Support ecosystems for health startups

Last Updated 25 January 2019, 17:47 IST

Emerging healthcare startups have in recent years used innovation of thought and services to help fill a series of voids in the Indian healthcare system.

While digital applications like Lybrate and Practo have changed the dynamics of consultation by bringing thousands of doctors in direct touch with patients, startups like Portea have served to bring hospital care at the doorsteps of chronically ill patients. Yet, not all of these ideas will see the light of the day, while others will face several obstacles in their quest to take off.

This brings us to the important question of what needs to be done to provide a wholesome environment of support to startups in India, particularly in the healthcare domain. India’s healthcare sector is bedevilled by a series of problems including low doctor-patient ratio, lack of accessibility to tertiary care, high costs of treatment and low insurance coverage.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged to increase India’s public health spending to 2.5% of the GDP by 2025, unleashing the power of transformative entrepreneurial ideas is also critical to fill the huge gaps in healthcare delivery. Creating an ecosystem that rewards and supports entrepreneurship and boosts the growth of new innovative ideas is a key element to catalyse this trend.

Incubation centres

If we look at the history of some groundbreaking entities today, we will find that many of them were conceived by students as experimental projects in college.

In India, too, a number of students from IITs and IIMs have conceived and incubated their startup ideas while studying. This puts the focus on academic institutions and universities as a ripe ground for catching and nurturing potentially path-breaking business ideas in the healthcare domain, like in the US and other developed economies doing the relevant research and development.

The government, private organisations, hospitals as well as industry leaders must come together to lay the ground for incubation centres at different academic institutions where innovative ideas are discussed, debated, incubated and funded if found viable. It must be necessary for every management institution to introduce the concept of incubation.

Funding, other incentives

Rightly realising the importance of entrepreneurship in changing the face of Indian society, the government had in January 2016 launched an ambitious Startup India scheme to support the growth of startups by providing incubation,

However, a recent survey has found that around 82% of the startups in the country have reported not receiving any benefit under the scheme. Interestingly, between 2014 and 2016, almost 1,000 startups are believed to have closed down due to lack of funding.

It is imperative, therefore, to create avenues to fund healthcare startups that hold a promise to bring about a difference in the lives of people. The government must step forward and launch partnerships with private entities and banks to create funds for startups that have the potential to improve healthcare delivery. Health startups can become critical facilitators in helping improve the provision of healthcare services to about 70% of the rural population.

Digital startups that harness the advancements in mobile and Internet technology can make up for the limited physical facilities. Supporting social entrepreneurs working in the field of healthcare and sanitation must be the focus of such a fund. The government must also consider giving tax breaks to startups that have the potential to improve healthcare outcomes.

At the same time, cutting red tape and improving the ease of doing business are necessary elements to boost the ecosystem for startups anywhere.

Human resource

India’s demographic dividend, with a large young population and millions of graduates being produced every year, seems conducive to startups. However, shortage of a skilled workforce continues to remain a major challenge facing startups that are hungry for human resource but do not have the wherewithal to provide skill training.

A survey conducted by Monster India found that 66% of fresh graduates felt underprepared in their first job. The shortage of skilled workforce bedevils almost every segment of the industry in India.

It is also important to nurture in students a desire and will to create a positive difference to society. Socially conscionable students can become the bedrock of startups working in a healthcare and social sectors.

(The writer is Group CFO, Paras Healthcare)

(Published 24 January 2019, 17:54 IST)

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