Nov 19, 2020: CEO Blog. In pandemic times, innovation is key

When it became clear that COVID-19 was no ordinary virus, our Thornhill Medical team saw right away that we were in an unusual position. While we were concerned – like most small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – about the potential devastation of a global pandemic on our business, our people and our communities, we also knew that unlike most, we had a unique role to play in directly mitigating its potential impact through one of our medical technologies. We also had a level of confidence as we faced global uncertainty because we weren’t new to the medical technology sector which is an industry that requires innovation, rigour and patience, we had strong customer relationships around the globe and an eager and versatile team.

We’re proud that our MOVES SLC™ device – a proven and ground-breaking integrated mobile life support technology that combines a ventilator, oxygen concentrator and vital signs monitor and turns any space, even one without power or independent oxygen supply, into a functioning intensive care unit – was quickly recognized as a possible support in the fight against COVID-19 anticipating a capacity crunch at hospitals and in other health care settings. We signed agreements with the Canadian and Ontario governments to provide more than a thousand of these rugged, portable and proven-in the-field devices for use in health care settings.

As an innovator of mobile medical technology devices designed to deploy rapidly in extreme conditions, the Thornhill Medical team is accustomed to thinking about crisis response and agility. It turns out that this agile mindset has been a key element of our company’s ability to survive and thrive during this unprecedented time.

Scaling up to seize this tremendous opportunity meant not only doubling our workforce practically overnight but also onboarding a manufacturing partner to assist us in increasing our production capabilities ten-fold from about 50 to 500 units a month. As so many small and medium sized enterprises have experienced these past few months, every person in our organization had to step up in tough conditions to execute the solution. Everyone was on a collaborative mission to help improve patient care and potentially save lives even as the entire process – from our global supply chain to production to workplace safety — was upended. We had to rethink every aspect of our processes, without sacrificing product quality and safety; there is simply no margin for error when it comes to life-saving medical technology.

I share our experience as we mark the conclusion of Small Business Month 2020 in Canada and recognize the start of Entrepreneurship Month in the US to demonstrate the power and agility of small and innovative enterprise, especially during the pandemic. There are many skilled businesses on both sides of the border developing technologies that will transform and improve processes in all sectors. If anything, this pandemic has amplified just how important small business can be in enabling economic growth in difficult times.

Pre-pandemic growth

Right now, Thornhill Medical is working harder than ever to support the health outcomes of Canadians, while still advancing the growth of Canada’s innovation economy during COVID-19. So are many other small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in various other sectors. But the reality is, collectively we’ve been a major economic contributor well before COVID-19.

SMEs were responsible for more than 70 percent of Canada’s net employment growth from 2013 to 2018 and account for more than 90 percent of jobs in the private sector.

This year, for the first time, Thornhill Medical secured a spot in the Report on Business’ list of Top Growing Companies in Canada, debuting at #62 for our 800+ percent growth in the last three years. This growth is a direct result of the innovation and efforts of our team, and the trust and support of our partners and customers in Canada and around the world. Our mobile medical products and investigational device are in use on four continents, 19 countries, and by more than 45 research institutes.

What’s next for small and medium-sized enterprises?

Thornhill Medical is just one example of how the combination of innovation and agility is essential during this pandemic. There will be many more success stories from companies who were able to meet the challenge to address the needs of Canadians and the global market – and some hard, painful lessons learned by many as well. It’s hard to know what a post-COVID-19 world will look like, and what will be required to ensure the brightest innovators can reframe the future with their ambition and ideas. Thornhill Medical is keeping an eye on our business and its future outlook. Right now, healthcare is a sector and focus in demand. But, we aren’t taking anything for granted. No one truly knows what is coming next.

What we do know is that business models are changing, and digital strategies will be more important than ever as we move away from face-to-face meetings, trade missions and in-person networking events. As SMEs, we have the advantage of being flexible and nimble. We can keep listening and asking questions of our customers and partners so that we stay ahead and are in a much better position to innovate and provide products or services that customers need when we finally come out on the other side.

Governments at all levels and in all countries also play a key role in being proactive about adopting new technologies so that innovators like us can commercialize our products on a grander scale. Commercialization leads to manufacturing, which leads to the creation of more jobs, skills advancement and ultimately a more robust economy that benefits everyone.

There’s no doubt this is a trying and unprecedented period. But, if these last months have proven anything, it’s that small business innovation, when enabled to flourish, can be crucial to economic sustainability—even in the most challenging of times.