Business / Corporate

Japanese firms scouting opportunities to tap India's huge health care market

by Atul Ranjan

Nna/kyodo

Japanese companies are looking to tap India’s medical market with funding and technological solutions to make health care more accessible in the world’s second-most populous country.

Japan-based venture capital firms like Spiral Ventures and India Japan Partnership Fund LLP are either funding local health tech startups or exploring new investment opportunities in the health care sector, and electronics giant Panasonic Corp. is offering solutions to improve rural health care.

India has a huge health care gap between rich and poor and mismatches between doctors and patients. The situation is made worse by low government spending on health care at 1.3 percent of gross domestic product, the lowest among the BRICS grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Spiral Ventures has invested in four health tech startups that offer digital solutions for the local market and is scouting for more such startups in which to invest, according to a top company official.

“With rising internet and smartphone connectivity coupled with conducive government policies, health tech startups are likely to be the next big thing in a country like India, which lacks proper health care infrastructure,” Spiral Ventures partner Yasuhiro Seo said during an interview.

“The solutions they are offering can help bridge the gap between medical service providers and patients,” he said.

Spiral Ventures plans to raise an additional $30 million to $50 million to invest in startups in the Indian and Southeast Asian markets.

“We intend to invest 50 percent of the amount in Indian startups, including health tech,” Seo added.

The firm has invested in NirogStreet, an online database of curated and certified practitioners of the ancient medical system of Ayurveda, to help patients choose the right practitioners, and Ambee, which helps track and manage ambulances.

According to a 2017 report by Nasscom, a leading lobby group for India’s IT industry, there were over 320 health tech startups last year, up 28 percent from the preceding year.

Another fund led by Japan-based Sanjeev Sinha, an early-stage promoter and president of the India Japan Partnership Fund, is at an “advanced stage” of discussion for building hospitals in India with Japanese collaboration, and is also helping Indian medical artificial intelligence companies with funding.

In an interview in June, Sinha said that his fund size initially was likely to be in the range of $200 million to $500 million.

Panasonic has stepped in with its own solution to local demand for health care.

The firm, which opened its first innovation center in India last year to develop country-specific products, launched a mobile platform called JanAid in June offering health care services at affordable prices, mainly in rural parts of the large South Asian country.

“The idea is to connect the rural areas with the right medical services with the help of JanAid,” Manish Sherma, president and chief executive officer of Panasonic India Pvt., said last month on the sidelines of a launch event in New Delhi.

Individuals can connect with doctors available on the JanAid portal, and can also access nearby hospitals and all-around medicinal services via the application.

Angela Gagoi, an executive with a consultancy firm in Gurugram in the northern Indian state of Haryana, uses health care startup Practo’s mobile phone app to book appointments and consultations with doctors.

“For a working professional like me, this app-based service for consulting with doctors online saves a lot of time as you don’t have to travel to a hospital to meet the doctor,” she said. “The other advantage is that the platform offers options for many specialist doctors to choose from, which helps in finding the right doctor.”

Sanjay Swamy, managing partner in Prime Venture Partners, a venture capital firm that has also invested in local health tech startups, said they have the potential to solve India’s health care delivery problem.

“When you can solve India’s own problem, you can solve it for the world … meaning you can further scale up your business. That’s the reason investors and startups are betting big on India’s health care sector,” he said. “Just like e-commerce is gaining traction in India, digital health care solutions are also likely to see the same trend.”

The company has invested in startups like mfine, an app-based on-demand health care service, and Affordplan, which is a combination health and fintech (financial technology) startup.

“We have raised a total of $5.7 million from (venture capital) firms. We may raise another fund in the beginning of next year,” said Prasad Kompalli, CEO and cofounder of mfine, an artificial intelligence-enabled mobile phone-based platform that gives online access to doctors from well-known hospital networks and on-demand instant medical advice via chat.

Venture capital ” funds are helping improve health care access and quality as they are investing in our solutions including AI, which helps reduce a doctor’s workload and boost his efficiency,” he said. “Our real-time patient information solution enables doctors to attend more patients.”

According to the Medical Council of India, a regulatory body, there is one doctor for every 1,596 people in India, compared with the World Health Organization norm of one doctor per 1,000.

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