$10m: How an SA in­ven­tion scored global ex­po­sure

Finweek English Edition - - INSIDE - Cover con­cept and lay­out: Jig­nasa Diar

Sto­ries of South African in­no­va­tions mak­ing it big on the global stage are few and far be­tween. FNB may have been la­belled the worlds’ most in­no­va­tive bank, while Eric Mer­ri­field and Aubrey Krüger’s do­los in­ven­tion has pre­vented a large chunk of East Lon­don and other parts of the world dis­ap­pear­ing into the ocean, and Prat­ley Putty made it into the US space pro­gramme and was used on Neil Arm­strong’s moon mod­ule. Now SA is in­trigued by a med­i­cal de­vice that made it into hit US med­i­cal drama Grey’s Anatomy.

De­spite some iso­lated cases of bril­liance, South Africa is gen­er­ally not re­garded as a global cen­tre of ex­cel­lence when it comes to in­no­va­tion. But we think we may have found a home-grown in­no­va­tion gem: funded, de­vel­oped, built and sold from South Africa. ( We do, how­ever, have to speed­ily ac­knowl­edge that it took it be­ing ex­posed to us via the Amer­i­can hos­pi­tal

drama Grey’s Anatomy for us to be­come aware of it and give it the at­ten­tion that it deserves.)

En­ter Lo­dox: a full body X-ray scan­ner, man­u­fac­tured by Sand­ton-based Lo­dox Sys­tems, which was de­vel­oped as an anti-theft de­vice by De Beers in the Eight­ies to thwart the theft of gem­stones in di­a­mond min­ing. It was adapted for med­i­cal use un­der the aus­pices of the Univer­sity of Cape Town at Groote Schuur Hos­pi­tal and found its way onto one of the world’s most­watched hos­pi­tal dra­mas.

Lo­dox is a great ex­am­ple of South African in­no­va­tion made good and it is gar­ner­ing a wholly dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of me­dia at­ten­tion. Dis­pro­por­tion­ate be­cause there are only 40 of the ma­chines in ex­is­tence and the 10-year-old com­pany that makes them is yet to turn a profit.

Lo­dox has de­liv­ered ma­chines to hos­pi­tals in SA, the US, Tai­wan, Venezuela, Switzer­land, the UAE and Saudi Ara­bia. Thir­teen are cur­rently in ser­vice in South Africa, pri­mar­ily in pub­lic hos­pi­tals such as Char­lotte Max­eke Aca­demic Hos­pi­tal, but some are in pri­vate units too, in­clud­ing Net­care’s Mil­park hos­pi­tal. The great­est num­ber, 14, are in use in the US, in­clud­ing at LA County hos­pi­tal where the de­vice was dis­cov­ered by the Grey’s Anatomy pro­duc­ers.

In its in­dus­trial ap­pli­ca­tion its res­o­lu­tion was good enough to de­tect a 1-carat di­a­mond, as small as a fifth of a gram, be­ing se­creted in­side an in­di­vid­ual. In its med­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tion it is able at the f lick of a switch to show bone and soft tis­sue, al­low­ing doc­tors to make a speed­ier, po­ten­tially life-sav­ing di­ag­no­sis in mere min­utes.

The di­a­mond in­dust r y needed a de­vice that was quick enough to use to en­sure that work­ers emerg­ing from their shifts could be pro­cessed quickly and ef­fec­tively with­out im­pact­ing op­er­a­tions.

A team of engi­neers in­volved in the orig­i­nal pro­ject left De Beers in 2002 to work on a med­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tion for the de­vice and found sup­port at Groote Schuur, world fa­mous for the pi­o­neer­ing heart trans­plant work of Chris Barnard.

Lo­cal fans of Grey’s Anatomy would have been non­plussed by the ap­pear­ance of a new mir­a­cle de­vice on the show on Mon­day, 10 June. There was no com­men­tary about its prov­i­dence or the fact that it was a cre­ation out of the de­vel­op­ing world. For a mar­keter, it was a gift from heaven. The unit was given a demi-god sta­tus as doc­tors on the pro­gram de­bated its best pos­si­ble ap­pli­ca­tion as the tech­nol­ogy re­ceived more than a dozen un­so­licited, free men­tions in a sin­gle episode.

“We didn’t go look­ing for them. They came to us,” ex­plains Lo­dox CEO Pi­eter De Beer. The pro­duc­ers of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy came across the ma­chine while re­search­ing a new-look ER unit for the se­ries at Los An­ge­les County hos­pi­tal, one of more than half a dozen units in the US that uses this de­vice.

The pro­duc­ers, who pride them­selves in ex­hibit­ing the most re­al­is­tic pos­si­ble sets on Grey’s Anatomy, were told that in or­der to keep up with the times, they needed to have a Lo­dox ma­chine in their emer­gency rooms.

“Grey’s Anatomy was very kind to us. They con­tacted us and we sup­plied them with a unit that was on its way to a client to use in the se­ries. No­body paid any­body. We placed the ma­chine in stu­dio at our cost and they have not asked for pay­ment,” says De Beer, who is ea­ger to grab the op­por­tu­nity pre­sented by the de­vice’s new found-fame to grow the busi­ness that has f in­ally been thrust into the global med­i­cal spot­light.

It’s the sort of ex­po­sure that man­u­fac­tur­ers of med­i­cal equip­ment around the world would kill for. Prod­uct place­ment is a widely used de­vice for new launches and for pro­mo­tional ac­tiv­ity and comes at a pre­mium to tra­di­tional ad­ver­tis­ing. The big dif­fer­ence is that Lo­dox has re­ceived its ex­po­sure free and the en­dorse­ment is pow­er­ful.

“A 30-sec­ond com­mer­cial dur­ing Grey’s Anatomy in the US sells for $200 000,” says Me­dia Shop MD Chris Botha. “In­pro­gram ex­po­sure can be worth up to five times the value and when you have ac­tors talk­ing about a de­vice, that is a mas­sive en­dorse­ment es­pe­cially when they talk about tech­ni­cal specifics of a piece of med­i­cal equip­ment.”

In­deed, any­one watch­ing could be left in no doubt about the ben­e­fits of hav­ing a Lo­dox ma­chine in an emer­gency room.

The ma­chine used in episode 18 in

The Lo­dox ma­chine as fea­tured on the 9th sea­son of Grey’s Anatomy

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