Paul makes it in Tilburg

When you visit Focal Meditech, you are immediately captivated by the variety of disciplines and the meditative focus of the employees. Founder and Managing Director Paul Groenland and his team are looking for answers to complex care questions about self-reliance on a daily basis at their premises on the Droogdokkeneiland. They do this by developing high-quality technical tools that ensure that people with various disabilities can function more independently. These include dynamic head and arm supports, care robots and eating devices. Cutting edge products that are 'just' invented and manufactured in Tilburg. Then offered to users all over the world. Focal Meditech; a Tilburg success story about stubborn entrepreneurship and the importance of applied innovation.


Focal's R&D department is currently conducting research into adaptive technology and stabilisation. A prototype headrest is being developed and tested in a carefully adjusted set-up. Groenland: "We work according to the 'adjusted as needed' principle. This means that a device must never do more than is necessary. In doing so, we show respect for the body, so that it has the opportunity to keep moving partly by itself. The most subtle intention is then sufficient to use a flowing, assisted movement." Greenland worked in the automotive industry for many years. In the early nineties, however, he felt it was time for a new challenge with a social approach. "At that time, healthcare in the Netherlands was on the eve of a major decentralisation. I saw an opportunity to make a difference, initially as an advisor. Soon my attention shifted to the production of aids. The first years were dominated by pioneering. There was hardly any development in the field and the products were 'just a piece of cake'. With Focal, we have been able to deepen the domain considerably since then."


In the Netherlands, 5,000 to 6,000 people use Focal Meditech products every day. But also from Germany, Norway, Denmark, France, Italy, Norway and even the United States, orders are received regularly. It is not the case that Focal responds to all these requests, says Greenland: "The starting point is never to grow because of growth. We want to be able to serve all our customers with the same care and attention. It takes time to achieve this. What matters to us is that our products must fit the end user. Every person has his or her own needs based on his or her clinical picture, character, social context, ambitions and skills. That is why we do not work on the basis of a technological push, but rather on the basis of these human needs. We make what is technically necessary, not what is technically possible. Listening, making and improving. Sometimes we are quite stubborn about this. But it has brought us where we are today."


Greenland is a strong supporter of the local development and production of new technologies: "The European market is flooded by technology from Asia and elsewhere. But resources have to match our needs. Products that meet the needs of the Asian market do not necessarily meet the requirements for us. Our industry is one where cultural differences determine the design and functionality of a product. What works elsewhere can miss the point here." That's why Focal works closely with Dutch institutes and universities. To explore the possibilities of artificial intelligence, for example, a collaboration with Tilburg University and MindLabs is being set up. Groenland: "I see an important and growing role for Tilburg thinkers and makers in this playing field."


"We are grateful to the municipality of Tilburg for the construction of the Droogdokkeneiland and for the opportunity to settle here. The industrial area has a great appearance, almost like a park. Lots of green, not a lot of crowds. Very representative when we get visitors from abroad. But also nice when we receive parents who come with their child to try a tool. It will never happen here that trucks take the laces off their shoes. Tilburg is increasingly profiling itself as a knowledge-intensive place with a pleasant business climate. This fits in well with Focal's philosophy. Here we are given the freedom to do business the way we want: with an eye for the quality of life, the environment and the individual."


As an innovation-driven company, Focal Meditech looks to the future on a daily basis. Groenland: "Processors are becoming faster and control instruments more accurate. This results in products that are increasingly able to keep pace with the frequency of human activity. Tools that can be adapted in detail to the needs of the user. I believe that customisation is the only solution in the long run. But it is an expensive solution. We must involve politicians, civil society organisations and other interested parties. We can't do it alone. In ten years' time, we will hopefully still have a pioneering role to play. In the meantime, I will continue to work on what really matters: helping people as I want my own mother to be helped. With respect and the very best tools."


Paul Groenland doesn't have to think long about his golden tip: "Entrepreneurship is about the long term. Give yourself time to reach your goals! I am averse to hypes. Our society benefits from structural, socially responsible activities and solutions. Only then will we really make progress together."