The present and the future of Indian healthcare startups: In conversation with Dr. Aniruddha Malpani

Dr Aniruddha Malpani talks about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Indian healthcare sector



3 years ago | 5 min read

As of 2018, there were a total of 4,892 startups in the Indian health-tech space. Overall, the health-tech startups in India raised a total of $504 Mn between 2014-2018 and the Indian healthcare market would be valued at $372Bn by 2022!

But, we are yet to witness a unicorn startup in the health-tech space. Why the startups are failing to make it big in the healthcare sector?

What’s the most important thing for entrepreneurs working this space.

An IVF specialist and an angel investor himself, Dr Aniruddha Malpani talks about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Indian healthcare sector in this exclusive interview!

Hear him out to know anything and everything about this industry!

As of 2018, there were 4000+ startups in the healthcare sector in India. What, according to you, is the major reason for this growth in the last 2-3 years?

We have seen a boom in healthcare startups, and this is predominantly for two reasons:

1. The BOOM in the ENTIRE startup ecosystem

2. There’s a lot of emphasis on the startups that are creating a social impact and they are getting the support in all aspects, be it the guidance or the financial support. This opens up a lot of opportunities for startups in the healthcare sector to grow.

The healthcare industry was one of the very LAST industries to be disrupted by technology. What can be a possible explanation for this?

The Indian healthcare sector is very conservative, which makes it one of the very last industries to get disrupted!

The first rule of the medical industry is to, “Not do any harm”! We, doctors, cannot be cowboys. We cannot afford to experiment on our patients.

When you yourself go to a doctor, you don’t want him/her to experiment with you and use you as a guinea pig. We don’t want to be subject of any experiments ourselves.

This explains the conservative nature of the medicine industry, which leads to the formation of too many rules & regulations on what’s allowed, and what’s not!

That’s where FDA plays an important role in making sure that everything is safe before testing it on humans.

Spanning across 11 sectors and having 30+ unicorns in India, we still don’t have a unicorn in the healthcare sector. What, according to you, is the healthcare industry lacking?

A lot of the oldest healthcare startups have a broken thesis and a lot of money was actually wasted in running behind some wrong goals.

The problem of not identifying the pain points and not finding customers who would pay for their solutions have led to the healthcare startups to not achieve the unicorn status.

But, this also presents a golden chance to all the healthcare startups to become the first unicorn in this space.

With US and UK spending 17% and 9% of their GDP on healthcare, how much effect India spending a mere 1.15%(of their GDP) have on healthcare startups not achieving a unicorn status?

It’s actually the government which is spending less; the patients are actually willing to pay the required money to get themselves treated.

It all boils down to tapping the sector after understanding the real problems faced by the Indian patients and coming up with a feasible, simple, and cost-effective solution for the same.

Speaking about the good things, what has been the biggest positive for the healthcare industry in the last 5 years!

The biggest positive has been the onset of technology and the ease with which people are willing to GOOGLE anything and everything!

People have become much more aware, well-informed, and are willing to question their doctors for the clearance of their doubts. They are more articulate and always keep looking for a second opinion. This had kept the doctors and hospitals on their toes and made them continuously work for staying ahead of their competitors.

The formation of the communities who keeps the patient-interest first has laid major emphasis on the fact that healthcare is a service industry which is designed to take care of people.

This, in turn, has made the doctors and the entrepreneurs realize that if there is an efficient and convenient way to make the patient pay for using their services, it’s a Win-Win situation for all!

What’s the most important thing for a healthcare startup to succeed in India?

It’s to remember that the primary objective of a doctor is to take better care of their patients, everything else is secondary and ancillary.

The entrepreneurs need to simply work on the basics, which is, doing what the patient and the doctor wants.

If a healthcare startup can make the patients connect to the right doctors and can bring in more patients for a doctor along with smoothly managing and enabling a healthy doctor-patient relationship, a healthcare startup can make a fortune!

What’s the most important thing most of the healthcare startups miss?

Most of the healthcare startups have been created by Engineers who have a very little idea about what a regular day in the life of a doctor looks like.

The research grounds and the source for the majority of their information is from foreign textbooks, US healthcare system, and websites. This doesn’t reflect neither the way Indian doctors operate nor the workload of the doctors, as a result of which the startup founders are not very empathetic towards this.

While these engineering minds are very good at creating fancy EMRs of a US-based company, but the practical use of the same is missing in the Indian healthcare setup.

What they need to do is to spend more time with the Indian doctors and their clinics, and make sure that they have doctors in their team!

This poses a challenge for the current, budding, and the future entrepreneurs in this space, but this also presents a wonderful opportunity because the startups and entrepreneurs would never be interested in Indian healthcare space, simply because they won’t understand it!

From an investor’s perspective, before investing in a startup, what’s the most basic thing to observe?

The founder and the founding team is the most fundamental thing, everything else falls into place eventually.

We, investors, believe in backing the Jockey!

If we can find someone who has enough domain expertise, who can show and prove that their team has bootstrapped successfully, and if an entrepreneur puts customer-interest first, we, as investors, have more chances of investing in such kind of startups.

How big a role the doctors have to plan in setting up this healthcare startup industry?

The doctors in our country are well educated, well-trained with the majority of them being disillusioned towards the non-ethical perks that come with being a doctor in India.

Many such doctors are happy to look for non-clinical careers and it’s only a matter of time before these doctors’ partner with engineers, computer programmers, financial analysts, and would come up with startups that would understand the pain-points of Indian startups and doctors.

And, would eventually solve them.

What’s would be your advice for the young entrepreneurs?

As a young entrepreneur, you should count yourself lucky that you are still young in a country which has so many opportunities and which is going through a demographic sweet-spot, and where the paying-capacity of the people are on a rise.

Patients are increasingly frustrated with the services being provided, the doctors are increasingly getting frustrated with the fact that patients are beating upon them. It’s a tailor-made perfect scenario for an able entrepreneur to step in, inculcate trust, and resurrect the Indian healthcare system!


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