Wireless Firm Vocera Files For $80 Million IPO

Leading maker of hospital "badges" that permit instant communication has been growing by leaps and bounds.
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Reflecting the growing need for instant communication among clinicians, Vocera, a maker of voice-activated wireless communication badges, has filed for an initial public offering of $80 million. While the company is not well-known outside of healthcare, it is considered to be well-positioned for an IPO.

Vocera's badge, which has been available for a decade, is worn around the neck by physicians and nurses. The company also has applications for its own smartphone as well as for BlackBerry, Android, and iPhone.

Research firm Frost & Sullivan highlighted the kind of push-to-talk mobile phone technology that Vocera sells in a recent report on the potential of mobile health devices. The report notes that Nextel introduced push-to-talk in 1993, and that it has many uses in healthcare, from emergency rooms to patient transport to facility management.

In hospitals, clinicians use Vocera's product--which doesn't include a push button--to reach each other "stat" when phone calls, faxes, or emails aren't immediate enough. It can reduce the amount of time that nurses spend walking around a hospital, saving on labor costs, notes David Larsen, an analyst with Leerink Swann.

In a 2004 third-party study, the use of Vocera badges saved a 300-bed hospital 3,400 hours a year. At $100 an hour, including benefits, that savings added up to $340,000 a year, not counting the potential cost of complications prevented by timely communications.

Larsen said that Vocera is considered a leader in the field, and he also noted that "they've got a good rate of topline growth."

Vocera's S-1 filing with the Securities & Exchange Administration confirms Larsen's point. The company had revenues of $56.8 million in 2009, up 38% from the previous year. And for the first half of this year, Vocera posted volume of $37.4 million, a 46% increase from the prior-year period.

But Vocera's bottom line results have been less spectacular. The company recorded its first profit in 2010, earning $1.2 million. In the first six months of this year, it lost over $1.3 million, compared to a gain of $2.2 million for the first half of 2010.

"We expect our expenses to increase due to the hiring of additional personnel and the additional operational and reporting costs associated with being a public company," Vocera said in the SEC document. The company also said it expects to pay down $9.3 million in debt from the proceeds of the IPO.

Nevertheless, Vocera has a substantial upside. With interest increasing in reducing medical errors and improving handoffs, push-to-talk technology is likely to become more attractive to hospitals. In addition, Vocera's acquisition in December 2010 of Wallace Wireless, a smartphone software developer, gives it a new capability: Wallace's applications can be substituted for pagers.

Within the past year, Vocera has also bought Clinical Health Communications, Integrated Voice Solutions, and Experia Health.

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