Learning how to pitch for new business in a highly technical sector has been a challenge for Brian Harrison. He has worked hard to perfect the “elevator pitch” for HiTech Health, the Dublin company he set up in 2014 to help bring new medicines to market.
Harrison established HiTech Health having spent 25 years working in technical roles in the pharmaceutical sector in Ireland and overseas.
“I’d been involved in bringing new products to market,” he said. “It can take ten years to bring a drug through development and clinical trials and then get it out into the market.
“It’s a long and complicated process. Big pharma companies will typically have the resources they need in-house to do it, but a lot of the smaller players don’t. That’s where HiTech comes in.
“We can work with university spin-outs and small-to-medium players, helping them from the preclinical stage right up to the commercial launch.”
Attending conferences and networking at trade events has played a crucial role in helping Harrison to meet potential customers and build his business.
“When I was in Big Pharma, I worked in product development. I never really had to sell anything,” he said.
“Technical people like myself tend to give you lots of information. That’s what we do. I’ve learned that you can’t really do that when you’re pitching your business.
“You’ve got to fine-tune your message and summarise what you can offer very quickly, so that you can get potential clients interested in having a longer discussion.
“Now I tend to go in with a quick elevator pitch so that people understand straight away what we’re about.”
HiTech works with companies in Ireland and overseas in the pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device sectors. Its clients include Horizon Therapeutics in Ireland and the Japanese company Takeda Pharmaceuticals, but the majority of the company’s customers are in the US.
Harrison set up the company having worked for Bristol-Myers Squibb for eight years, including a three-year stint as senior director of manufacturing at its New Brunswick, New Jersey facility in the US.
“The network I’d built up over there helped us to get business from our earliest start-up days and the US is still a big focus for us now,” he said.
“In the last couple of years, we’ve been working on more projects for the orphan drugs used to treat rare diseases. There might be a small number of patients with these illnesses, but the drug can be life-changing for them
“There is some great innovation going on right now in this area and a big focus on cell and gene therapies. Just recently, we helped a client to apply successfully for clinical trial in the UK for a new cell therapy product and we just recently got our own manufacturing and importation licences for the EU market.”
HiTech Health employs ten people full-time and has five subcontractors. It is a high potential start-up (HPSU) client of Enterprise Ireland and Harrison is a member of the HPSU Founders Forum run by the state agency.
The forum was set up five years ago to bring entrepreneurs like Harrison together with other HPSU founders as part of a peer-to-peer business support network. More than 200 company founders have taken part in the forum from sectors including software, medical devices, fintech, food, engineering and construction.
“I’ve found the advice I’ve gotten from other business owners very helpful,” Harrison said. “I’ve also used Enterprise Ireland’s international offices to make important connections in the local market, especially in the US.”