International Finance Corporation (IFC) successfully conducted a 2-day TechEmerge Health Innovation Summit from June 15-16 in the capital city New Delhi, India.
The summit brought together young innovators with solutions capable of delivering care at a low cost & investment and experienced corporates and hospitals. The summit, which was the first-of-its-kind across the world, became an effective medium to expose the Indian healthcare stakeholders to innovations occurring at an unimaginable scale globally. In many ways, this event, as well as similar events, can play a crucial role in strengthening the healthcare and start-up ecosystems.
With India standing tall among all the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) members, which are witnessing recession and political turmoil, the IFC has been absolutely clear right from the day the entire idea of TechEmerge Health Innovation Summit germinated about conducting this event in India.
Clearly, IFC aims to lay the foundation of increased adoption of innovative technologies in emerging markets.
With India lately witnessing a string of economic reforms under Prime Minister Narender Modi, which have encouraged private investment and increased the status of India as one of the most successful emerging markets, the success of the project in India will certainly establish the worthiness of such summits to be pursued in other geographies.
The summit gave scope to over 30 innovators, selected out of over 300 applications from 29 countries, to showcase and pitch their cost-effective solutions. These solutions when integrated in regular medical facilities can fill in many gaps prent in the system.
Here Nikunj Jinsi, Global Head, Venture Capital Investments at IFC – International Finance Corporation, shares his inputs with Kusum Kumari, Elets News Network (ENN)
I understand this is the first TechEmerge Health Innovation Summit being conducted world over. So, what was the entire idea behind the entire project?
The idea was to identify useful technology solutions, which does not have to be necessarily from a start- up, it can be more mature companies or businesses that generally have trouble finding place in a market like India. We started thinking conceptually like where information and communications technology (ICT) comes as a convening power and where do we maximise our leverage. IFC, through our venture capital arm, get a lot of access to technology companies, of which many do not get funds due to a variety of reasons. We, through our mainstream investment services, have strong access to corporations in emerging markets, which we do not leverage as much we we could from a portfolio perspective. We also have a lot of access to customers who not be our clients.
Though we had the option to conduct the entire summit in a big way or pilot it, we settled on to be a bit careful and pilot the entire programme. We identified strong demand and opportunity in health tech precisely because of technology component beyond any shade of doubt. Technology allows business to leapfrog over legacy business. Therefore, the leapfrogging effect of technology is important and the fact that there are ready clients in the space is also important. In India, we have several clients whom we have access to and there are several out there to whom we do not have access to. As long as we can try and bring them all to the table, healthcare is one sector where we can try. So this is a pilot and the first time IFC is launching this programme in one sector and one geography. The next step would be to broaden the geography and also look at other sectors. Another aspect of India is that it is never an easy market to operate in. On one hand, the problem is obvious and on the other hand, the solutions seem obvious but to implement is a huge task. Therefore, if one can crack it in India, one can crack anywhere else.
TechEmerge Health Innovation Summit – Key Takeaways
What are the challenges in the Indian market in terms of the behavioural approach towards new innovations, regulations, etc.?
The biggest challenge is not so about relation, but by nature no one wants to pay for new goods and new services, especially in health people try to get services publicly.Therefore, for private operators to try out new technologies, these should be cost-effective. Although people are fundamentally ready to take more risks, there are no necessary incentives, especially if they are not losing clients, to invest in technologies and disruptive innovations. With a little bit of funding that we are making available through our sponsors, we are taking away that challenge by ensuring that these innovators have support for a 6“month period so that they can conduct a pilot and try out and test some of the new technologies and businesses out there. Post testing, the innovators can think whether they can accept it and try commercially. This takes away a huge barrier. Most of the time, people are frugal and dont want to pay for new technologies. They also need to be convinced and we need to work upon lowering the thresholds. This behaviour is prent across the world.
Since both Israel and Finland are participating in TechEmerge Health Innovation Summit, are they also funding the start-ups?
The reason they are participating because they ensured a lot of funding. Naturally, we are managing it only as a secretariat. Indian health systems are ready to invest in pilots, so the over 100 one-on-one meetings arranged by IFC will hopefully result into many different new business partnerships in which organisations will really take on new technologies. We use the donor pool money from these two entities to make it easier for them to try. The IFC does not get any economic benefit out of this. We are just a facilitator. However, this is an important programme for us. We are not here to make just an announcement, but to build an ecosystem.
Here Ruzgar Barisik, Senior Investment Officer, IFC/World Bank, shares his inputs with Kusum Kumari, Elets News Network (ENN)
From where did you get the entire idea about TechEmerge Health Innovation Summit? Was it inspired from the start-up trend in Finland and Israel or in India?
The IFC, an investment arm of the World Bank, works by investing in companies in developing countries. I am part of IFCs venture capital group. What we do is that we look for innovations and innovative technologies, especially those that can be really used in developing countries. I am based in Washington, DC and my team is all over the world. We have got two people in India, two in Singapore and three in Beijing. We look for companies and start-ups only in global emerging markets. We have invested in a number of start-ups in India, such as Lenskart, Bigbasket, NephroPlus, Eye-Q, etc.
My day job is to go and find exciting innovations and technologies that can be useful in developing countries. We meet thousands of companies and start-ups that have something interesting to offer. Therefore, we are involved in making decisions whether we should work with these companies or not. The entire event is the result of the realisation that the IFC has already invested in a lot of hospitals, corporations, industrial companies, etc. in developing countries, which consume technologies. On one hand, we already have the best technologies around and on the other, we have already invested in a lot of organisations. TechEmerge emerged to spread awareness and accelerate the adoption of technologies, which will sooner or later come all over the world and to India as well. We picked up healthcare as the industry and India as the market, as we know that India needs healthcare innovations the most. Additionally, we are quite well aware that Indian market is a difficult market to operate in, so if we can succeed in India, we can succeed anywhere.
Through this summit, we wanted to spread awareness about changes and innovations happening across the world. Since we had already selected the best 30 innovators from over 300 applicants, trust was already there among the hospitals and corporates that participated in this summit. Additionally, the summit enabled to learn how big companies can pilot or test these products in their operations. The hospitals will benefit from this forever. Overall, the IFC will ensure funding to test these products in these hospitals. During the summit, there were 13 companies on stage, another 20 tech companies in the room and around 20 hospitals. There are around 100 one-on-one meetings conducted over two days. At the end, our goal is to ensure matchmaking between big companies and innovators, post consent and affirmation of likeness towards each other. IFC will ensure testing of these products over the next few months in these hospitals operations, so that they are ready to put their own resources to include them in their operations.
How much time will IFC be giving to hospitals and technology companies for clinical trials and other procedures?
It really depends on the technology. There are technologies that are as simple as a device that works on its own and some technologies are sophisticated that need to be integrated into the data systems and people need to be trained on how to use them. We think most of the trials will be for a few months and some of them will be for 6 months. We hope not too many will go much longer than 9 months, but will definitely be less than that.
Criteria of Selection
What were the criteria behind the selection of these innovators?
As Indian hospitals and companies aim at having cost-effective products or solutions capable of delivering more services, better healthcare and patient outcomes, cost was one of the main criteria. Secondly, we tried to determine the current needs of the hospitals. Thirdly, by observing technological advancements in Asia, Africa and America, we tried to figure out what other things the Indian hospitals need to know or be exposed to. Once we had figured out the above, we basically distilled our findings into few categories. In the Indian healthcare sector, diagnostics point of care in the field of diagnosis, patient engagement and physician education are basically trying to do as much as one can with a limited number of physicians. As India does not have enough physicians, clinics and specialists, IFC aimed at finding solutions that will increase productivity. In the end, most of these technologies are low-cost solutions that are IT-intensive and not hardware-intensive. These are not big devices. We are targeting mid-level medical facilities primarily because we think that drives the option.
What are the challenges for the foreign companies in India?
Its very difficult for a young foreign company to come in the Indian market. The first problem is awareness and how to pitch the technology to the right person in the Indian healthcare sector. Since these companies are not local companies, its one of the challenging tasks to convince the Indian healthcare stakeholders to trust their solutions. One needs to know how to put enough resources to come here on a regular basis as that what takes to sell the products to Indian hospitals. The bigger issue is distribution, making sure one can sell the products, scale products and services, etc. Therefore, in comparison to Indian and local companies, the foreign companies need more support. However, its equally challenging for the Indian companies as they too need to work upon their relationships and knock on every doors, etc. At the end, these are common problems, but become harder for foreign companies.