This article was originally written and published by VEGA Member PUM Netherlands senior experts here.
Iris Solutions is an innovative IT firm based in Ramallah, which focuses primarily on the implementation of interactive systems for multi-sensory stimulation rooms. Multi-sensory stimulation is a form of therapy applied in the care sector to treat mainly autism, trauma and dementia sufferers by means of tactile, visual and auditory stimulation. Iris Solutions recently received an award as one of the five leading IT firms in the Arabic world.
Iris Solutions has developed a cost-effective plug & play solution for multi-sensory stimulation therapy: the Sensory Box. The major advantages of this product are that little investment is required to install it in existing rooms, while the Sensory Box itself remains portable. As it takes just half an hour to install, the technology can be utilised on a broader scale and at limited cost. Some fifty institutions in the Palestinian territories currently make use of the systems supplied by Iris Solutions. The firm recently appointed a distributor in Lithuania to serve as a commercial link to the international market. Iris Solutions has now reached a significant stage of growth: the firm currently occupies a niche in the medical sector, while the Sensory Box offers it the potential for international expansion.
PUM’s expert in the IT-sector, Gerrit Bruins, recently paid the firm a visit. Its original request was to develop a business, financial and marketing plan to support its envisaged international growth. Gerrit Bruins: “Iris Solutions is highly adept at international marketing. Given the limited period of time available, however, it would have been asking too much to expect to complete all three plans during the initial mission. During my visit, a number of practical matters also arose which are related to the firm’s current stage of growth, including cash flow management.”
Various difficulties associated with Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories also complicate the issue of doing business there, not to mention the matter of proceeding to do business further abroad. Not only are banking services a problem in the Palestinian territories, but also logistic processes, import and export, and infrastructure facilities like telecoms connections regularly fail to meet the standards to which we are accustomed in the Netherlands. The PUM expert nevertheless considers the firm’s prospects highly favourable: “It has highly qualified IT specialists, while its Managing Director studied in London, and the Sensory Box itself has international potential. The support that PUM is capable of providing lies more in the area of coaching and business advice, therefore, rather than the dissemination of purely technical knowledge. Following my visit to Palestine, we are examining the possibilities of establishing a Business Link with Dutch companies, with a view to identifying the opportunities available for export and international cooperation.”
How did you get in touch with PUM?
“PITA, the Palestinian Information Technology Association, and PICTI, Palestinian ICT incubator put us in touch with Henny van Vliet, PUM’s IT Sector Coordinator, with whom we were able to exchange views directly. We immediately recognised the possibilities, and therefore submitted a request. This was a unique opportunity for us to hold a personal sparring session with someone who has both an extensive background in IT and a genuine understanding of the way that things work in the sector, right down to the last details. As an IT hardware manufacturer, we occupy rather an isolated position in this region, which implies that we have little opportunity to exchange ideas about how to start exporting, capture markets, improve concepts. We ultimately received a great deal of general business advice, particularly regarding financial matters, while we also spoke a lot about our future expectations and how we might best organise our management with these in mind.”
How was the Sensory Box conceived?
“We came up with the idea after meeting a group of psychologists working for UK-AID here. We were very much impressed with the concept of multi-sensory stimulation rooms, also known as cuddle spaces, for traumatised children, and were keen to make this therapy widely accessible. What would happen if we succeeded in both reducing the costs and simplifying the installation process? We had to carry out two years of research to actually achieve this. However, the Sensory Box is currently being used at fifty sites (kindergarten, school, hospital, and rehabilitation centres) in the West Bank and one site in Gaza. We have already sold 35 units, and are expanding our points of sale abroad. That was my reason for visiting Rotterdam; to interest potential distributors in getting involved.”
Where do you hope to be with Iris Solutions in five years’ time?
“We aim to be a global player in the field of interactive technology, thereby improving the quality of life for both autistic children and people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. We already have a US patent, but are keen to acquire a global one; although this does not guarantee that others will not copy the product, and there is indeed scope for several players in this sector. It is not simply a matter of the technology, however, but also a case of adapting to local markets.”
What are the major challenges you envisage in the future?
“It is difficult for us, but nevertheless essential, to set up international operations, not only in the form of distribution points, but also in terms of acquiring external funding. We are currently looking for a sum of one million dollars. Gerrit is extremely helpful to us in this regard, both as a mentor and in terms of his commitment. We contact one another on a monthly basis. This is a great help to us in our efforts to start operating internationally.”