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WNY startups target $25 million in sales to China

Daniel Robison

Western New York is home to more than 200 growing startup companies catering to specific medical and life science needs.

While these small businesses offer unique products and services, they don’t always have a market for their goods or the personnel to aggressively seek out buyers.

A new initiative will try to give at least 40 of these companies the extra sales muscle to move $25 million worth of local products in the next three years.

'Hand in glove'

A $682,000 grant from the U.S. Commerce Department, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and the University at Buffalo aim open the door for local small medical device manufacturers to gain access to Chinese markets, which are often difficult to navigate given the country's extensive public and private regulations.

The grant will be administered by World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara (WTCBN).

“We’re going to help companies better navigate that complex regulatory environment,” says Chris Johnston, president of WTCBN. “Dealing with customs. Getting your product from point A here in western New York to your end customer in China. How do you do it? How do you navigate customs? How do you navigate insurance?”

The grant will pay trade specialists, attorneys and international relations experts to devise ways to sell more medical devices to a growing Chinese market. After China instituted health reforms in 2008, the country is expected to offer universal health coverage to its population by 2020.

Resultantly, the country will be in need for medical devices that western New York’s medical companies hope to supply. 

The Commerce Department's $218,000 contribution to the grant is part of President Obama’s charge to the agency to double exports by the end of 2014, according to Maureen Smith, deputy assistant secretary for manufacturing and services in the Commerce Department.

“Your success is our success and my success. I will be reporting back to the secretary of commerce every quarter on the results of this particular grant,” Smith says. “I don’t like to not hit my numbers. So I will be working hand in glove with you to make sure that this [goal] happens.”

A cadre of Washington bureaucrats will also throw their weight behind the initiative for the entire three year period, despite the possibility of a change in presidential administrations and Congressional makeup. 

“We assign a team of our industry experts to work hand in glove with you, every step of the way to understand your problems. If we’re going to have trade missions or go to trade shows, someone from our team is going to be with you every step of the way to make sure you succeed in this,” says Smith.

The grant, while modest in size, will go a long way in helping western New York’s budding life sciences industry, says Johnston.

Locals should see the project as a positive sign that the U.S. government has confidence in local efforts to craft a new economic sector based on life science research that is translated into new businesses and products, argues Johnston.

“This is an announcement that can truly transform our region, transform the economic landscape in terms of our thinking towards economic development and what it means as a region," says Johnston. "To really embrace export-led growth to will fuel the economy export which will lead to jobs and increase output and productivity in our region."