November 23, 2015

Central Mass firms set sights on international markets

Westborough-based eClinicalWorks is a company near the top of its field. It's one of the top vendors of electronic health records systems for U.S. doctors' offices and a big player in the development of mobile tools that let patients track their vital signs and communicate with doctors.

Where does a company like that go from here? How about England?

EClinicalWorks recently signed on United Kingdom eye-care company Specsavers as a customer, and the Westborough firm is opening an office in London. Since Specsavers operates in 10 countries, the deal represents a big step into international markets.

Whether they're working with clients and partners overseas, expanding into new countries or just exporting the things they make, many Central Massachusetts companies like eClinicalWorks see a strong future in becoming companies of the world.

Between 95-99 percent of eClinicalWorks' business has been in America, but Sam Bhat – eClinicalWorks' cofounder and vice president – sees a big potential market in Europe, as well as Australia, New Zealand and parts of Asia – places where the industry is focused on information technology.

In Europe, Bhat said, many providers use pre-Internet era technology rather than cloud-based systems to allow patients to be custodians of their data.

"We felt that there is a kind of a need for a new technology, disrupting the existing platforms," he said.

Altogether, Massachusetts exports brought $27.4 billion into the state in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Julia Dvorko, Central Massachusetts regional director for the Massachusetts Export Center, which works largely with manufacturers, said there are always new firms coming to her looking for help targeting foreign markets. In particular, she said, advanced optics, defense and medical device firms do a brisk business internationally.

"Across the board, there has always been a very steady flow," Dvorko said.

The fact that the dollar has been getting stronger in recent months makes things tougher for exporters, Dvorko said, but there is a value in diversifying. During the Great Recession, companies balanced a decline in their U.S. business with international sales.

For the small and midsize businesses she works with, Dvorko said the most common strategy in going international is working with an agent or distributor in the target country.

Some eventually open overseas offices, but she said U.S. companies seem less eager to do that than European firms of the same size, which frequently set up locations in markets like China or Brazil.

For some of Central Massachusetts' bigger companies, international operations are a big part of their model.

Marlborough medical device maker Boston Scientific reported 47 percent of its sales came from international markets in 2014.

Milford laboratory equipment maker Waters Corp. made only 30 percent of its money domestically last year. It reported $607 million in European sales and $640 million in Asia, compared with $597 million in in U.S.

Earlier this year, Framingham discount retailer TJX Cos. – a non-tech giant of the Central Massachusetts landscape – announced it was entering the Australian market by buying the company Trade Secret for about $58.5 million.

Westborough-based Virtusa Corp. bought a majority stake in Polaris Consulting & Services of India in a deal announced in early November. The deal made sense partly because it offers them new access to specific markets, such as Australia, Japan and Canada, where Virtusa had not previously operated, Virtusa CFO Ranjan Kalia said.

Right now, Kalia said, about 70 percent of its revenues come from domestic sources, while 30 percent is international. The total demand for the IT services it provides is the exact opposite—70 percent comes from foreign markets.

"So this is a good way for us to balance ourselves," he said.

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