Foreign direct investment (FDI) has historically played an important role in the rise of Ireland’s med-tech sector, and it continues to do so today. Claire O’Connell talks to Andrew Vogelaar from IDA Ireland about the maturing med-tech sector in Ireland.
"Medical technologies is a fantastic sector, and one that is critical for the IDA," says Vogelaar, who took up the position of head of medical technologies at IDA Ireland last March.
Working overseas with the development agency – and particularly in the mid-western US between 2002 and 2006 – he saw first-hand how the clustering effect of medical technology companies could foster growth.
"A lot of our business in the mid-west US comes from medical technology hubs, such as Minneapolis-St Paul and Warsaw in Indiana," says Vogelaar. "It was a tremendous time to be over there meeting companies like Medtronic, Guidant (now Boston Scientific), Cook, Stryker, Lake Region, Zimmer, Symmetry and Abbott."
In 2009, Vogelaar moved to the financial services portfolio in New York, which he describes as having a "somewhat different culture" to working in life sciences – but there were parallels too, at least in terms of attracting FDI.
"There are similar compelling reasons why companies establish in Ireland across many sectors," he says. "In financial services, despite the financial crisis in 2009, we focused in on our talent and technology capabilities and continued to win an increased share of FDI."
More generally, he refers to Ireland’s strengths across all sectors as the ‘4Ts’ of talent, technology, the country’s track record and competitive tax rates.
"Add to this the ‘3Es’ – we speak English, we’re part of a rich European market and our education system – and you have the basis for winning a lot of multinational business," says Vogelaar. "Our track record in the medical technologies sector is crucial and we have developed a reputation as an excellent location with strong experience in dealing with compliance and regulatory approvals."
Med tech matures
The med-tech sector has continued to mature in Ireland, and Vogelaar describes as "spectacular" the sector’s development over the past 20 years.
"In addition to the strong multinational sector the indigenous company sector has evolved. It’s tremendous to see Irish companies of scale coming through, and we reckon there are now 250 medical-device companies in Ireland ranging in size from five to 4,500 employees," he says.
"The whole sector employs about 25,000 people directly and many others are employed indirectly."
And Vogelaar describes as "particularly gratifying" the growth of multinational R&D in Ireland.
"We actively encourage our existing clients to establish more R&D operations here," he explains. "We are at the point where more than half of the multinationals now have dedicated R&D centres in Ireland – this helps anchor manufacturing and ensures a stream of new products."
Vogelaar also welcomes the convergence of multinational and indigenous companies, citing recent developments, such as CR Bard acquiring Wexford-based ClearStream Technologies, ResMed acquiring University College Dublin spin-out BiancaMed, and the expansion of facilities in Ireland by companies like Cook and Stryker. "A lot of the activity is driven by products that Irish engineers and scientists developed here," he says.
Irish companies such as Creganna are now multinationals in their own right with a global presence, adds Vogelaar. "A lot of the Irish companies that set up initially in the sector were supply companies," he says. "And what we have noticed in the last three to four years is that now many Irish companies are coming up with their own branded products."
Ireland has also developed as a location from which companies can launch products into global markets, particularly for US-based clients, which make up the largest share of overseas interests, he notes.
Age profile and talent
Why has Ireland gone from strength to strength? As well as the adaptability afforded by being a relatively small country, Ireland also has a favourable age profile for the med-tech industry, explains Vogelaar.
"We have had some recent interest from some mainland European companies which hadn’t traditionally been a strong source of medical technology FDI," he says.
"This has been somewhat driven by some natural advantages we have in Ireland due to our age structure. We are showing the largest growth of working age population [in Europe] – typically companies come into Ireland and they seek to hire employees that are in the 21-35 age group and we have a natural demographic advantage."
Ireland’s strength in regulatory compliance and the availability of talent are also appealing qualities for overseas investment, according to Vogelaar. "Companies will always be attracted here by talent," he says.
And while the market is not without its challenges – including reduced spend on healthcare – innovation is still driving the sector forward, he notes. "Governments don’t have as much money to spend on healthcare as they did 10 or 15 years ago. But there will always be a demand for companies that deliver unmet clinical needs."
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