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Revolutionizing health and beauty: The president of Homer Ion Laboratory shares insights

Interview - November 27, 2023

From cutting-edge medical technologies to innovative beauty solutions, unveiling the secrets of success and future expansion plans. 

HIROMASA AKIMOTO, PRESIDENT OF HOMER ION LABORATORY CO., LTD.
HIROMASA AKIMOTO | PRESIDENT OF HOMER ION LABORATORY CO., LTD.

Japan has been successful in many industries, and as a result, many other countries have copied its model of success and have pushed Japan out of certain markets. However, when it comes to the medical field, Japan still sees some success. For example, Japan still has a 98% global market share in flexible endoscopes through firms such as Olympus Medical Systems. How have Japanese firms been able to succeed in these parts of the medical field despite the stiff regional price competition?

One aspect that I consider a strength of the Japanese medical sector is the importance placed on technology and the reliability of that technology. From that perspective, technology is the battleground that must be won. In this respect, Japan is really able to show its strengths, especially when firms position themselves in strong positions in the global market. Even if their brand or name is not well known, globally there are still champion companies when it comes to the technology that Japan can exhibit. This is where Japan has strengths when compared to other countries.

 

Japan has an aging and shrinking population, and in the next 15 years, one in three people is expected to be over the age of 65. There is now a labor crisis as well as a shrinking domestic market. What have been some of the challenges this demographic shift has presented to your firm?

We view this shift in demographics as both a challenge and an opportunity. I think one of the biggest challenges that has come due to this shift is the transmission of our technology to the next generation. The second challenge is the fact that business owners are becoming more and more aged with an inability to maintain their sales and marketing power, and with this comes certain risks. I would say these two areas in particular pose a challenge to our firm.

I believe it is a common measure to foster and train young successors to address these two issues. Not only we are putting a lot of emphasis into training and fostering those who can carry on the technology behind the products, but we are also actively conducting M&As so that we can make sure that businesses that are on the verge of bankruptcy due to the aging demographic can continue to remain active within the market. In order to create a thriving market, it is really up to young people to thrive within it. Young people need to enter the field and create the kinds of companies and products that interest and attract a new generation. Creating this kind of environment and framework is key to us. On the other hand, From my end as the president of a medical company that focuses on medical devices for the aging population, we are seeing this aging trend growing worldwide and becoming a more viable market for medical treatment. We are looking to cater our medical devices and equipment to support the aging population and those who require more intensive care after leaving a hospital. I believe that even if one is elderly, if they are incurring severe illness they should not be left alone and they deserve the greatest amount of care and support. I think this really represents some of the best opportunities we have seen from this demographic shift.

 

As people age, their joints and their muscles become weaker. One way to offset this is through the promotion of healthy living and lots of exercise. While COVID served as a catalyst for some to increase their daily physical activity, many saw their level of exercise greatly reduced, which has remained the case post-lockdown in many countries. We know that your firm offers products that aim to eliminate the inability to exercise. As a firm that promotes healthy lifestyles, what do you believe should be done to help people become more active, and how can you contribute to that?

Now, I'd like to mention the many senior citizen.  Many elderly people are experiencing severe illness, hospitalized, or in intensive care units (ICU). Up until now, those who entered the ICU were those who were involved in severe accidents, however, nowadays in Japan, many who are around the age of 75 or 80 are hospitalized in ICUs as a result of weak hearts, underlying medical issues, or chronic illnesses. They require rehabilitation. If you are in ICU and you are bedridden for one week, atrophy can set in and some of those patients can’t even get out of bed.

With elderly people, if they break a bone or they experience some sort of pain then they do not because of the pain associated. The older you get the more difficult it is to retain muscles and mobility, especially if you break a bone. This is an area I feel individuals need support when it comes to exercise. We are looking to provide systems for such individuals, allowing those people to retain some sort of strength as a result of our products.

 

HOMER ION Laboratory is a firm that specializes in electrical stimulation and biological chemical reactions such as electrical muscle stimulation (EMS). Can you give us a brief overview of EMS and how you are applying that to both your products and medical treatment?

We are developing an EMS belt called the B-SES, which stands for Belt Electrode-Skeletal Muscle Electrical Stimulation. It is a completely electric belt that has electrode surface introduced to the inner side of the belt. It is something that can be wrapped around the waist, the knee, or ankles. Electronic currents run through the lower body as if it is running through a container pipe, and as a result, you are able to stimulate the body and have an exercise effect on the entire lower limb. This is something that is being highly utilized for that target population I mentioned before; the patients that have just left ICU. Basically, we are talking about people who are bedridden or whose severe illness prevents them from exercising.  this is something that is being utilized by Japanese hospitals and the medical industry. Most university hospitals have introduced this B-SES belt to their medical treatment process, so it means that our products are already being recognized as official medical treatments.

 

Can you outline some of the challenges you have had to face during its development?

The mainstream view of EMS is that people tend to be suspicious of whether it is something that actually works or not. The fact is that there is a lack of evidence-based research regarding EMS. For us, one of the challenges was making sure that there was a steady accumulation of evidence-based research and data around EMS. The aim is to build up the understanding so that it can be fully embraced as a viable treatment. Unfortunately, this reputation cannot be built overnight, and it requires a huge amount of data in order to do so. As a company, this is something that we have continued to accumulate data on to strengthen it as a viable option. We believe that the solidification of evidence-based research would then really create the market for this and change the global understanding of EMS.



In addition to your EMS products, you also have a line of beauty products under the Moisteane brand, and the core of this is your Loop Care; a unique beauty method that allows users to make ideal skin care a habit. Can you tell us more about this Loop Care method and what makes it so unique?

Our approach to beautiful skin is that it should not be something that is a one-time fix, rather we want to be able to ensure that clients are able to maintain beautiful skin on a long-term basis. Through Loop Care, we can create continuity, and within the product line, there are four main features. Those main features are beauty devices and cosmetics, advisors, home care, and salon community. Having these four features enables the continuity of beautiful skin.

As I mentioned, one of the features is combining beauty devices with cosmetics as a set to provide a total, integrated, solution-based approach. The second feature is an advisor, and what this means is that we assign each of our clients a beauty consultant, which we believe is key in enabling the client to really have tailored support when it comes to their specific skin care needs. Additionally, this allows us to give those clients a correct explanation of how to utilize their products. We have a system in place where only certified consultants can take on this role.

The third feature is the promotion of home care, and we believe that skincare and beautiful skin are something that need to be taken care of on a daily basis and require daily constant care. We provide a framework to our clients so that they are able to do this at home. Our fourth and final provision is the salon community, and this is the aspect where our clients regularly go to salons for treatments. At these salons they can exchange correct information about how to use the products as well as interact with other clients, thus giving their motivation levels a boost. I believe that this kind of provision of a community surrounding the products enables this kind of full loop of continuity when it comes to skincare. Right now, we have a network of 500 salons that are part of this salon community with around 2,000 beauty consultants.



Asian heavily differs from that in Europe or the Americas. It ages slower due to a thick demit, however, due to a thinner strain of corneum, also scars more easily and is more sensitive. How do you ensure that your products are able to suit these different and varying types of skin?

Our view is that rather than having multiple different products catering to multiple different skin types, we instead have certain categories such as sensitive skin or younger skin. We do not carry multiple products, rather we are looking at the root factor that plays a key role in creating healthy skin. To this end, moisturization is the key, and that is why we have utilized the word moisture in our branding with a slight French-sounding twist. By combining medical equipment with cosmetics, it is able to penetrate and provide certain levels of moisture that are quite effective.

This is why having a consultant or advisor is so key to our model, simply because we do not carry multiple different items or products. We believe it is more important to have an individual that is supporting the client.

 

Are there any other products or technologies that are currently under development that you would like to showcase for us today?

Sorry, unfortunately, everything in our R&D is confidential at this time but do look forward to showing about our exciting research at some point in the future. Even after a patient leaves the hospital, they still need support at home, especially those who are elderly otherwise their muscles will easily deteriorate as atrophy sets in. We are confident in our B-SES line and believe that we can contribute to such things.

 

Can you tell us the role that partnerships play in your business model and are you looking for any new partnerships overseas?

We are always working together with university hospitals in both the medical field and the academic field. This assistance is important for us to really ascertain what kind of medical issues are the more dire and require the most support. We are able to get this information firsthand by working directly with doctors, universities, and researchers, and then we are able to see how that can be actually implemented, thus creating new business opportunities. As you can see, tying up partnerships with specialists is key to our product development domestically and overseas as well.

In fact, I would say that every single one of our products has followed this development cycle. Since the solidification of evidence-based research is key to our business we really try to support doctors, medical associations, and research institutes in a way that allows doctors to look for new medical treatments.

 

What other countries or regions have you identified for further expansion and what strategies will you employ to do so?

Right now, we are really looking to expand treatments using B-SES, explaining to people that it is a viable treatment worldwide. If you are asking a particular area for that expansion, I would have to say that Europe, and specifically Germany and France are in our crosshairs right now.

 

Imagine that we come back in five years and have this interview all over again: what goals would you like to have achieved by then?

One goal we have is to become a much stronger force in overseas markets. I think the best way for me to answer this is by sharing with you my vision for the future of the company. I want our company to always be known for being fun and exciting; a company that is constantly putting out products or developing new things. Of course, we are a company that deals with the body and electricity, but beyond that, I am not really interested in scale, rather it is the degree of interest, basically if products are piquing the curiosity of our client base. If I were to summarize it would be that we are a company that is putting out products that are a necessity to many of our clients, but in a fun and exciting way that generates buzz and interest from the general population.

In terms of more concrete ambitions, within the next five years, we really want to spread B-SES to 25 countries around the world. If we could achieve that, it will be a milestone for my vision.


Interview conducted by Karune Walker & Sasha Lauture

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