Breathing Life into Local Economy
Airon Corporation named a ‘Company to Watch’
Eric Gjerde, president & CEO of Airon Corporation, credits his father, work experience with multinational companies and local resources for his success as an entrepreneur.
Privately-owned and headquartered in Melbourne since 1997, Arion develops, manufactures and sells medical devices in the United States and 22 countries. These devices are small, portable life support ventilators that provide oxygen to patients that cannot breathe on their own. The ventilators – which are solely powered using the pressurized oxygen from oxygen tanks rather than electricity or batteries – are designed for use in hospitals, ambulances and in aircraft.
Prior to starting his own business, Gjerde worked for two large multinational medical device corporations in the 80’s and 90’s. He credits these companies for giving him the knowledge and experience needed to start his own business.
From Idea to Market
The process took five years to finalize the design, make prototypes, and get FDA approval and U.S. Patent protection. “In 1997, a friend of mine at Shands Hospital, University of Florida showed me a small portable ventilator (respirator) he had made for ShandsCair, the helicopter transport group at Shands,” recalled Gjerde. “We decided to form a company around this product using his technical expertise and my business experience.” The first product was released in 2003.
The manufacturing of medical devices requires specific approval processes and stringent certification requirements. In order to meet domestic and international regulations, all Airon products are FDA approved. In addition, the products have a CE mark (an abbreviation which literally means “European Conformity”) and meet many international quality standards including the designation of ISO 9001 (a certification by the International Organization for Standardization for quality assurance).
Airon was recognized as one of fifty ‘Florida Companies to Watch for 2011’ based on their growth in revenue and economic contribution to the state.
Growing in Tough Times
Gjerde identifies two reasons for the company’s success during this tough economic period. First, their products are focused on a very small niche market with limited competition. Customers still need to purchase life support devices even when they are cutting other expenditures. In addition, Airon has made strong efforts in international business. “These sales have gone from essentially nothing four years ago to over 50 percent of our business now,” explained Gjerde.
Gjerde has always had an interest in international cultures and his work experience with two major multinational companies has allowed him to understand the nuances of international business. “This has helped our company as we expanded into the international arena.”
Pursuing the Vision
Many entrepreneurs are able to visualize their success and Gjerde is no exception. “I have the entrepreneurial spirit from my father, who always had his own businesses. He taught me to be fair and honest. He also taught me to look at the bigger picture and see opportunities that others might not.”
Arion asserts over 40 years of experience in healthcare design and manufacturing with a team of talented professionals. Gjerde noted, “We could not be in the position we are in without these fine employees.”
Brevard County offers a number of resources to new businesses and companies looking to grow. “We used all of these agencies to help us, including the Economic Development Commission, Founders Forum and Enterprise Florida. All have provided excellent guidance and support at no cost,” commented Gjerde. In addition, the local Chamber of Commerce offers SCORE counseling where retired businesspersons offer advice.
“If you think you know it all, getting an experienced business person to review your business plan and offer advice can help to limit the bumps that will come up,” said Gjerde.