If there is one market that is guaranteed to grow in the coming years, it is the healthcare market. The world’s population is aging, medical devices are becoming available in more and more countries, and technology is providing a rapid succession of innovations. The Eindhoven-based IGS GeboJagema was well aware of this at the beginning of the century. Instead of offering a wide range of products and services, the stamp and mould maker, then still based in Tilburg, opted for a clear focus: healthcare.
CEO Peter Mertens, active in the company since 1984, can still remember this all-important choice very well. “There were a lot of toolmakers back then, especially around Tilburg. It was difficult to stand out, so we focused on as many markets as possible. We did automotive, semiconductor, mobile phones, you name it. But it was always difficult. Even then, we were a nice company that delivered high-quality products, but the return was minimal and our future always uncertain as a result.”
That was the reason for making a drastic choice around 2001. Mertens: “We wanted to find one market segment where the added value in quality and reliability would be decisive. With that in mind, we ended up in the medical sector. We were founded in 1945, but at that moment we suddenly felt like a start-up again.” With this new focus, however, success was not yet assured. “We were a small company, and precisely in this industry the players that matter, for example in pharma, are the really big guys. They are – even now – mainly looking for partners who can co-develop for 10 or 20 years. Our financial backbone was not yet so strong, so it wasn’t all that obvious.”
The fact that it worked, even after the economic crisis had struck hard, was due to two factors occurring around 2011: Roche as a customer and Vado as an investor. “This gave us not only more financial clout but also a great reference. Moreover, the acquisition of the bankrupt HTP Tooling, also possible thanks to Vado, gave us the necessary expertise in ophthalmology in one fell swoop.” And instead of transferring the new colleagues to Tilburg, IGS GeboJagema moved the entire estate to Eindhoven, which had just won the title of “Smartest Region in the World” that year.
The entire factory was upgraded and with GlaxoSmithKline, an important new customer was added. The financial results did not take long to arrive: from 9 million in sales in 2011 it went to 22 million in 2015. And with that, the company had also become an interesting investment object again. Nordian Capital stepped in in 2016 to hand over the baton to Smile Invest in early 2021, together with Rabobank Corporate Investment. “Our revenue is now around 40 million and our customer portfolio makes further expansion attractive.”
This expansion will take place in the near future, particularly in the United States, the country where half of the turnover already comes from. A sales office will soon be opened there, but production will remain in Eindhoven for the time being, says Mertens. “We have two beautiful halls here: one for the production of the moulds and one to test them. This is done both on our machines and on those of our customers, which are then moved to us especially for this purpose. As a full-service supplier, we are known for our quality, and also the level of innovation is higher here in Europe, so we have every interest in keeping playing that trump card.”
For new and existing products (think of moulds for inhalers, insulin pens, and innovative contact lenses), there is always close cooperation with the client. “We receive an initial product drawing, based on which we start drawing, producing, and validating. Only when we are 100% convinced that this will help the customer in the long term does delivery begin. Quality, together with reliability, comes first, second and third for us. Only then do we look at the price. This is the only way to continue to serve the top in our market segment.”
In the US, Johnson & Johnson is an important customer for IGS GeboJagema. “For all kinds of lens products, for example. Knowing that the eye is the best place to administer medicines, there are still a lot of opportunities for us there.” But Mertens also sees plenty of opportunities in Europe. “For example, by entering adjacent markets through acquisitions or by broadening our current solutions. We can also further automate assembly – the process after spraying. The question is then how to bring robotization even closer to the mould. If we succeed in this, we will become even more attractive to our customers.” Even now, IGS already has an extremely automated work process. “The activities in our tool shop have shifted more and more from manual work to operating and programming machines. Our staff is only present during the day, but our factory runs twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.”
MedTech research in Brainport
The recently published MedTech research by the Brabant Development Agency (BOM), Brainport Development, and Rabobank has once again convinced Peter Mertens that IGS GeboJagema is in exactly the right place. “For us, the study shows two things very clearly: that we are part of a logical and well-functioning ecosystem and that there are parties – such as BOM, Brainport, and Rabobank – who understand exactly what is needed to grow even further. This is also demonstrated by Rabobank’s investment in our company. It’s partly about money, but it’s just as important that they understand us and think along with us. In MedTech, that is key.”
Jos van Rooij, Senior Relationship Manager at Rabobank Corporate Clients Southeast Netherlands and closely involved in the financing, agrees. “From our Banking for Brainport program, a number of essential lines come together here: it’s MedTech, it’s Brainport and it’s manufacturing. So it’s exactly what we’re looking for.” Medical technology offers countless opportunities to improve the quality and efficiency of future care, says Van Rooij. “The Dutch innovation ecosystem is quite competitive internationally. Brainport Eindhoven plays a prominent role in this. We also see it as a task of ours as a bank to help accelerate this.”
That Rabobank has gone further in this than just offering a financial agreement is natural, says Van Rooij. “We think along, are sparring partners, and share our network. But the fact that we have also taken an equity position is quite special in this respect. The involvement of our corporate investment department indicates the importance we attach to this. And for Smile Invest it was nice to have a co-investor; that gives extra confidence to both parties.”