TCL Healthcare to take on global giants
Names such as General Electric, Siemens, Phillips and Toshiba are under threat from home-grown firms in the medical imaging sector
A battle over market share in China often pits home-grown companies making affordable, low-end products against foreign rivals enjoying bumper sales with established brands.
But Hu Hai, chief executive of TCL Healthcare, said that while mainland companies usually played the underdog role, they were gaining more muscle.
One area in which they are exuding more confidence and shaking up foreign rivals is the lucrative diagnostic imaging equipment sector.
For Hu the decision to joining TCL Group, a mainland consumer electronics group had an emotional motivation.
"China's medical equipment market has been dominated by foreign brands for 30 years," he said. "For me, there has been a thirst to feel the nationalistic pride of churning out our own products."
TCL Healthcare, a joint venture between TCL Group and HAO Capital - a private equity group - was the first mainland company to start competing in the hi-tech diagnostic imaging equipment sector which encompasses X-ray, ultrasound, CT and MRI devices.
HAO Capital made its investment into TCL Healthcare in July via subsidiary investment platform SKR which is headed by Chih Chen, a 30-year veteran of the health-care industry and former president of General Electric's (GE) healthcare businesses in China.
Hu also is a former executive with GE health-care.
China's diagnostic imaging market is valued at 22 billion yuan (HK$26.9 billion) and it is expected to record an annualised 20 per cent growth in the next few years.
Hu said TCL Healthcare aimed to achieve sales of 2 billion yuan in five years, making it one of the major competitors in a market controlled by GE, Siemens, Phillips and Toshiba.
A team of top professionals and financially strong investors could pave the way to success of a domestic brand, he added.
Core technologies in the diagnostic imaging devices are in the hands of the giant foreign rivals but TCL Healthcare is hoping to catch up with them via overseas acquisitions of technological innovations and start-ups.
"If we are able to sniff out new trends in technological developments, we will be able to acquire the most advanced technologies to meet fresh demand for equipment," Hu said. "It just takes time to establish a brand recognised by clients."
The medical equipment market has received a boost, with Beijing determined to expand health-care facilities. It has unveiled plans to build more hospitals as part of a US$125 billion, three-year effort to expand health-insurance cover.
"The penetration rate of medical equipment in China is still low," Elaine Wong, a partner and co-founder of HAO Capital, said.
"The demand will be ever-increasing and TCL Healthcare will be doing its own job to make suitable products for Chinese hospitals."
By the end of last year, , a total 108 private equity funds managing a combined US$120 billion of assets were focusing on investments in the mainland's medical sectors, according to fund consultancy Zero2IPO.