Denmark is widely known for its large health care companies, such as Coloplast and GN ReSound, and impressive bridges like the 5-mile-long Öresund Bridge to Sweden.

A new $1.3 million economic-development initiative called MedTech Bridge is trying to capitalize on Denmark's strengths in medical inventions, and bridge-building, by creating international connections to help Danish companies grasp the vast but bewildering U.S. health care market.

A delegation of trade representatives traveled to Minnesota this week to formalize the MedTech Bridge partnership with Minnesota's Medical Alley Association. Activities included tours, a reception, in-person introductions and the formal signing of a partnership agreement at the Medical Alley Association's Golden Valley headquarters.

"In Denmark, we have just started to spread the message," said Lars Henrik Jensen, director of MedTech Bridge. "There are a lot of companies asking, 'Can we join?' … We want to ask them, 'What do you want? Or what do you see as the biggest need for going to the U. S.? What are the hurdles?' And then it will be customer-driven."

Martin Stenfeldt, an advisory board member of MedTech Bridge and CEO of Danish blood-flow imaging firm MedTrace A/S, said the establishment of a long-term point of contact in the U.S. may help companies on both sides of the Atlantic do business.

"It's also about building a community, or a cluster, in Denmark that cultivates the same goal of going to the U.S.," Stenfeldt said. "And then we have the bridge that gives that continuity to strengthen the relationships so that hopefully we also get some U.S. companies, whether that is products or service providers, that see an opportunity in Denmark or in Europe."

MedTech Bridge will have office space in the Finnesse Partners executive search firm in St. Louis Park. MedTech Bridge officials said they chose Minnesota as the home for their collaboration because of the state's concentration of med-tech businesses.

The organization is funded by a three-year philanthropic grant totaling $1.3 million given by the Danish Industry Foundation to the Technical University of Denmark, which is administering the funds for the group. Unlike some trade groups, MedTech Bridge's dedicated funding means it can have a permanent staff of several people.

"This is not a glorified three-day trade mission. Going forward, this is going to be really connecting with each of the companies," said Medical Alley Association CEO Shaye Mandle. There will be "much more back and forth about the individual opportunities and circumstances of the individual companies in Denmark, as well as opportunities for companies here in Medical Alley."

Denmark is a Scandinavian nation of about 5.8 million people. Though a member of the European Union, Denmark retains its own currency, the Danish krone. The country occupies about 16,000 square miles, making it about 20 percent the size of Minnesota.

Life-science companies, and medical technology companies in particular, represent a major economic cluster in Denmark. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs' economic development initiative Invest in Denmark says that nation is home to around 250 med-tech companies and around 1,000 companies in total that operate in the med-tech field. Those include ostomy and wound care giant Coloplast A/S and hearing-instrument maker GN ReSound, both of which have their U.S. headquarters in Minnesota, and a host of smaller players interested in becoming more well-known in the U.S.

Medicon Valley, a group that represents the cluster of life sciences companies around Greater Copenhagen (including eastern Denmark and southern Sweden), estimates that its companies employed about 41,300 people in 2015. MedTech Bridge creates a formal point of collaboration between that community and Minnesota's med-tech cluster.

"I think what's great about MedTech Bridge is it gives us formalized structure. I think we view this as a virtual international accelerator," Mandle said.

Joe Carlson • 612-673-4779