How Van Straten Medical transformed from wholesaler of instruments to circular solution provider

Intro & Highlights

We meet Bart van Straten at Van Straten Medical’s new head office and production location in De Meern, just outside of Utrecht. With the second generation at the helm (Bart and Niels van Straten), Van Straten Medical has transformed from a medical instrument wholesaler to a medical instrument circular solution provider over the past years.

In 2018, they were the first in the world to achieve production of new medical instruments by melting scrap steel from damaged instruments (Link (NL) & related video (EN)). Over and above that, they are able to offer their customers (hospitals and other major care providers) a full-service solution at much lower prices (up to 75% structurally) than traditional ‘make-use-waste’ providers. In this interview, we explore what’s behind their disruptive journey.

Here are our top three lessons from Van Straten Medical’s road from wholesaler to a ground-breaking circular solution provider:

  1. Focus on partnerships and create an ecosystem: a crucial element is to find and develop partnerships beyond the traditional value chain. For Van Straten Medical, this has ranged from scientific fellowships/partnerships; to hospitals that were willing to experiment and co-create; to Renewi as logistical and ‘waste to value’ partner for refurbishing face masks during the initial outbreak of covid-19 in the Netherlands (Link)
  2. Make sure the business case and quality go hand-in-hand with sustainability: being a ‘more sustainable’ option is only one of the 3 most important aspects behind the success of Van Straten Medical’s circular solution. Their customers want the best value for money first and require great service. If you are able to provide that, then sustainability becomes a differentiator. Interestingly: you won’t find ‘sustainability’ on Van Straten’s website, but it is an integral part of their business model.

3. Match passionate leadership with an organization that is willing and able to change; with a bold vision to turn the business around comes an expectation of existing and new staff to be adaptable and ready to make and embrace the change. Van Straten Medical explicitly hires for those qualities, and its leaders keep sharing the vision. It also works the other way around: the in-house competencies for instrument repairs have fueled the success of a circular solution due to Van Straten’s focus on quality.

Beyond these lessons, we were impressed by the apparent focus on transparency at Van Straten Medical. This became clear during a tour of the facilities, where large windows in and between repair / production cells make for contact between colleagues. It made it easy and enjoyable for us as visitors to see how much pride people & leadership take in their work.

Please scroll down for the full interview. We cover Van Straten Medical’s journey by considering the seven elements in our Wearth frameworks: the why, what, how, with whom, sustainability, trade-offs and next horizon.

1) WHY

In the early 2010s, my brother and I (they have taken over from father Jaap who established Van Straten Medical in 1975, ed.) concluded that merely continuing our existing business ‘as is’, would mean participating in a race to the bottom with our competition. Margins for wholesale have been, and still are, under pressure across industries. Instead of this race, we preferred to pioneer a different, disruptive journey of our own. And we wanted to do something else than selling products that would be disposed of soon after usage. Especially since a large part of our products, are made with valuable, rare raw materials. We don’t want to help create a hugely expensive landfill. We figured that a repair business for medical instruments could fit well. After a lot of scouting we found a suitable candidate, that we were able to acquire: Medical Repairs. A few years on, we managed to make this part of a full-service proposition (see “#2: WHAT”, ed.) for our customers. Since 2018 this accelerated hugely, amongst others because we were apparently the first ever company globally to accomplish and ‘prove’ a circular model for medical instruments – and effectively produce new ones from melting scrap steel, whilst satisfying all the quality criteria.


With our heritage as producer and supplier of medical instruments, our current focus is on a circular, full-service solution of medical instruments. This means we design for longer lifespan and based on modularity, so that it is easier to maintain and repair. Hereby, we can take care of having the right amount of instruments with the right quality at the right time for (mainly) hospitals. This means we proactively monitor the condition and take care of preventive maintenance, as well as repairs. If reparation is no longer possible, we collect the steel scrap, melt it and use it to make brand-new steel instruments. It saves hospitals a lot of effort, satisfies their need to become more sustainable, and – most impactful – they get a significant cost reduction (up to 75%). Because of this, we have created a massive increase in the number of customer tenders that we are able to win.

So customers are happy, but suppliers at times were not. They see their business erode and we are fighting tough battles with medical instrument suppliers, who tell you that you can’t repair or refurbish their products. This is like not being allowed by a carmaker to go to a garage to service your car after driving it for 25k; pretty ridiculous. Especially since some instruments are very expensive. Luckily, eventually there is a legal right to take good care of the products, so we can continue to offer a circular solution.

3) HOW

Strategy and Innovation have been key for us to start the transition from the ‘producer-wholesaler’ that Van Straten Medical used to be, to the Van Straten Medical of today. I guess leadership and the intrinsic drive that my brother Niels and I had to re-invent the company, was important too (see #1: WHY) – keep repeating the vision behind what you’re doing. For Innovation, we have been pushing for circular-proof design in our own production as well as that of producer-partners. This means, amongst others: modular components; materials with a long life span that can be recovered/recycled well; no welding; use of standardized instead of unique screws, nuts & bolts.

We also make sure to align strategy and innovation on the one hand, and the organization on the other hand. Are existing and new co-workers able to join and challenge us in re-inventing the company every 5 years? This is an important aspect in our recruiting nowadays.

Finally, you can’t plan and strategize it all. Timing has to be favorable, too; our circular solution would probably not have been successful 5-7 years ago. Since a couple of years, the time really is ripe. And an intrinsic drive and motivation to change and pioneer new success models, does play a role to bend it your way a bit.


We have been and still are very much focused on establishing fruitful collaborations with others, embracing the fourth P of Participation in your model. The biggest ‘pull factors’ here have been science, customers and society. Science, because we can ‘prove’ the benefits of our products and have additional credibility due to our various University & other knowledge partnerships (plus the doctorate that Bart van Straten is pursuing personally, ed.). This in turn helps our customers to trust us and our products, even if the circular solution itself is new to them. And again: timing proved to be essential for us: society is really asking for circular and other sustainable solutions also in business. This helps a lot: we couldn’t have pulled this off five years ago. Now, this is a huge ‘pull’ factor and means that beyond cost (where we already have a winning proposition), hospitals, care providers and other customers also specifically look at material use, repair/recycling and overall sustainability metrics of goods and services they buy (e.g. LCA: life-cycle assessments).

On the flipside; competitors who still produce in a ‘take-make-waste’ model are not always happy with our focus on repairs and a circular solution. It means they cannot keep on operating the same way, and they lose business to us.

What is not yet helping us, is the regulations. These are just not yet designed to deal with circular solutions like ours. For example: it takes very specialized ‘waste treatment’ licenses to even be allowed to collect and recycle ‘hospital trash’ (which for us is not trash but valuable input material); even if you operate under the highest quality standards like we do. There are temporary workarounds possible, but it is important to fix this in a structural way to stimulate the emergence of circular models. Luckily this is starting to happen now; as a frontrunner, we were asked to play an active role in shaping this together with regulators and others.


It is too bad that ‘sustainability’ has become a bit of a container term. That’s why we prefer to point out how our model is ‘circular’ in the use of resources. The tendency is to equate sustainability to carbon emissions; and we feel this is too narrow a vision. You at The Wearth Company seem to take a more integral, yet practical view on it.

An often-overlooked aspect is to really design for circular (and more broadly, sustainable) products. In the design process you have the chance to do it properly. This means, amongst others: no ‘waste streams’ in production, no welding, gluing etc. Modularity is a key element to maintain and repair products. Production techniques and processes are evolving quickly too, so that less toxic and fossil-based chemicals are needed (if at all).

There is a bit of a lag effect, but I’m confident that the current generation of industrial designers is fully aware of this and will make this the ‘normal’ way of designing.


Repairing is an asset-intensive business, this forced us to make trade-offs between investments in our ‘old’ and ‘new’ business models. We were able to invest in the circular model we believed in, partly by divesting certain aspects of the traditional wholesaler business – even though this was still profitable at the time.

Other interesting trade-offs happened during the corona crisis period. Great partnerships and new models emerged under not-so-great circumstances. For instance, we established – within just about 24 hours – a new supply chain of (medical) face masks together with our partner Renewi: they operated the logistics, and we sterilized the masks and scientifically assessed whether they could be re-used ‘as new’ (spoiler alert: yes they are and were! See link (NL) ). The trade-off? It required more flexibility in regulations than normally possible. And it required some ‘humble pie’ (and less profits, I guess) of mask-producers like 3M. It wouldn’t have happened in such a short time frame without this global medical emergency.


Yes, we have some exciting new ideas on the horizon. Although we won’t reveal details yet, it is inspired by what we do now, and is a variety of something that companies like our partner Renewi (“waste no more”) and another of your ‘Wearth Pioneers’, such as LoNo Côte d’Ivoire (“turning waste to value”) do.

Part of our Wearth Pioneers & Frontrunners series. We present inspiring, successful examples of companies that have developed a ‘sustain-able’ model. We structure these in line with our Wearth methodologies and the ‘recipe for success’ that these offer for these companies and others.