportunity that we know will be much bigger than just the impact we’re making in the Middle East,” she said.

She said another thing Altus learned is the UAE is further ahead of the U.S. in adopting electronic medical records, to the point where the country’s health care system is almost completely paperless. This new piece of information will assist Altus as it develops and markets its devices.

This was AvaSure’s fourth year attending the show. Chris DeYoung, the company’s regional sales manager-international, said it develops telehealth solutions, including a remote video monitoring system called TeleSitter, which is used to keep tabs on patients that are at higher risk of hurting themselves or caregivers. AvaSure writes and deploys the software and also manufactures the hardware, consisting of audiovisual systems that can be mounted three ways: on a mobile cart, the wall and the ceiling.

AvaSure primarily attended to form ties with distributors, as it already has several customers with an international presence but didn’t have an infrastructure in place for exports. The company is in contract negotiations with a distributor it met during the business matchmaking part of the show.

DeYoung said potential distributors he spoke with at Arab Health were interested in selling telehealth solutions to hospitals looking to curb staffing costs and reduce patient injuries — much the same as in the U.S., although in North America, AvaSure sells directly to hospitals with no intermediary.

In Michigan, AvaSure has contracts with Trinity Health and Ascension Health, which have 10-plus hospitals apiece throughout Michigan, and Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, as well as many others.

DeYoung said AvaSure appreciated the services MEDC provided to help Michigan companies make the most of their visit to Dubai.

“We’re excited to see where we’re going to go from here. We’ve made a lot of great connections and already started to build some partnerships,” he said.

Jeff Mason, CEO of MEDC, said his organization was pleased to witness the fruitful connections the show fostered.

“Michigan companies are well-positioned to respond to the fast-growing demand for health care products and services in markets across the globe,” he said, “and this year’s show (provided) an excellent opportunity to showcase Michigan technologies and know-how.”

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