Focus On men

Focus On men's Health

In line with Manipal Hospitals’ vision of being the preferred healthcare provider, Manipal Ankur aims to be the number one fertility centre in the world and has invested in technology, processes and people to reach there. In the next three years, it plans to double its footprint to 25 centers across the country and in international markets

Poornima Kavlekar

Ankur Healthcare was set up by Dr. S S Vasan and Dr. Bina Vasan with a vision of providing services in the area of infertility. “We always wanted to have a razor sharp focus on one specialty and improve its quality of treatment,” recalls Nitin Nag, chief operating officer, Manipal Ankur. Instead of the traditional way of associating infertility as a female issue, Ankur has focused on male infertility as well.

It started its flagship centre in Bengaluru 13 years back and, after establishing it well, the founder and his core team started evaluating the future direction of the company. “In 2009-10, Dr. Vasan and I got together and decided to see if the Ankur story was compelling from a service delivery perspective.  We also wanted to see if there was a strong demand and if it made sense for us to expand,” says Nag. The result was encouraging and the company decided to identify various avenues of expanding its footprint. Eventually, in 2013, Manipal Hospitals came on board as an investor resulting in name change to Manipal Ankur.

Thus began the story of Manipal Ankur, a joint venture between Ankur Healthcare (specialty hospital focused on andrology, reproductive medicine and men’s health) and Manipal Hospitals – a leading healthcare services provider in the country. Manipal Ankur is a specialty clinic focused on delivering services that ensure maximum chances of success for patients in In-Vitro fertilization and reproductive medicine.

“Manipal Hospitals is a strategic partner for us. They understand this business like no one else does,” says Nag. They provide Manipal Ankur the exclusivity for infertility treatment within its hospitals. But as far as strategic direction and day-to-day operations are concerned, it is a responsibility shared between Dr.Vasan and Nag. “We have a management team which primarily controls the direction of the venture and the daily operations. Manipal’s role is confined to the board,” says Nag.

Before Manipal’s investment in Ankur Healthcare, the team wanted to demonstrate its ability to grow and hence, added another centre in Ongole, Andhra Pradesh.  From two centres, the company has today grown to 12 centres across seven states in the last two years since the investment by Manipal Hospitals.

Differentiating factors

“The infertility service providers in the industry have a one-dimensional focus – on female infertility,” opines Nag.  “From a services point of view, this directly differentiates us from competition,” adds he. This apart, its investment in technology and diagnostic capability is very advanced when compared to the rest in the industry.

While infertility remains the main focus of the company, it also focuses on men’s health. “Many patients come to us with issues pertaining to reproductive health, which is the focus area for men’s health,” says Nag. He quotes a research, which shows that the deterioration of the reproductive health of a male is an early marker for deterioration of the overall health of a male. The patients who come in contact with the centre are those who have these issues, which led the company to diversify and add men’s health as a service.

“What we have seen is that such issues do not come out in the open. If people are suffering from this issue, they either resort to non-scientific ways of getting treatment, which could mean talking to some quack, getting stuff online or trying to do some kind of self-medication,” says Nag. This is where Manipal Ankur steps in.

The company’s primary objective is to manage the reproductive health of the male and consequently improve the quality of life of the couple. And, it has a scientific way of diagnosing and treating the patient through either a non-surgical process or a surgical process. The company has worked with equipment manufacturers in Germany and other countries and brought in technology into India, which is being used in diagnosing as well as treating its patients. For example, a non-surgical way of treating is through shock wave therapy. “We were the first ones in the country to bring in this equipment and have been using it for the last four years now,” says Nag.

Not without challenges

“Earlier, people used to be uncomfortable coming and sitting in the patient area. But of late, I see around 80 to 100 people sitting in my waiting area without any discomfort. So, there has been a transformation in terms of general awareness and mindset towards such treatments,” declares Nag. He adds, “That said, our culture being the way it is, where infertility has been associated with a female, we have had to work at opening people’s minds to accepting that there could be an issue with the male. There is merit in people coming to us as a couple and not just sending the woman to get diagnosed.” One simple way in which the company has been able to do that successfully is that it insists that the couple come together for the counseling. Nag agrees, “There is still some distance that we have to cover. There are many ways in which we are trying to reach out to people and communicate with them.” The company is trying to communicate this problem as a disorder and not a disease.

Availability of critical manpower has been a challenge as very few people will be willing to branch out of the main stream, which is obstetrics for gynecologists and neurology for andrologists. To overcome this, the company has its own training programs in affiliation with universities. “We offer benefit programs in the areas of female reproductive business as well as andrology. We groom our own clinical manpower. Over a period of time we have used that as a way of addressing our need for clinical manpower,” says Nag.

Another factor that is critical for Manipal Ankur is ensuring consistency across multiple units that it has, both at a clinical level and at a process level. “Since most of the technicians are groomed by us, they are oriented to the protocol we follow at the flagship centre. This apart, most of our centres have standardised technology. And there is no change across our other centres. All our units function to a set pattern and protocol which eventually helps us maintain standard,” says Nag.

The industry in which the company operates has a low barrier to entry. “You see a lot of frivolous players in this space which is a problem for some of us who focus on scientific ways of treating people,” says Nag.

Going forward

Manipal Ankur is currently concentrated in the Southern part of India, but also has a reasonable presence in the Central as well as the Western part of India. “We are looking at adding more to that presence and trying to go beyond where we are in the other regions,” says Nag. To aid this, the company intends to grow both in the domestic market and the international markets. In the domestic market, it plans to expand into North and East India. “Secondly, our presence is now skewed towards Tier 2 cities. We want to change that and move towards Tier one,” states Nag.

There are also international aspirations for the company. “Few international markets where we see a demand for the portfolio we have are Middle East, Srilanka, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Nigeria. These are some of the markets that we would want to explore,” adds he.

The company will need further funding for its expansion plans. “The first round of funding was primarily channelised to take care of one wave of expansion which we already have. We are in a consolidation mode now and are arming ourselves for the next stage of growth,” says Nag. Over a period of time, the company aims to double its footprint across all the primary areas of growth that it has.  From its current 12 centres, over the next three years, it aims to reach 25 to 28 centres, which will result in substantial increase in the volume of business.  “I would like Ankur to become the number one fertility centre in the world. And that definitely is possible,” says Nag on a concluding note.

Healthcare Manipal Ankur Manipal Hospitals

Poornima Kavlekar has been associated with The Smart CEO since the time of launch and is the Consulting Editor of the magazine. She has been writing for almost 20 years on a cross section of topics including stocks and personal finance and now, on entrepreneurship and growth enterprises. She is a trained Yoga Teacher, an avid endurance Cyclist and a Veena player.