Barriers to the Canadian marketplace are preventing homegrown medical technology companies from starting and achieving scale, says the CEO and co-founder of Intellijoint Surgical.
“At the end of the day if we want to have huge, successful medtech companies in Canada, we need to be selling our products into the Canadian market. We must have customers in our backyard,” says Armen Bakirtzian, speaking to Communitech News prior to the opening of a one-day conference taking place Wednesday titled Canadian Medtech: What’s Holding us Back.
Bakirtzian, whose eight-year-old, Waterloo-based company makes products that help orthopedic surgeons more accurately perform hip replacements, says red tape from provincial ministries of health and a lack of real incentive for hospitals to cut costs and implement the efficiencies offered by medtech companies generate headwinds for the firms intent on doing business in Canada, headwinds that often don’t exist in other countries.
“That key differentiator is [that] U.S. hospitals,” many of which operate on a for-profit basis, “are more motivated financially to have better outcomes,” Bakirtzian says. “In Canada there’s no financial incentive. That’s a huge differentiator in the two markets.”
To illustrate his point, Bakirtzian says that Intellijoint Surgical operates in three countries – the U.S., Australia and Canada – but just three per cent of the surgeries using his company’s products take place in Canada due, he says, to the complexities of the regulatory regime here.
“And this is the case even though we’ve been in Canada the longest,” he says.
Despite the current difficulties, Bakirtzian, who is the event’s leadoff and title speaker, says that solutions exist and will be found.
For example, Bakirtzian believes that LHINs, or local health integration networks, can act as “agents for adoption of innovation.”
“Obviously we’re painting a picture of challenges. There are smart people across the country focusing on how to solve these problems. These are achievable hurdles.
“There’s a win-win situation here. Everyone is keen to find what that is.
And he says that clusters of medtech companies, generated in tech ecosystems like Waterloo Region’s, can ease the difficulties for one another.
“There are benefits to the companies that cluster and get together,” he says. “We’ve benefited from having direct relationships with other founders and other entrepreneurs. We’ve been able to see the benefits from direct coaching from members of our company and early-stage companies that follow us.
“Sharing knowledge will help companies be successful.
“I don’t think anybody wants there to be a missed opportunity in Canada or Ontario.
“We understand what our problems are. As long as we have willing members around the table to have a discussion on how to solve those problems, it’s set up for a victory.”
The conference takes place at St. George Hall in Waterloo and opens with registration and breakfast at 7 a.m.