Duo has an affinity for success
Patricia and Hugh Hoogendoorn with some of Affinity's products
Sometimes, success wells up not from a great original idea or technology but from seeing a niche that few recognize. The trick there is in acting on the opportunity . . . even if it means toiling at full-time jobs elsewhere while seeding and nourishing your fledgling niche at home.
That’s the story of Affinity Biologicals: a company that climbed from a Kingston basement into a plant in Ancaster. And the team behind the climb – husband and wife Hugh and Patricia Hoogendoorn – are acting on opportunity again: they've just bought a new business.
The pair have acquired the hemostasis reference lab at Henderson General Hospital, a service complementary to Affinity's blood serum and coagulation lines, and a full-circle return to where they alighted when they left Kingston in 1993.
They credit Drs. Jack Hirsh and Jeff Weitz for mentoring and entrepreneurial help as the Hoogendoorns planned their exit and spun off the Henderson business into a stand-alone Affinity operation nine years ago.
Today, the company that began in the basement of two former Mohawk College lab technology grads has almost 20 employees and does more than $2 million in annual sales around the globe. It ships most of its product lines into Europe, the U.S., Australia, and other areas. And now China beckons.
Broadly speaking, Affinity makes lab reagents and kits for research and diagnostics. The antibodies, conjugates, ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) kits, and plasma products are used in the research pathology of diseases and in monitoring the efficacy of treatments.
It was the antibody line, used in coagulation research, that the Hoogendoorns first picked up on. It was a niche market going unserviced. So they started their home-based business in 1987, even though both had other jobs in Kingston.
More than two decades later, most of their customers are in academic and industrial research. Some buyers are manufacturers who rebrand Affinity staples or incorporate those products into their own separate commodities.
Affinity's market sector – human health and safety – means the company must adhere to demanding and expensive audits and standards set by such bodies as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the ISO agency.
Another demanding barrier is the U.S. border. Entry into the United States has gotten tougher, post 9/11 and post-Mad Cow disease. Often, it has meant that Patricia, the company’s chief financial officer, has personally taken shipments over to make sure they reach carriers or distributors.
The risks and demands in a life sciences business are higher today, says Patricia. To which Hugh, the president, adds: “They (the hurdles) are second only to the drug development system. It requires a huge investment.”
By broadening their offerings beyond plasmas and antibodies, the couple has so far weathered this economic collapse. But two years ago, it was the rapid rise of the Canadian dollar’s value, relative to the U.S. dollar, that hurt them. Affinity's lines are priced in U.S. dollars; quotes are good for a year.
Handsome margins crumbled then, and Affinity had to reduce R & D, cut back on heavy marketing, let some employees go. Today, the marketing is more likely to focus on email campaigns but there is still the occasional trade show.
“We made it through (the soaring loonie),” said Patricia. “We live now like it’s at par and anything beyond is gravy.”