Indian health-tech start-ups have come of age and VCs have taken a note of it

Despite legal confusion about their status, these firms have consolidated the consumer base with a range of services – like diagnostic test, e-pharmacy, genome make-up, etc. The VCs pumped in USD 333 million in these start-ups in

Janampatri is passé. They prepare your genomepatri, maintain your medical records and deliver medicine at your doorstep on the click of a button. Health-tech start-ups have really come a long way in India.

The popularity of these start-ups can simply be gauged from the fact that out of the total USD 13.5 billion raised by the Indian technology start-ups in 2017, about USD 333 million was raised by the health-tech sector. This is a significant pie of the overall investment, especially when on the other side of the spectrum are sectors such as e-commerce and intra-city transport. This year also saw a three-time jump in fund raising by the health-tech start-ups as compared to the previous year.

The funding was led by companies such as Practo, Curefit, Pharmeasy, 1MG Technologies, Portea and NetMeds among others. These six companies alone raised about USD 150 million of the total money raised. Some of the investors which participated in these rounds were Tencent Holdings, Sequoia Capital, Matrix Partners, IDG Ventures, Bessemer Venture and Kalaari Capital among others.

The Bangalore-based Practo that raised USD 55 million in Series D funding offers services and products to both doctors and patients. It launched by providing practice-management software to doctors and then expanded into doctor discovery and appointment-booking segments for patients. It has raised a total amount of USD 179 million so far. Flush with funds, the company has expanded its operations across Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia among other countries.

Started by former Flipkart executives Mukesh Bansal and Ankit Nagori, Cutefit raised USD 25 million in 2017 and then raised a debt funding of USD 10 million from Axis Bank and HDFC Bank early this year. The company claims to be a holistic healthcare platform offering products such as Mind.fit, Cult.fit and Eat.fit. As the name suggests, Mind.fit promotes mental well-being, Cult.fit offers customised workout programs and Eat.fit offers subscription-based nutritive food delivery platform. It has also set up brick-and-mortar outlets in Bangalore.

Much like Curefit, Pharmeasy too managed to raise yet another round this year following the 2017 round of USD 16 million. This year, the company raised USD 30 million. Pharmeasy prominently deals in the e-pharmacy space and focuses mostly medicines for chronic ailments. It also offers diagnostic services wherein a phlebotomist collects samples from patients for diagnostic tests. Government regulations bar chemists from selling medicines without a valid prescription. In order to meet this demand, the company has created a virtual-prescription vault. The patients can upload a soft copy of their stamped prescription and then order medicines online.

The investment in Pharmeasy in itself is a major development because despite solving a big problem, the e-pharmacy sector was facing a lot of troubles in the last couple of years.

The sector is regulated by The Drugs and Cosmetics Act, which was formulated in 1940, and the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945. In the internet age, the clauses of these obsolete laws put a lot of these internet pharmacy companies in a soup.

There have been instances where e-pharmacies were labelled as illegal businesses by their offline rivals. Many of the competitors of Pharmeasy had to either shut down their companies or scale down operations after the investors showed reluctance in entering into this uncertain sector.

According to industry estimates, at least 40 per cent of the orders placed by patients are rejected by the companies due to the submission of invalid prescription. This further reduces the number of orders because once the customer sees an order cancelled by the start-up e-pharmacy, they may not want to take the pain of using this medium to order again.

Therefore, investment in Pharmeasy as well as the rival 1MG that raised USD 15 million from global healthcare firm HBM Healthcare Investments despite the sector facing issues of survival and policy regulation is to be seen as a big development in the sector.

Interestingly, most of the start-ups venturing into this field are utilising artificial intelligence and big data effectively. The newer start-ups such as Tricog and MapMyGenome are running on analytics and data aggregation.

Backed by Blume Ventures, Tricog aims to reduce heart mortality in the country where over five million people suffer heart attacks every year. Founded in January 2015, the company has built add-on hardware for electrocardiography (ECG) machines that uploads the data and gives a diagnosis in 30 to 45 seconds. This innovation itself is revolutionary, because it usually takes five to six hours before a patient receives critical care post a heart attack. The company has claimed on multiple occasions that the delay is often caused due to a lack of sufficient expertise in being able to read an ECG report efficiently.

Tricog offers a cloud-connected ECG machine in primary- and secondary-care medical centres, such as clinics, polyclinics and hospitals. In the case of Tricog, every time a test is done, the information is transferred to its centrally located hub, where a qualified expert interprets it and sends the report through an SMS on the patient’s mobile app.

MapMyGenome, on the other hand, sells a product called Genomepatri that informs patients about the diseases they are susceptible to on the basis their genes. The company calls it genetic make-up and offers preventive cure for possible diseases. It collects swab samples – for example, cheek swab – on whose basis the test is done and a Genomepatri is made.

The process assesses a patient’s inherited and acquired genomic health risks for over 100 conditions, it claims. According the company website, “The results provide valuable insight into your genomic predisposition to several health conditions, traits, lifestyle tendencies, drug efficacy, and more, helping you pre-empt a majority of diseases. A large number of conditions[,] such as diabetes, obesity, [and] cardiovascular diseases can be prevented by lifestyle interventions.” According to the company, early detection can help patients opt for a diet-and-exercise regimen to be healthy instead of taking medicines later.

India metros are full of young individuals and couples who stay away from their elderly parents, who mostly live in smaller towns. Taking care of them, specially during old age, is a challenging task. The start-up sector realised it early. Founded by the serial entrepreneur Meena Ganesh, Portea Medical offers long-duration nursing attendants and doctor and physiotherapist visits among others services. The popular services offered by the company are post-discharge care, chronic pain care, bedridden care, physiotherapy, infant care, pre- and post-natal care, etc.

So far, the company has raised over USD 70 million, with the last round going for USD 26 million in 2017. It operates in over 20 cities and is best known for post-natal and geriatric care. The company has also tied up with hospitals and insurance companies in India. It calls its attendants the care givers, who are verified and trained by the company.

From diagnosis to medicine dispensing to healthcare, these new-age internet companies combined together complete the cycle of the healthcare requirements of a common person. The Indian healthcare market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 23 per cent to USD 280 billion by 2020, according to a report by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. Needless to say that the scope of health-tech firms is only expected to grow from here.

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