Irish firms tap into growing healthcare markets at Arab Health

4 Feb 2013

Sean Davis, regional manager - Middle East and North Africa, Enterprise Ireland; Ireland's Minister for Trade and Development Joe Costello, TD; and Eamon Sikafi, life sciences market adviser, Enterprise Ireland; at Arab Health in Dubai

Last week, 14 Irish companies involved in med tech exhibited at the Arab Health expo in Dubai. Claire O’Connell spoke with attendees about why and how Irish companies are looking to do more business in the area.

“The region is expanding at a rapid pace,” says Dubai-based Sean Davis, Enterprise Ireland’s regional manager for the Middle East and North Africa. Last week, he was at Enterprise Ireland’s national stand at Arab Health, and the expo has also been growing, too, he notes.

“Last year, there were 84,000 visitors and this year I wouldn’t be surprised if there were 90,000. We had 14 [Enterprise Ireland] clients in total here this year, and I would hope that this time next year we will have twice the stands and twice the clients. It’s an enormous show.”

The opportunities for healthcare in the region come through well-recognised trends, such as rising rates of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, according to Davis, and he reckons the engagement by Irish companies is still low relative to the opportunity.  

“There’s so much scope,” he says. “And what we are going to deliver here is, for example, bedside patient-management systems, beds, tracking technology for ambulances, fleet efficiency technology, radiological equipment, antimicrobial glass and doors, and also disposables, which are incredibly important.”

Track record

One Irish company in attendance is no stranger to the area: Drogheda-based AmRay has just appointed a regional sales manager in Dubai for its radiation protection products.

“We started off with lead aprons that would be used for the protection of end users within the X-ray department,” explains AmRay’s managing director William Johnston. “It evolved over the years into an infrastructural product, the likes of radiation shielding within doors. Where you have diagnostic imaging you have radiation in the background and that is what we are protecting against.”

This is the 14th year that AmRay has attended Arab Health, and Johnston recalls when AmRay first came to the expo it was in a small exhibition room. Fast forward to two years ago, and the company had a 30 sq-metre stand. This year, it is part of the national stand, and Johnston has been offering advice to others about building business in the region.

“It’s a great place to do business,” he says. “But you do need to spend time in developing your relationships here.”

A foot in the door

So how can Irish companies figure out if the region is one where opportunity could lie? For Enterprise Ireland clients, the first thing is to talk to their development adviser, according to Davis.

“They should also consider going into the [Enterprise Ireland] market research centre in Dublin,” he says. “Then, assuming they have got to the point of opportunity validation, the next step is to get in touch with our offices out here and we will be able to set up meetings for the companies, so they can turn that secondary research into primary research. At that point it’s down to finding the right agent, distributor or partner here.”

Davis also makes an important observation about timing.

“Business is done between October and May and relationships are maintained the rest of the time,” he says. “So there’s no point in trying to set up initial contacts in April or May because you are just going to let them flounder for a few months – now is the time.”

New arrival

Gerry Reynolds, managing director of Takumi Precision Engineering, has been listening to the advice on offer – it is the company’s first time at Arab Health and the timing has been good.

The Limerick-based company is a subcontract manufacturer for multinationals in Ireland, and about 70pc of its business is medical, explains Reynolds. Takumi has recently been adding another string to its bow by designing and developing its own product: Ortho Tool SU, a set of disposable, single-use power tools for orthopaedic surgery.

Why disposable? There’s lower capital outlay and no cross-contamination issues, says Reynolds, who describes how the product could suit medical teams that want a spare set (so surgery doesn’t have to be cancelled if a reusable tool breaks down) and could also be of particular use in field hospitals.

The product is expected to have a CE mark soon, and up until last week, Ortho Tool SU had limited exposure to the market in Ireland and the UK. So Reynolds admits to having had a few butterflies in the tummy when he went to Arab Health.

“I was quite nervous,” he says. “But I’ve been blown away by it – I have probably got somewhere close to 50 leads out of this show, and that wasn’t a harvesting of business cards. These were people who stood and spoke to me, they got to feel the power tools, and hear the story about how they are manufactured in Ireland by a small Irish company. We were not just a glossy brochure.”

Reynolds credits Enterprise Ireland for its support not only during the development of the product, but also for doing the “heavy lifting” for Irish companies to be able to attend Arab Health. “They helped us with the R&D and now they are helping us to sell it,” he says. is hosting Med Tech Focus, an initiative which over coming months will cover news, reports, interviews and videos, documenting Ireland’s leading role in one of the hottest sectors in technology.

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication