Aussie respiratory device maker, AirPhysio expands in India

2 June 2022

AirPhysio is growing exports to India just 4 months after launching there. The company’s hand-held respiratory devices help people with limited lung capacity to clear their lungs and improve breathing.

The company’s expansion comes as Australia’s new trade agreement with India is set to reduce tariffs on Australian-made medical devices.

‘The trade agreement will help to open up India’s health market to Australian manufacturers,’ says Paul O’Brien, Co-founder and Chief Executive Office of AirPhysio. ‘It will reduce import tariffs from 42.5% to 7.5%. This will make it easier for distributors to sell high-quality medical devices in India.’

In April 2022, Air Physio won the India–Australia Business and Community Alliance Awards for Small and Medium-sized Enterprise of the Year.

‘Big changes are occurring in the health industry in India – and this opens up opportunities that didn’t exist before,’ he says.

From Tweed Heads to the world: Medical devices go global

AirPhysio was co-founded by entrepreneur O’Brien in Tweed Heads, New South Wales in 2015.

The company’s physiotherapy device looks like an inhaler. It requires people to exert positive airway pressure as they exhale. This helps to remove mucus from lungs. It is a registered medical device in Australia and 15 other regions.

As a device for improving breathing capacity, AirPhysio is becoming popular with athletes. The company now exports its devices to more than 100 countries, including in North America and Europe.

Opportunities for ‘allied health’ devices in India

AirPhysio launched in India in February 2022. O’Brien says that India is a great opportunity for medtech. This includes opportunities for ‘allied health’ services, products and medical devices.

‘We have a target market of about 200 million people in India,’ says O’Brien. ‘This is partly owing to poor air quality, but also smoking-related breathing difficulties.’

O’Brien reports that the pandemic has encouraged hospitals to find new ways to cope with demand, including via technologies. Hospitals are now investing heavily to improve treatment and capacity. This creates new opportunities in medtech.

He also says India’s citizens are open to fresh ideas in personal health.

‘The “health and wellness” outlook is becoming stronger in India,’ he says. ‘The market is getting lively. There is already stiff competition from medtechs in the US and the UK.’

Australia’s new trade agreement helps overcome export challenges

Exporting medtech to India is becoming easier. Before the pandemic, duties and taxes added approximately 42% to the value of a shipped AirPhysio device, according to O’Brien.

India’s Government is already lowering these high barriers. It wanted to expedite respiratory treatments during the pandemic, and unilaterally lowered tariffs by 20%. The new trade agreement will reduce tariffs further.

‘At the moment we pay 7.5% over the CIF [cost, insurance and freight] value, with GST of 12%,’ says O’Brien. ‘This will fall as the [trade] agreement comes into force. Lower import costs will make it far easier for our distributors to sell medical devices in India.’

A two-stage export strategy in India

AirPhysio has executed a staged go-to-market strategy in India. In February 2022, O’Brien engaged a local partner to sell direct to customers. This includes a social media marketing strategy.

‘Our partner listed the devices on Amazon and began selling 6–8 devices per day,’ he says. ‘This B2C (business to consumer) approach showed that we had a potential market.’

Next, O’Brien engaged a local distributor and set up a fulfillment centre in Hyderabad. This means he can bulk ship devices into India at local rates and develop a B2C model.

‘We exported over 3,000 devices a few months ago,’ he says. ‘We hope to sign a distribution agreement with a pharmacy group that will help us sell to doctors and hospitals.’

Austrade and TradeStart forge connections in India

O’Brian says that Austrade and NSW-based TradeStart have helped AirPhysio to expand in India.

‘Austrade and TradeStart have been instrumental in helping us find people in India to work with,’ he says. ‘They pursue contacts and find potential partners who are genuinely interested in your business.

‘Austrade and Investment NSW officials in India, Australia and the Middle East work as one to help businesses. They are amazing at creating introductions.’

Working with medical institutes in Mumbai

Partnerships in India are already taking AirPhysio in new directions. The company has begun working with the MGM School of Physiotherapy, which is part of the Mahatma Gandhi Mission Institute of Health Sciences in Mumbai.

‘We started working with the MGM institute to help with long-term respiratory complications,’ says O’Brien. ‘However, the Institute alerted us to a well-known spike in acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) cases that occurs during India’s monsoon.

‘This interest shows the willingness of health institutes in India to work with overseas device manufacturers. We hope our devices can help ARDS sufferers.’

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