By Perzada Abrar & Radhika P Nair
Bangalore: Two marquee venture capital firms, Accel Partners and IDG Ventures, are backing a two-year-old medical devices maker, underscoring the rising interest in healthcare ventures amongst risk capital investors.
The two firms will together invest $5 million in Forus Health which has developed a low-cost portable ophthalmology device, called '3nethra'.
The device priced at one-sixth the cost of other comparable devices can identify multiple diseases such as cataract, glaucoma, diabetic retina and refraction said K Chandrasekhar, chief executive officer of Forus. He plans to use the funding to hire talent and expand marketing across emerging markets such as Africa, Latin America as well as the US.
"Once such a device gets good traction in India, it can easily go after the global markets," said Anand Daniel, principal at Accel Partners, India. Start-ups such as Forus are honing in on market opportunity created by growing demand for affordable healthcare in India.
Around three-quarters of medical equipment in India is imported and is too expensive to be used in smaller cities and rural areas, according to a report by consulting firm Deloitte.
"Large multinational firms have products built for developed markets that they are trying to use in emerging markets, this is the gap that Indian entrepreneurs are honing in on," said Soumitra Sharma, senior analyst at IDG.
The medical device industry in India is set to grow from $2 billion in 2011 to $6 billion by 2015, according to industry tracker, UBM Canon.
For IDG Ventures, the investment in Forus is the second healthcare investment following earlier investment in oncology device maker, Perfint Healthcare. Accel Partners, apart from backing Perfint and Forus, has also invested in drug discovery start-up Mitra Biotech.
Elsewhere Nadathur Holdings, an investment firm set up by Infosys co-founder NS Raghavan, has invested in Achira Labs, a two-year-old medical diagnostic start-up that has developed a proprietary lab-on-chip platform for tests, including those for thyroid, diabetes and infertility.
"In the past year there has been a rush of entrepreneurs who have quit healthcare majors such as Philips and GE, to set up their own ventures," observed Ranjith Menon, vice president at IDG Ventures India.
i2iHealth, set-up by technology commercialisation and incubation firm i2India, has launched LungFlute, an acoustic-based hand-held device used by patients to clear the lungs of mucus.
The venture is in the process of launching a low-cost solution that can screen breast-cancer. The main value proposition of these devices is speedy delivery of results, which leads to fewer patients being lost to follow-up and better efficacy of treatment, said Sarang Deo, an assistant professor at the Indian School of Business.
Last year, four ISB graduates launched an affordable medical device venture S3V Vascular that is creating a bio absorbable endovascular drug-coated stent called 3V Avatar that is now going through clinical trials.
Forus, which has already bagged 30 customers both institutional and retail, is now building cloud-based data centres, which will connect doctors with patients. The device, says Chandrasekhar, is built to be rugged and can be carried in a suitcase, on the top of buses and even on horses in remote locations such as Mizoram. Frugal innovation tends to be a misunderstood term. These are examples of hardcore intellectual property," said IDG's Sharma.