Bernard Bar-Natan owes a debt of gratitude to the IDF for both his professional and personal success. In the army, he learned a profession, to be a combat medic. After a time, this turned into a business with exports to the tune of $3.1 million last year. And through the army, he also met his wife.
On July 7th, more than 20 years after he was first drafted into the IDF, Bar-Natan was given the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute's award for Outstanding Exporter in the Small Business category. First Care Products, the company he founded, produces and exports The Emergency Bandage, a personal field dressing. The company was selected by the Israel Export Institute for its achievements in increasing its exports over the last 3 years. The company succeeded in raising the value of its exports from $103,000 in 2002 to $3.1 million in 2004.
Asked how he was able to raise sales and exports by so much, Bar-Natan responded: "It is not my doing alone, but the success of the whole company, and besides, I was very lucky".
The luck Bar-Natan refers to comes through unhappy circumstances: wars and disasters, events that mean dressing the wounds of injured people. "No one wants casualties, victims that require bandaging. Unfortunately, it does happen, and, as this is the case, I want to be the one who provides the bandages."
Bar-Natan produces the bandages through a sub-contractor in Tuba-Zangaria, a Bedouin village near Rosh Pina. According to him, the US Army is his primary client, and there are peaks in orders which correspond to increased military activities in Afghanistan and Iraq or when aid is provided, such as with the Tsunami relief.
The ultimate bandage
Bar-Natan, born in Brooklyn, immigrated into Israel in 1979. Four years later he was drafted into the IDF. "Friends told me that it was better to be a soldier with a profession. At the end of my basic training, we were told that the army needed 20 medics, and I jumped at the opportunity. Since then, in my reserve duty, I serve as a medic; today as the company medic in a combat infantry unit.
During his military service, Bar-Natan he thought of an idea to improve upon the IDF personal field dressing. This was after he realized that the army was using very old bandages.
"It bothered me that we got old bandages, some of them from 1938, while the army spends hundreds of millions of dollars on modern weapons," he says, adding, "I found that the differences between the old and new bandages were almost non-existent. I said to myself that this can't be the case, and that there must be a more sophisticated bandage. But there was none".
Bar-Natan, who saw a possible business opportunity, began to think of the ultimate bandage. "In the army I was taught that, in the field, I should even tie a stone to the top side of the bandage in order to exert direct pressure to stop bleeding, and to use triangular bandages, elastic bandages, and other equipment to complete the treatment.
"I thought that a better solution must be found incorporating all of this equipment into one bandage."
On and off for the next two years he worked on the idea, and came up with the desired solution, which consolidated all of the treatment equipment into one device. 'The Emergency Bandage" replaces the primary dressing, the pressure application (the stone and the triangular dressing that ties it down), and the additional triangular dressings used as the secondary dressing for the purposes of immobilization and applying better direct pressure to the wound site to stop the hemorrhage.
Stef doesn't like sick people
With prototype in hand, Bar-Natan enrolled in an entrepreneurial seminar course set up by the industrialist Stef Wertheimer.
Globes: How did the entrepreneurial course help you?
Bar-Natan "I went to the course to see if I really had something or not. I made myself crazy for years with this and I wanted to know if I should stick with it. The feedback I received from people during the course was positive, and gave me the strength to continue."
What was Stef's reaction?
"He said that sick people made him feel uncomfortable. I was a bit shocked, but it didn't deter me. I said that nobody wanted to be sick or injured, but that it was necessary to be prepared. Wars, disasters, car accidents are situations that are always with us. Everyone is entitled to their opinion."
After 10 months, Bar-Natan was accepted into a two-year technology incubator program set up by the Chief Scientist's Office of Israel's Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor. During this period he developed the product and tested its viability. In 1992, he registered his first Patent.
How far did the incubator assist in the development of the product?
"The incubator program provided a terrific framework, which allowed me to develop the product without a lot of additional worries, I thought. The government, through the incubator, provided 85% of the budget, and I put in the balance. At the end of the first year, the incubator I was in closed, and for the next 3-4 months I was without any organization behind me, without any money and with debts. Fortunately, another incubator took me in, and I was able to complete the second year".
The bandage generated no revenue for years. How did you manage?
"I was very lucky. My father helped me, I sold my apartment in Jerusalem for a profit on what I paid for it, and when I could, I worked at different jobs like selling jewelry, or as a photojournalist. It wasn't easy. It was very difficult to build a business, all the expenses and no salary".
How did you succeed in marketing the bandage to foreign militaries?
"In Israel, I didn't make much headway then. The IDF said to me, "Let someone else buy it first," in other words, get some experience from other clients. I understood that I had to show the bandage to others abroad. I met with military officials and went to Congresses and Exhibitions. In 1998, I made contact with an American marketing company, Performance Systems, which worked hard to create awareness of the product within the US military.
"The baptism of fire for the bandage was with NATO forces in Bosnia. Since then, the French military purchases the bandage for its special forces.
"The real breakthrough came with the war in Afghanistan, and then in Iraq. In 2003, the orders from the US Army began to increase, and last year reached an all time high".
An IDF spokesperson said in response, "The matter is being examined by the Medical Corps. No decision has yet been made about the bandage."
You waited 12 years for this. What kept you going?
Bar-Natan "I went through some difficult times, without any money. I sold my apartment for the business, I took in partners, and went without a salary, because there wasn't any income from which to pay me, and I had to work at all sorts of different jobs.
"But today, thank God, the situation is different. You have to believe in your product and be ready to invest in it. I believe that I have been very lucky, especially because my product saves lives."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes.co.il - on July 20, 2005