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Welch Allyn’s PediaVision acquisition could be SPOT-on

By Norman Poltenson

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SKANEATELES FALLS — On June 3, Welch Allyn Inc., a global medical-diagnostic-device company headquartered in Skaneateles Falls, announced the acquisition of certain assets from PediaVision Holdings, LLC, based in Lake Mary, Fla.

Most details regarding the price and assets purchased were not released, but the transaction included the corporate name, customer list, and a new generation of vision-assessment technology marketed under the brand name “SPOT.”

“SPOT is a fast, portable, easy-to-use binocular-vision device designed to screen for refractive error,” says Richard M. Farchione, Welch Allyn’s senior global category manager. “The operator merely points the device and pushes a button, just like taking a photo … SPOT has a different technology than our current product line, such as SureSight [Vision Screener]. It scans both eyes simultaneously and offers additional information on eye misalignment. The enhanced communication capabilities allow the user to import patient lists and export test data. This device can be used anywhere and on patients of any age, but it is especially beneficial in testing young children who may not be able to sit still for a conventional eye scan.”

Farchione then demonstrated the new product on this reporter. Within seconds, he had a readout verifying my ocular irregularities. Farchione says Welch Allyn will price SPOT at the $7,500 level. SureSight sells for $4,725, according to the company’s website. Farchione estimates that a physician’s return on the investment can be achieved by using SPOT just once a week for a year. The device first went on sale in 2008.

“PediaVision’s employees and contractors will be retained under a transition service agreement (TSA),” says Stephen F. Meyer, Welch Allyn’s president and CEO. “We have asked that everyone remain with the company in their current capacity throughout the transition period. The device will continue to be developed and sourced by PediaVision’s existing manufacturing partners. In other words, it will be business as usual for PediaVision’s customers and suppliers. The agreement ends on Dec. 31, and we plan on having consulting agreements in place with [David] Melnik (PediaVision’s founder) and others.” Meyer says that Welch Allyn will continue to rely on the Mack Group, a manufacturing partner with headquarters in Vermont.

“PediaVision is a good fit for us,” continues Meyer. “It offers Welch Allyn an opportunity to not only expand the company’s current vision-screening technology [such as the SureSight, the Vision Screener, and the Autorefractor] but also to offer our customers a more expanded suite of early detection solutions for health care. We have the global distribution reach to take SPOT to the next level.” According to Jamie Arnold, Welch Allyn’s manager of public relations and internal communication, the Skaneateles Falls manufacturer will rebrand the product later this year.

PediaVision was one of two companies owned by Venturecore Holdings, LLC; the other is Adventure to Fitness. Venturecore is a closely held business incubator established in May 2007 with interests in diverse companies. The CEO & founder is David Melnik, an entrepreneur who founded Kinetics in 1997, the company that revolutionized the airline industry by introducing automated, check-in counters. He sold the company in 2004 and focused on vision-screening technology to solve the global problem of undiagnosed vision problems. PediaVision currently has 16 employees and subcontracts its manufacturing.

Past deals
Welch Allyn has long had a strategy of growing both organically and through mergers and acquisitions. The company bought Tycos, a division of the Sybron Corp., back in the mid-1980s. This launched its entry into monitoring blood pressure. In 1994, Welch Allyn bought GSI, which manufactured audiometers, and acquired the stock of Protocol Systems in 2000. Protocol specialized in patient monitoring. Next, Welch Allyn bought a Dutch company in 2003 — Cardio Control — which marketed medical-diagnostic systems for heart and lung functions. In 2010, Welch Allyn bought Trimline [Medical Products], a maker of disposable, blood-pressure cuffs and accessories, thus broadening its portfolio of blood-pressure products.

The Skaneateles Falls–based manufacturer has also divested itself of certain product lines that were no longer part of the company’s core diagnostic medical devices and solutions. In May 2010, Welch Allyn spun off its Solarc lighting-product assets and ProXenon, a surgical-headlight camera system. It had previously sold off its Hand Held Products affiliate (bar-code scanners) in late 2007.

Welch Allyn started in 1915 with a single product: the first, direct-illuminating, hand-held ophthalmoscope. The company struggled for several years until William Noah Allyn, a co-founder, attended a trade show in New York City. Unable to pay for a booth, he strategically positioned himself and a suitcase full of product in front of the men’s room. Allyn sold all the ophthalmoscopes he had brought to New York.

Nearly a century later, Welch Allyn’s product categories are widely diversified to include physical assessment, vital-signs monitoring, diagnostic cardiopulmonary, software and services, and thermometry. These devices transmit information, which the company describes as the connectivity solution, to many electronic-medical-record systems serving clinicians’ offices, hospitals, clinics, community health centers, and medical schools.

Today, Welch Allyn employs 2,600 globally across 26 countries. Of those, 1,300 work in Central New York. The Business Journalestimates the company’s annual revenue at between $600 million and $700 million. The corporation is privately held by the Allyn family with some fourth-generation members either on the board or working in the company. The manufacturer occupies 800,000 square feet worldwide and generates 35 percent of its sales from exports. Of total sales, 30 percent are generated from disposables and 70 percent from the sale and maintenance of diagnostic equipment. The company’s main manufacturing sites include Skaneateles Falls, Tijuana, and a new location in Suzhou, China (two-hour drive west of Shanghai).

Meyer
“Practical innovation has guided this company for a century,” Meyer observes. “It has made us the market leader in core, physical-exam products. Through innovation to physicians and clinicians, Welch Allyn has continually improved the tools providers use every day. Key to our success is the emphasis on research and development. We employ 200 scientists and engineers who are credentialed and invest 7 percent to 8 percent of the annual revenue in this area on breakthrough products for which the company currently holds more than 630 patents. R&D is a collaborative effort with researchers here; in Beaverton, Ore.; and in Singapore.”

Meyer became president and CEO in March 2012. Among his challenges is a changing health-care model. “The entire health-care system is in flux,” Meyer opines. “It’s not clear yet how providers will be compensated. There is a move to change the fee-for-service model to paying for performance. This will necessitate a form of capitation, where the provider will be paid a periodic fee for maintaining the health of a patient. In the long run, the new model should benefit Welch Allyn, because the provider, in order to contain costs, will have to focus on preventive care. Since 1915, our company has delivered everyday, practical, diagnostic tools to help doctors and clinicians improve their patients’ outcomes. This is one way to help contain the long-term costs of health care.

“I also see more consumer involvement in the process. Generally, the public is better educated today about health care and is taking a more active role in monitoring their personal health and its cost. I also see a consolidation of providers into huge, integrated systems, because scale [in the evolving health-care system] is important. This means fewer customers to whom we can sell our products.

“The difficulty is in understanding exactly how the changes will occur and how quickly. And there are other trends we are watching carefully. Both the patients and those paying the bill prefer to keep the patients at home rather than in an institution. The picture isn’t clear yet as to how this trend will evolve because the compensation model is still unclear.

“Then there is the growing use of telemedicine. The need to gather and transmit data and images is having a major impact on our business.”

Meyer also has to wrestle with the need to think internationally. “A large part of our growth comes from outside the U.S.,” stresses the company CEO. “To maintain our position as a leading, global manufacturer of medical-diagnostic equipment, Welch Allyn has to respond to the growth in the developing world, especially in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) countries. This means understanding the needs of providers everywhere and complying with complex regulations.”

In addition to Meyer as president and CEO, the management team at Welch Allyn includes Joseph Hennigan as executive vice president and COO, Michael Ehrhart as executive vice president of product development, Daniel Fisher as executive vice president of human resources and organization leadership, Janie Goddard as executive vice president of strategic business units and marketing, Gregory Porter as executive vice president and general counsel, Jon Soderberg as executive vice president of corporate development, John Tierney as senior vice president of the Americas, and Hisham Hout as senior vice president of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

Meyer, a native of Michigan, holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Alma College and an M.B.A. from the University of Rochester. He joined Welch Allyn in 1981 as a sales representative in Detroit. Meyer has held positions of senior leadership in international sales, marketing, product development, and general management. Most recently, he served Welch Allyn as the company’s chief global business officer. Meyer lives in Skaneateles with his wife Susan. The couple has two sons.

Contact Poltenson at npoltenson@cnybj.com

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