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India the hottest test bed for startups

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Gaurang Shetty, Chief Innovation Catalyst, CEO, RiiDL (Research Innovation Incubation Design Laboratory), Somaiya Vidyavihar opines on how India could become a market leader in healthcare startups

Today, India has become the hottest test bed for startups who want to excel in healthcare. Lack of inventions, less awareness about grants, fewer investments in this space have become a story of the past. Many philanthropists have started supporting innovators, makers and entrepreneurs to disrupt the healthcare sector. A number of startups have popped up in the last five years in this domain and have disrupted drug development, distribution, low cost diagnostic kits, etc. It’s not just about delivering good quality care, but also running a profitable enterprise.

It’s important for startups to build products which matter and solve real problems. Many innovations just create layers on existing technology, which does not add value. India needs “good quality, customised and affordable solutions”. These parameters together make a lot of noise and test entrepreneurs. Only a few companies / startups have been able to create such solutions and I believe this can be done in India.

Government bodies like Department of S and T, BIRAC have added a lot of value and create support systems by building programmes like BIG Grant, NIDHI Prayas, Ignite, etc. These funding programmes have created a pipeline of early stage entrepreneurs.

All the stakeholders that are involved in healthcare incubation, whether at those directly linked to health systems or at independent organisations, see advantages. Perhaps what’s most important, in the end, isn’t the affiliation with a particular company but seeking affiliation with the ecosystem i.e healthcare industry.

Most of these entrepreneurs are directed to the agencies, who host these grants. These agencies are called technology business incubators or BioNests. They host startups and facilitate them with all the basic necessities to run their activities. With minimal or no rent, healthcare / tech startups build their prototypes, get office space, networking with high profile investors and mentoring, partner with labs to certify and test their products. Hospital and health tech-affiliated incubators are one of the many routes for healthcare entrepreneurs. They might also, choose to work through a stand-alone incubator that, while not directly tied to a specific hospital or system, still may have connections to several such institutions. The trouble with hospitals is “big institutions can’t move as quickly as entrepreneurs can.”

Some incubators work with many health systems, as well as insurance companies and life sciences companies, companies incubated there get access to a greater breadth of knowledge. Some incubators don’t take equity in the companies that work with it. Instead, it runs based on a membership model. That lets it work with entrepreneurs at a variety of stages of maturity, they intend to be a neutral arbiter.“Health-tech solutions are complex in their own way, so just because you have a solution for one does not mean it’s going to work for all of them,”.

An incubator which is supporting health-tech startups, will have equipments to rapid prototype. Equipments like a laser cutter, milling, sticker printing, 3D printers, CNC, etc. Other labs can be bio molecular / material characterisation, nano fabrication, robotics etc. Startup incubators usually host healthcare startups for a period of maximum 24 to 36 months depending on the complexity of the startup. They can resolve all teething problems for an early stage startup.

So far, many incubators have supported startups that solve problems in healthcare like practice management, drug discovery, med-tech devices, etc. Practice Management startups like clinicia, smart physiotherapy devices eg: Robo Rehab,etc.

These innovations are great disruptors, but I hope that we can encourage more startups / innovators / makers to build solutions for treatment and not just improve lifestyle.

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