TBA Co., Ltd.
Meeting partner companies for overseas sales of genetic testing strips
TBA Co., Ltd. (TBA), founded in July 2013, is a J-GoodTech registered startup company out of Tohoku University. TBA works on developing, manufacturing, and selling genetic testing strips and other testing tools, and it is expanding its markets overseas. TBA participated in a business convention hosted by J-GoodTech and the Organization for Small and Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation. It used that opportunity to conduct business discussions with foreign companies. TBA signed an NDA with a Vietnamese trading house with the intention of establishing a cooperative sales agreement, and the companies are in the process of creating an alliance.
We interviewed TBA Sales Manager Jin Sakurada about how they came across this foreign company and how the business discussions with the company progressed.
Rapid testing without cost or trouble, with testing strips that can be used in any DNA test
First, what business is your company’s greatest area of strength?
TBA produces testing strips that can be used with all existing DNA tests. With medical tests for diseases such as influenza, testing during the disease’s incubation period will not produce a correct result through standard testing methods. However, using DNA testing, it is possible to detect DNA associated with an infectious disease or similar problem regardless of whether the disease is in its incubation period. This makes the results more reliable and accurate.
Typically, DNA testing utilizes genetic testing equipment, and it will be extremely expensive if it is developed at an actual medical facility. Moreover, a dedicated full-time technician is also required to operate the equipment, so testing like this is only accessible to the wealthy in Japan and Europe. However, TBA has enabled DNA testing using testing strips. The use of strips means that testing is simple, quick, and low-cost, which enables access to testing for social strata that cannot afford high-priced medical care. We believe that this tool will be very useful at healthcare institutions throughout the world.
An offer from an ASEAN company that saw TBA's J-GoodTech page led to real business discussions
How did you come to register on J-GoodTech as a listed company?
TBA is currently housed at T-Biz (Tohoku University Business Incubator), which is an incubation facility operated by the Organization for Small and Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation. This facility has expert business management and technology consultants available to provide assistance. We began using J-GoodTech when it was introduced to us by one of these experts as a tool for growing markets for our products.
What was it like to start to use J-GoodTech?
We still haven’t mastered the service, but if it will lead to matching opportunities again in the future, we do want to continue. After we became a J-GoodTech listed company, we received an offer from the Organization for Small and Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation to attend a business conference. This involved CEOs of ASEAN medical equipment companies. We were matched with several medical equipment-related companies in the ASEAN region, and this ultimately led to concrete business discussions with a Vietnamese company.
We were also surprised by the other offers we received at the business conference from ASEAN companies other than this Vietnamese company. One offer we received was from a Malaysian company that had seen our J-GoodTech page, and this also led to business discussions. We are still in talks, but we hope to follow up on this in pursuit of a future partnership.
After moving to an incubation facility made available for our growing business, we have also received useful guidance from J-Goodtech coordinators
How did your relationship with the Organization for Small and Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation begin? What services offered by the Organization have you used? Why did you use them?
After TBA’s President Mitsuo Kawase was invited to serve as a lecturer at Tohoku University, our company was founded to manufacture and sell genetic testing strips. These products can be used for medical care in developing countries, where the convenient, low-priced strips could help victims of rampant infectious disease. There was an incubation facility within the university, so the opportunity to conduct our business in-house on campus was the best situation we could ask for. Our relationship with the Organization for Small and Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation started there. The experts at the incubation facility served as consultants for us on a variety of topics. We have also been very grateful to receive information on business conferences and subsidies, as was the case in the example described earlier. Recently we were also able to set up a booth at the BIOJAPAN exhibition. This gave us both PR and a place to interact with other companies exhibiting with the Organization.
Pages on J-GoodTech are created in both Japanese and English, leading to offers from foreign companies
What are some specific merits you found to actually using J-GoodTech?
As I mentioned earlier, one merit is that we have actually received offers from foreign companies. After publishing our page, J-GoodTech also translated it into English. I think this is what led to the Malaysian company I mentioned contacting us as well. Naturally the page is also available in Japanese. However, we hope to improve the content so it catches the attention of foreign companies in medical equipment-related businesses searching for our products. This is in addition to explaining our testing strips in an easy-to-understand way. Companies that come recommended by foreign public institutions are also registered on J-GoodTech, and we hope to actively advertise ourselves to those companies as well.
After the first business meeting, it is important to place great value on that encounter and take action without hesitation
What kind of matching took place after this business conference had concluded?
After the first business meeting, the other party was positive and voiced their desire to work together, but we had trouble developing beyond that point. Not only on this occasion, but whenever we work with foreign companies, it is sometimes the case that our phone calls and emails go completely unanswered. In this case, as well, we sent a draft NDA to the company in the interest of engaging the R&D staff in more in-depth discussions, but we received no response. They couldn’t be reached by phone, either. Later, I was reading about the experiences of another person who had a background in corresponding with a foreign firm. This made me realize that it was important to first meet with many different companies, and then take action on those valuable encounters without hesitation. I pushed through with additional emails and phone calls, and I eventually reached the relevant staff. It was decided that we could continue discussions if we were willing to visit Vietnam for talks, and we immediately set out to visit them. In conversing with that staff member, I learned that the president of their company was inexperienced with English, so we employed an interpreter who could speak both Japanese and Vietnamese. We had also been told that Vietnamese culture values written documents, so we brought the NDA form along with us. We were able to successfully coordinate with the Vietnamese company, build interpersonal connections, and finally sign the NDA as well. After the business conference had concluded, we continued to receive advice from the Organization for Small and Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation regarding future development of this business.
TBA seeks to actively develop and grow foreign markets for the benefit of people who cannot afford to pay high medical fees
Next, we hope to set concrete milestones with our partner company, clarify the tasks for each of us to complete, and then sign a final contract.
TBA’s genetic testing tools can help victims of contagious diseases that have been rampant recently, such as dengue fever and Zika fever. Because these tools will help people in poor regions who cannot afford expensive medical fees, we want to continue to actively develop foreign markets in the future. We will use J-GoodTech to actively reach out and advertise our genetic testing strips to foreign companies. I also hope that the experiences I have described here will help others who are seeking to expand overseas.
Other Remarks (Editor’s Notes)
TBA’s guiding principle is to give our children a healthy future. It would be highly desirable for genetic testing to expand among medical providers, especially in developing countries. We hope that TBA continues to actively advertise to foreign companies through J-GoodTech.
As Mr. Sakurada noted, for overseas expansion, it is extremely important to first make many connections and then take action both at home and abroad. We hope that that TBA’s passion moves its genetic testing strips to reach medical providers throughout the world. At the Organization for Small and Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation, we will continue to provide support for our highly motivated SMEs.