In his former life, Yahya Aqel was a student of biomedical engineering who stumbled into ten years of work as a distributor, broker, and supplier. That is when he wasn’t swimming or fishing in his hometown in Jordan.
It was working as a supplier in one of the world’s most conformist industries—medical equipment and tools—that he saw a problem, or you could say an opportunity, which he is now tapping into with his startup.
There was a large gap in the information available about what’s going on in the medical supply market, which was putting a lockdown on the suppliers, as well as the distributors. And this was in turn leading to inevitable mistakes and asymmetries.
Suppliers, when looking to forge meaningful connections with distributors to sell their products to, needed to be aware of the latter’s financial capacities and overall sale growth.
Yet this is something they don’t always know of or can find out.
On the other hand, both manufacturers and distributors have no easy access to the demand from hospitals.
“In such a climate, finding a well-fitting partner is sometimes like looking for a needle in a haystack,” says Aqel, who welcomes us to his little color-filled office in the North-West part of Jordan’s capital city of Amman.
That wasn’t an isolated case. A few million suppliers and distributors are probably suffering from the same issues.
Considering the market size—500,000 manufacturers, 4 million distributors, and $100 billion spent every year—the breadth of the problem was a remarkable one.
“I started thinking….a small change would make a huge difference,” recalls Aqel, who admits though that challenging the status quo would be no easy feat.
Tech is always the answer
The medical supply industry has traditionally done its business on relationships forged at trade fairs, seminars, and exhibitions that Aqel believes will soon be relics of the past.
For long, they have been the only aggregative spaces for business interactions among entities in the medical supply industry.
But not all such fairs or seminars have the desired results even as the effort behind them is similarly monumental.
Not to mention, they usually come at a considerable cost, Aqel points out. “The estimated yearly expenditure [on such events by the industry] is $77 million.”
Despite this, the possibility of stumbling upon the right partner through consultation and exhibition is relatively low, and hence, such relationships tend to be pretty nebulous.
So is there a way out? Like it happens with pretty much every sector today, tech has an answer, and that is Aqel’s pitch.
Aqel says that even as the internet enables new models and challenges old systems, the healthcare sector, has remained largely immune to the technological pace.
And practitioners in this field seem to be the slowest adopters of sophisticated non-traditional methods—not much has changed over the past two decades.
“Such stagnation has undoubtedly held back the medical supply industry’s growth,” he claims.
In April 2015, Aqel started developing a pilot project for a tech service to tackle the industry’s information gap. As many as 4,000 initial subscribers, he says, suggested that he was on the right track.
Everything happened fast after that, with Aumet, the startup officially starting in June 2016.
Finding a suitable team and scaling the product took some time, but things picked up fast after that.
A Perfect match
Aqel started from his firm belief that real-time visibility and customized digital profiling were key to maximizing exposure and deepening the caliber of business relationships in this industry.
Aumet’s product is a comprehensive B2B digital solution, where verified and legitimate medical vendors and distributors can connect.
Here, suppliers can list their product range and choose countries in the MENA region where they might require a distributor.
Suppliers are ranked in terms of product quality, price competition, and delivery date, while distributors are ranked in terms of financial capacity, experience in the medical field, along with their ability to increase sales over time.
Relevant and up-to-date data of this nature is what both parties use to base their decision upon and take the first step towards a partnership.
“The ratings will help manufacturers validate distributors and make suitable decisions, saving 90% of their time,” Aqel explains.
Aumet’s mandate is to create a perfect match, and the technology underpinning the product is an intelligent matching system that aligns suppliers and distributors with a suitable partner, at a minimum, within a month.
Aqel’s bet to challenge the old guard has started paying off too. As the platform scaled, the payouts have started coming along. The website has quickly garnered a large number of customers, with 2,000 verified medical companies registered.
“In only a few months, we tied up with 2,000 distributors and 1,000 manufacturers,” he claims.
On the business model, Aqel says that Aumet does not charge commissions as would have been expected but rather offers subscriptions ranging from $5,000 to $250,000 depending on which country is the target.
Monetization started off in November and the revenue flow, though undisclosed, has been positive.
Ready for lift-off
A sizable chunk of medical suppliers hails from abroad, with Europe being the second biggest market after the US. And one European country is showing a particular interest in Aumet.
“We are grateful to France for supporting our efforts. The French government granted us five years residence, a free workspace, and $60,000 in funds,” he reveals.
Even though Aumet has been around for a relatively short time, some of the largest manufacturers worldwide are adopting the service, which Aqel says has a month-on-month growth of 75%.
Aumet is also going beyond the supplier-distributor nexus, and Aqel claims that it is solving two pains at the same time unlike some of its rivals in the market.
“As well as connecting suppliers and distributors, we unravel the hospital demand by aggregating news and data from newspapers. Next, we want to be the one hub for hospital news,” he adds.
On growth, Aqel hardens his tone.
“It may sound like the same old song, but Jordan is not the ideal place to scale yet, especially when it’s technology we are talking about.”
For this reason, Aumet has made the US its second home, while maintaining an office in Jordan for strategy development, and another one in France for digital marketing and sales.
“In Mountain View [California], we are expanding our knowledge in fundraising, growth hacking, and gaining exposure to hundreds of investors,” Aqel tells
Investments from the valley have already poured into Aumet from California-based 500 Startups.
Lucila Campos, marketing principal at the seed fund and accelerator, comments that Aqel is extremely familiar with a tough market, where he had already built a successful business before Aumet.
“At the same time, he’s hungry enough to keep hustling. We think that the problem Aumet is addressing is not only real but is huge,” Campos says.
“There are hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted each year in search of suppliers in the region, and the risks associated with hiring an unverified one are way too high. These two components made us pull the trigger on the opportunity as soon as we had the chance.”
Future plans for the company? Aqel says that within two years, Aumet aims to expand to other English-speaking countries: The UK, US, South Africa, Canada, and Australia.
“Our vision is to make the sector interactive at its best, with hospitals disclosing their demand and distributors posting their quotations,” Aqel says, with a degree of conviction.
“We have built the foundation for something that can have a true impact on a field that is typically resistant to change.”
Photos: Hussam Da’na