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Umano Medical: Strong growth amid great challenges

December 21, 2023

In just over 10 years, medical equipment manufacturer Umano Medical has seen robust growth, especially with the huge upswing in demand during the pandemic. Based in L'Islet, and led by Robert Dion and Ghislain Demers, the small to medium-sized business (SMB) is doing well. Their secret? Planning, innovation … and people. 

A decade of massive growth

Despite its impressive track record, Umano Medical is still very young. The company was founded when a hospital bed manufacturing plant closed, leading to the loss of 320 jobs in the small Chaudière-Appalaches community. "Umano was created to help keep jobs in our region, but also to help preserve Quebec's medical expertise," recounts Robert Dion, co-president. 

Today, the manufacturer exports their products to 4 continents. In addition to its headquarters in L'Islet, the company has an excellence and innovation centre in Lévis—which has already seen 5 expansions—and a service centre in St. Louis, Missouri. It currently has nearly 500 employees, but is planning to recruit 200 to 300 more and double its sales volume within the next 4 years. "I'm proud to have built a solid company that's become one of the biggest in an industry known for being sealed off, all in barely a decade," says Dion. . 

  • 2012: Umano Medical is founded. 
  • 2015: Its first product, a revolutionary hospital bed, is launched, after 3 years of research with medical professionals. 
  • 2018: A research and development centre, as well as a workshop for building prototypes, opens in Lévis. 
  • 2020: In response to the global crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Umano launches a new emergency care bed in record time to support medical facilities around the world. 
  • 2023: Complementary products for beds, including support surfaces (mattresses), are added to the product lineup.  
  • 2023: Umano acquires IBIOM in Sherbrooke to expand into treatment chairs and attract talent in the region. 

Planning et innovation 

For Umano's co-presidents, navigating rapid growth is a bit like a game of chess. "When we sit down to make strategic decisions, we always try to think 3 to 4 moves ahead" Dion explains. Whether it's obtaining financing to ramp up production, recruitment or cash flow—the heart of the matter, Dion says—the management team uses a detailed plan that spans 5 years. 

"We know what the demand for a product will be in 5 years in each jurisdiction, what labour we'll need, what changes we'll need to make to production … This kind of rigorous planning is important to investors."

- Robert Dion, co-president, Umano Medical 

Umano Medical's success is also driven by its appetite for innovation. Its research and development team alone has about 80 employees who design medical equipment for the future, full-time. Hospital beds are no longer simple pieces of furniture, but precision instruments for caregivers. Umano Medical develops smart, connected products that collect and transmit valuable data in a care context, including patient vital signs. 

Pop-pup question 

During a period of growth, what kind of pitfalls should business leaders look out for? 

"When you're growing, it's easy to forget about the client and say, 'Hey, we're doing well, and that's enough.' Obviously, that's not true. As you grow, it's absolutely essential to keep the client at the centre of everything you do. We're an organization that strives to put people first, and because of that, the voice of the client plays a key role in how we do things." 

- Robert Dion, co-president, Umano Medical

Desjardins Advice

The key to growth management: Surrounding yourself with the right people 

For an SMB, a period of growth can be an exciting time, but also destabilizing one that comes with its own challenges. "Sales are up, doors are opening, clients are flowing in, expansion opportunities appear … It seems like anything is possible!" says Valerie Bouchard, Manager of Corporate Banking Services Sales at Desjardins Business. 

"You have to have a growth strategy with clear and realistic objectives to keep things under control," notes Bouchard. "Proper planning is what leads a business to achieve sustainable growth, in keeping with its operational, technological and human capabilities." 

This is why it's important to have trusted partners—a strong management team, directors with diverse skills and backgrounds and attentive financial partners—will help your company stay focused on strategic planning. "One of the traps of uncontrolled growth is losing sight of the clear and measurable objectives that were set at the beginning," Bouchard warns. "In the excitement, it's easy to fall off track."

Does your company need an international business partner? Is your cash flow limiting expansion? Are other financing solutions, like factoring, worth exploring? "You need to have the right people on board and solutions that are tailored to the reality of the business," adds Bouchard, whose team works to help Quebec SMBs navigate these challenges. 

Make banking operations easier

In the face of labour shortages and constant technological changes, automating your banking operations can be a great way to simplify the day-to-day management of your business. With cash management covered, business leaders and their teams can be free to focus on strategic, value-added initiatives. It saves time and money, reduces the risk of error and helps with the labour shortage.   

"The relationship of trust between a financial institution and a business is a determining factor," Bouchard explains. "There has to be dialogue on a regular basis to make sure the entrepreneur is adequately supported, and that this support is reviewed in light of changes and challenges that arise."