Success Story: Sphere Fluidics / SME / Finding partners in Japan

Sphere Fluidics – from the UK

Sphere Fluidics is a British Life Sciences company founded in 2010. Over the past few years, the company has developed many patented products in the biopharmaceutical sector such as biochips systems and single cell analysis systems. In October 2016, Sphere Fluidics’ CEO, Dr. Frank F. Craig, participated in the EU-Japan Centre's Biotech Cluster/SME mission in Japan organised in concert with BioJapan Expo. The mission consisted of a two-days training and three days at the BioJapan Expo where participants could attend B2B meetings and meet with potential Japanese customers and/or investors.

Activities: Developing single cell analysis systems. 
History: Founded in 2010
Size: SME
Target Market: Pharmaceutical, chemicals, medical diagnostics 
Interests in Japan: Finding partners in Japan and learn more about the Japanese market.

www.spherefluidics.com

Founded in 2010, Sphere Fluidics is an established Life Sciences company, originally spun out from the University of Cambridge. We’ve already developed 40 patented products – biochips and specialist chemicals – which are assisting over 210 customers globally with their research.

We initially focussed on producing novel biochip systems and providing R&D services. We have since extended our expertise and are developing a technology platform that enables discovery in a range of growing markets through single cell analysis. Our systems make the development of new biopharmaceuticals faster and more cost-effective, improve monoclonal antibody screening, enhance research efficiency and will offer exciting benefits to those working in diagnostics and therapeutics.

WHY JAPAN?

Over the past few years, Sphere Fluidics was very active in Europe and America but did not know much about the Japanese market. Sphere Fluidics decided to start focusing on Japan by considering the business opportunities coming from the fifth biggest science market in the world, when a Japanese company became a Sphere Fluidics’ major corporate investor in 2016. Targeting Japan was therefore an opportunity for growth to their business as well as a way to strengthen relations with their major investor. For these reasons, Sphere Fluidics decided to join the Biotech Mission 2016 organised by the EU Japan-Centre. 

STEPS TAKEN

The 2016 Biotech mission to Japan was really successful for Sphere Fluidics. During the BioJapan Expo, Dr. Craig met with several Japanese companies among which were four potential distributors. In May 2017, Sphere Fluidics ended up signing a contract with one of them, Single Cell Technology Corporation (SCTC), a brand new company with which Sphere Fluidics signed two distribution agreements to sell their products in Japan. Moreover, this mission to Japan provided an ideal opportunity for a first meeting between Dr. Craig and the corporate investor in their home territory.
Ultimately, this mission was very productive: on the one hand Sphere Fluidics met with its Japanese investor, and on the other hand Dr. Craig signed two distribution contracts with a Japanese company met during BioJapan Expo.

CHALLENGES

Japan has unique market characteristics and it is not always easy to understand business differences between the EU and Japan concerning the product sales process.
Dr. Craig pointed out this issue explaining that, unlike the Europeans, Japanese customers want to buy products from well-known companies that have been established for many years (20 or 30 years, and even more). He outlined the necessity for Europeans to partner with a well-established Japanese company which can speak the native language, understand the sales process and help to translate your technology into the Japanese context. All these activities are things that Europeans cannot do by their own.

CURRENT STATUS – NEXT STEPS

Dr. Craig highlighted the positive outcomes coming from the partnership agreement signed with SCTC explaining that he already met with and welcomed SCTC in Europe at Sphere Fluidics’ office, and will shortly provide them with materials in order to translate Sphere Fluidics’ technologies into Japanese brochures.
The next step for Sphere Fluidics is now to aim other markets that are not covered by its current partnerships. Dr. Craig explained that Japan is seen as a market that requires a long-term strategy and his company has other business ideas to develop there. One objective is to potentially set up another venture in Japan for medical diagnostics in the next few years.

RECOMMENDATIONS

When European companies choose to target Japan, they should first make contact with a consulting agency or a venture, such as the EU-Japan Centre, in order to have someone to introduce them to the Japanese market and teach them about the differences compared with the European market. Also, instead of starting collaborations with several partners, it is better to just pick one and to learn more about the Japanese market through this partner. Then, it will be easier in the future to expand and find other new relevant partners and to deal with Japanese market differences. In this way the EU-Japan Centre’s mission was a concreate way to learn more about Japan and to reach a deal.

Interview made with Dr. Frank F. Craig, CEO at Sphere Fluidics (August 2017).

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