Despite a slow start at the beginning of 2020 due to the pandemic, 3M BIC tenant Innovate Orthopaedics has made use of the downtime during lockdown as it looks set to break further into the export market and double its sales.
Innovate Orthopaedics challenges the way medical devices are designed, working directly with surgeons to create solutions to existing problems in surgery, with a specific focus on sports injuries. It was set up in 2014 by husband and wife team Alex Gutteridge and Hannah Longbottom.
Working with surgeons, engineers, manufacturers, and academic institutions, and embracing new technology such as 3D printing, helped Innovate successfully launch its first product in 2016, a CE-marked interference screw for ligament surgery.
Innovate supplies mainly private hospitals in the UK, some NHS hospitals, and currently exports to New Zealand and Israel. In 2019, it experienced a 40% increase in sales and was heading that way in 2020 until the pandemic hit.
During the first lockdown, elective surgery was stopped so orders for their flagship product disappeared for 3 months. However, despite UK hospitals pausing product orders, Innovate still had requests coming in from New Zealand and Israel which enabled the business to stay afloat.
After three months of downtime, business began to pick up as elective surgery restarted in the private sector and the larger Orthopaedic NHS hospitals. General NHS hospitals continued to prioritise Covid and emergency care patients.
But despite losing almost a quarter of its sales due to the pandemic, Innovate has come back stronger than ever.
Hannah explains: “2020 has not been as bad as we had thought it would be, in the end we are down 20% on last year. Yes, we should have grown by 40% but we are grateful to be still in business. People say it was a case of survive or thrive and at one point we didn’t think we would, however, we came back stronger.
“With the continuing pandemic, the UK market is still uncertain, so for us export is the way to go. Export markets are easy once up and running but can take years to set up, navigating the regulations and getting agreements in place. The pandemic enabled us to dedicate time to focus on our export markets which will stand us in good stead in the future. So, in spite of us losing sales in 2020, the pandemic has actually enabled us to grow.”
Being able to operate from the 3M BIC during the pandemic was a lifeline for Innovate. As a physical business it needed to be able to send out products to customers. As it’s also a small team, it was able to continue operating in line with the social distancing guidelines.
So, what does the future hold for Innovate?
Negotiating new regulation due to Brexit to enable Innovate to trade with Northern Ireland is currently ongoing, as well as relabelling all its products since it shifted its notified body to the Netherlands. Hannah and Alex will also need to ensure they are compliant with the ‘UKCA’ mark, the UK’s new equivalent to the CE mark.
Innovate also looks set to break the US export market very soon, they are working towards FDA approval and are in the later stages of finalising the distribution agreement, which once over the line looks set the double the size of their business. Long-term negotiations with South Africa and Australia are also coming to fruition, as well as exciting product development plans in partnership with Liverpool University.
In and amongst all this, Innovate is also planning to move to the 3M BIC’s sister building, The Globe, in Slaithwaite, however, uncertainty around the pandemic has delayed the move for a few months.
For more information about Innovate Orthopaedics, go to www.innovateortho.co.uk.