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India poised to lead global healthcare with booming startups: VentureBlick

However, challenges like funding and regulations need to be addressed, says Dr Kailash Jialdasani, Head of Operations, South Asia, VentureBlick

Dr Kailash Jialdasani, Head of Operations, South Asia, VentureBlick

Dr Kailash Jialdasani, Head of Operations, South Asia, VentureBlick

India, with more than 8,000 healthtech and medtech startups, is poised to be the world leader in health care sector. However, this capital-intensive sector can pose a challenge for guidance-lacking startup founders, thus cutting short their chance to scale and grow. National and international platforms, performing as catalysts of innovation, are elevating the success ratio of these startups. One among these catalysts is Singapore-headquartered global healthcare innovation platform VentureBlick founded in 2022 by Chris Lee, a pharma, medtech expert, and author of biography, “The Asian Maverick.” VentureBlick, with presence in Singapore, Korea, Germany, India and China, operates on three business verticals - Super Incubator and Fund, Consulting and Discovery. Speaking to Bizz Buzz on behalf of the Founder, Dr Kailash Jialdasani, Head of Operations, South Asia, VentureBlick delves into the healthcare innovation landscape in India

Which healthcare segment is drawing innovation from startups in India?

Healthcare is an emerging sector among the startups. Right after Covid, interest in healthcare is coming in India, specifically Bangalore and Hyderabad are the two hubs where more number of startups are venturing into healthcare. Lot of them are coming in AI where they are looking at targeting oncology, radiology and pathology. The other sector where startups are coming up is the diagnostics space, earlier point-of-care testing was preview of big companies, now startups are coming up with these. The third area where some traction can be witnessed is in the space of geriatrics. With an increasing elderly population, it is the right time for this traction to come in otherwise the cost of care is prohibitive at hospitals. Homecare of elderly is also a space where startups are entering.

What are the challenges faced by healthcare startups in India?

In the case of healthtech, the founding team should have a person from tech background, scientific field, and a person who has regulatory go-to-market experience. Unless they have these three as part of the founding team, the startup will struggle. Even if the startup does not have these three people in-house, it should be outsourced from the beginning. Now success rate is slightly increasing because startups have expert mentorship support from centres like T-Hub. They are also themselves understanding that unless we do this from the beginning, we are not going to succeed. Third challenge is the time taken for a startup to come to market as the regulatory process is very long and hence they require lot more money in the interim to sustain for four years. This challenge can be solved by working with partners like VentureBlick where we try to accelerate the regulatory process, market access and go-to-market which is where they start making money or at least they do not burn cash. So with all this in place, some things taken care by startup, some things done by partners like us, we can make the journey much shorter than what it was.

What are the criteria for a startup to be selected by VentureBlick?

There are few areas VentureBlick is looking at - one is the ever-increasing oncology space, geriatrics, point-of-care diagnostics, and AI. These are the four spaces where we are typically interested. Secondly, we see whether the product is scientifically validated from the beginning, do they have a good scientific doctor in the team right from the beginning along with the tech and business guy. Thirdly, we are looking at growing Indian startups for the global market. If they are addressing a global problem where we feel that the startup can be taken abroad then we become interested in the startup.

Run us through the onboarding process…

Because we are medical first, we validate the idea through our group of healthcare experts, doctors, regulatory experts from the industry. We have around 2,000 such experts on our panel. If they feel the startup is good enough to be assessed only then we go to the next stage where we try to figure out if the startup is having the financial plan for making the startup successful and is the market size big enough. Then we have an internal leadership team which votes whether to go ahead with the startup.

Is confidence of investors in healthcare startups taking back seat due to long gestation period?

Gestation period is very long that investors are saying whether we will get our returns on what we invest or not. We analyse a startup from group of doctors, if they are very much interested in the startup as medical investors then we confidently say that doctors have put in their money. When that happens it not only gives confidence to another doctor to invest in the product but also gives confidence to other investors to invest. We try to start with medical investors who put in a small amount as they do not have the huge amount as VCs. So we keep the threshold low for medical investors at around $10,000. We primarily get investors, both medical and PEs, from Singapore and Korea. Without giving out numbers or name, we also have VCs and family offices from these two countries.

How does VentureBlick support these startups while raising funds?

In 2023 we got investments for two startups and this year for one. Two startups are from Singapore and one from Korea. Hence we have now started scouting in different markets like India and Europe as we want promising startups to be brought on the global map. We also do incubation for these startups on how to grow to a particular level so that they can raise the funds easily. The startups we invested in last year are looking at raising larger funds later this year. We guide them on how to raise funds, how to bring sales and profit so that they can raise a bigger amount. In general investors are skeptical to invest in healthcare startup that is where the role of VentureBlick and medical investor comes in. Of course they will not get returns as quick as in fintech or others but these are patient investors with vast experience in this field.

Is innovation in India on par with other established markets?

Indian landscape has to work on actual innovation. What we do many times is cost arbitrage. In case of medical lot of things are disposable and are not true innovations. What we are seeing in developed markets is that the focus is on true innovation. Can I make which is patent protected of high value but something which people cannot replicate…If that is how Indian innovators start thinking then we will make for the globe otherwise we will always be trying to do cost arbitrage. The good part is in the last four to five years we are seeing some of the innovation in certain fields which are trying to bring actual value to the overall healthcare.

Is the government regulation in India supportive of this landscapes growth?

Government regulation has become simpler than before, I wouldn’t say it is the simplest in the world but compared to five years back the regulations have become much simpler. There is a clear classification of the innovations, once we know that we know how much time it will take and what are the documents required and so on. It might be difficult for a startup doing it for the first time but platforms like VentureBlick are confident that we can guide startups and give them clear guideline on the timeline that it will take for approval, which was not the case before. Is it as simple as the advanced markets, not much…India is a complex market so what the government is trying to do is simplify the rules for approval. For products that do not need clinical trials the approval in India today is quick and not different from developed market. However when clinical trials are needed, that is the time we require local data which is mandatory, and that is when it is taking more time.

Which are the emerging technologies under utilised by startups here?

The two things I feel Indian startups have the proficient and can be utilised better is that Artificial Intelligence can be used very well in Ophthalmology, Radiology, Pathology, Oncology, and Dermatology to diagnose diseases. We can use AI to not only diagnose but also determine or support the doctor with treatment regimen. AI is coming in big way and we should be at the forefront of that to make our innovation cutting edge. The second thing is develop our manufacturing capability to make the end product look as good as in Germany, Japan, and Korea, known for their manufacturing competence. Manufacturing should be superior at the prototype level too.

Is the vast available data in India structured enough to be utilised by startups?

For any AI or tech-based healthcare the algorithm learns through the data fed. The data has to be significant enough for India as we have huge amount of data. The second important thing is that data has to be structured which is not the case in India. Government is trying to get in ABHA by which they are trying to standardise the way data is captured but the use is not extensive as it should be. In India the problem is not the amount of data the problem is in the quality of data. Till we do not have great quality of data, building the algorithms will not be easy. As we are seeing development lot of companies are doing standardised electronic medical records collection, they are providing sources of anonymised data to device companies, based on what the government allows, once we do that we get very rich and large quantity of data. I would say in the next three to four years India will be the data capital of the world because of the amount, and hopefully by then due to the quality of data too.

Divya Rao
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