October 1, 2014

Taking on the World

Barbara Miracle | 3/2/2009


Amber Diagnostics' Bobby Serros exports medical imaging equipment. [Photo: Kelly LaDuke]
When Bobby Serros boards an airplane these days, it’s likely he’s heading to a country that most Floridians know very little about — Cameroon, on the west coast of Africa. His mission is to sell medical imaging equipment, typically refurbished but sometimes new, to hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

Serros’ company, Orlando-based Amber Diagnostics, has been selling refurbished medical equipment since 1995, but Serros began exporting only around 2003. First up were sales to Venezuela and Mexico.

Resources

Enterprise Florida Inc.
eflorida.com
Contact one of EFI’s offices about export counseling, trade events and export sales leads.

Boca Raton (561) 362-5626
Miami (305) 808-3660
Jacksonville (904) 359-9350
Orlando (407) 956-5639
Pensacola (850) 595-5416
Tallahassee (850) 469-8989
Tampa (813) 276-9430

Florida Small Business Development Center Network
Office of International Programs
floridasbdc.org/specialprograms
(850) 473-7808
This office publishes a comprehensive “Trade Primer,” available free online. Local SBDCs offer Exporting Florida, an export certification program, and the Business of Exporting, a three-hour seminar.

Florida District Export Council
floridaexporter.com
This organization has an extensive list of resources to help exporters.

U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration

export.gov

Clearwater (727) 893-3738
Fort Lauderdale (954) 356-6640
Jacksonville (904) 232-1270
Miami (305) 526-7425
Orlando (407) 648-6170
Tallahassee (850) 942-9635

Export-Import Bank of the U.S.
exim.gov

Serros did his homework before venturing into Africa in 2004. He picked Cameroon because of the need for imaging equipment and, unlike China or India, a lack of competition. Also, the country is safer politically than some other emerging markets.

With Africa, the company decided to strike out on its own and not go through a third-party dealership. “It’s a heavy investment upfront,” he says, explaining that in 2007 the company opened a 10,000-sq.-ft. office in Douala, Cameroon, and later smaller sales offices in the west African nations of Niger, Mali and Senegal.

Serros and his partners make about 18 trips to the country each year and have an apartment there. “It takes feet on the street,” he quips. Although many Cameroonians speak English, Serros needs a French translator to do business with some locals. Travel to rural areas is difficult, and cell phone coverage can be spotty.

Despite the difficulties, the company’s move into Africa and exporting overall have been lucrative. In 2008, Amber Diagnostics received a $16 million contract with GE Healthcare to sell new diagnostic equipment to Cameroon as well as Mali, Niger, Ivory Coast and Benin. In 2009, the 100-employee company expects to generate $26 million in sales, half from exports. Next up will be an office and distribution center in Europe.


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