Innovation Medical is combining Australian and Korean medical know-how to expand the frontiers of medical treatment. DownUnder Update speaks with Young Cheigh, Chair of Korean operations.
Welcome and thank you for your time. Could you tell us about yourself and your career in Korea.
I currently head up a legal (Intellectual Property or IP) practice called Asklaw Moon and since 2012 I've been Chairman and Director of Innovation Medical, an Australian medical device consulting company focusing on product development and manufacturing consulting. On any given day I wear several different hats, going from legal and business development, to chairing the operations for Innovation Medical. I am at an age where most would be looking to wind down, but it only seems to be getting busier for me.
How about your early career?
I spent the early part of my career working in the US, Mexico, Korea and Australia for Motorola. I then settled down in Korea and co-founded a patent law firm. After 20 years operating my own firm I became President of AskLaw Moon.
What is your company's core business?
Innovation Medical is fast gaining a reputation as a business and technology innovation company. Our company is focused on product and business development. Our Australian head office is where most product development activities occur including product realization process (from concept to prototyping, verification and validation testing and manufacture). We also provide design, development and maintenance of quality management systems for medical devices. We provide companies with the engineering and technical expertise to develop their medical device and convert their ideas into a commercial, product. We have strategic partners in all the relevant fields of manufacturing, regulatory and clinical to provide our clients with a complete end-to-end product development service. Our clients range from entrepreneurial inventors, SMEs and global players in their respective fields. With the maturity of the US and EU markets, there is substantial growth in interest for Asian markets, particularly China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and developing countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar and Africa.
Have you had to make any changes to your products for the Korean market? Was it by choice or regulation?
A recent example is one of our Australian clients requested a market assessment. To assess the market we interviewed several experts, KOLs (key operations leaders), manufacturers and distributors and we advised the client on a strategy to maximize market uptake despite intense competition. Currently our client is in negotiations with a manufacturer/distributor in Korea. Regulations did play a part however market perception and how end-users will perceive the device, had it not been altered, probably played a more significant role. This is due to cultural differences because in Europe the device is currently sold without alterations.
Has your business been growing to expectations? Have you had to adjust your targets up or down?
Business growth has been steady. From its inception about 5 years ago there has been phenomenal growth. Recently we are focusing on establishing a client base in Korea and making international alliances for further business. With a number of our client's products already hitting new markets, it is only a matter of time before we see another spike in growth.
Any new products or services coming out?
Currently our head office in Australia is where all our product development activities take place. Our focus for Korea has been in business development and assisting our clients with promotion and distribution.
We would like to do more for Korean clients and extend our professional engineering services to them. Our services are not limited to companies but we would like to see more doctors and entrepreneurs bring out their ideas.
We see the drivers of innovation being doctors at the frontline who know what the unmet clinical needs are.
There is a wealth of knowledge and ideas to be tapped into and we would like to nurture those into the limelight. We are looking into establishing a technical resource hub for individuals to bring their ideas to fruition.
What impact will KAFTA have on your company and its Korean business?
As the KAFTA comes into full effect this will be a catalyst for greater trade between the two nations. Although the focus of trade is currently in agriculture and energy we hope to see the growth of the medical devices sector. .Additionally the greater protection for foreign investors will enhance investment into the medical device technology sector allowing Korean investors to invest in Australian technology and vice versa. With the current level of government support for medical device innovation in Korea this will spur greater innovation leading to the creation of more disruptive technology.
How do you attract and retain staff?
We incentivize several aspects of our business activities and when we achieve milestones we like to share the achievements. We also expose staff to different aspects of the business which results in multi-talented and robust personnel who are ready to hit the ground running. Our business combines older, more experienced staff with vibrant and energetic younger staff and this creates a wonderful complementary synergy.
The nature of our business is that we are constantly dealing with new devices and new technology. It is this dynamism and passion which draws staff together and we have not faced any challenges retaining staff.
How does your company keep up with media & technology and how do they help your business?
In this fast-paced society we are doing our best to keep up with the trends.
It has been particularly helpful having younger staff ensure our business utilizes media to our advantage.
Particularly, for business development and marketing, we have embraced these mediums and it has allowed for an efficient and effective operation.
We are also seeking 'the next big thing'. Technological advances have spurred the creation of innovative medical devices and seeking and promoting these devices has kept us on our toes. Put simply, new technology gives us business.
What improvements in the Korean business environment would you like to see?
Despite a significant improvement over the past decade it would be great to see more companies moving away from the philosophy of 'my way or the highway'. As a nation of very proud business owners it is often difficult to change that mentality. However, when you listen, accept and adapt the benefits can be phenomenal.
Generally the larger businesses have embraced those concepts because of their experience with international business. However several SMEs appear to have been left behind and can be very hesitant about listening to advice, accepting change and adapting.
Any tips or suggestions for new companies coming to Korea?
As with many countries, the culture is quite different. If you deal with large global corporations it is likely they have adopted 'western' business culture. SMEs with limited international exposure may not have fully evolved.
Doing business in Korea can be very rewarding but at the same time it is not without challenges. If you are seeking business in Korea find an experienced partner who truly understands the culture and business environment as it can be a bit of a shock. Alternatively you can try and go alone if you ask the right questions and do your research. Talking to industry experts and businesses who have been operating within Korea will give you a fantastic insight and help you keep up with market dynamics . One final comment specifically for the medical device industry: unlike some of our Asian neighbors, the Korean regulatory approval process can be rigorous and the healthcare I reimbursement system can be difficult to comprehend. Even if you overcome the hurdles of regulatory approval, finding your way to the end-user can be complicated particularly if you are not a brand name. It really helps to have great networks in Korea. Spend the time and resources establishing a good array of networks.