Sathya Kumar R, founder & CEO, Techindia Infoway, started his entrepreneurial journey in 2000 building custom ERP software applications for clients in manufacturing and healthcare. In early 2003, a serendipitous meeting with a client in the US, who was building a sleep lab, enabled him to transform Techindia into a healthcare management services firm. Today, the company employs over 600 people and serves clients in the U.S., Japan, Canada and Australia offering high-end, ‘near real-time’ cardiac monitoring, sleep disorder monitoring, EEG/EMG, clinical trials and highly specialized e-ICU and e-Nurse support.
Sathya, who is also an active angel investor, is media shy and spends most of his time in the world of healthcare and disruptive technology. We convinced him to share his journey for Smart CEO’s Hidden Gem series, which tracks profitable, growth companies that are often away from the glare of mainstream media.
It was 6 AM on October 30th, 2016, a Sunday and more importantly the day of Diwali. The sound of 1000-walahs and display of rockets, took over the sky, almost all over Chennai. The scene was no different in the Ambatur Industrial Estate area. Though not a residential neighborhood, there were people out on the streets celebrating the festival of lights. Amidst the festivities, the scene inside the office of Techindia, a non-descript building in Ambatur, is very different. Over 360 people walk into work, clad in new clothes, sweet boxes in hand, but gearing up for a full day at work. Mind you, this is over 60% of the overall staff strength at Techindia, which employs over 600 people.
At Techindia, people love their work. More importantly, they understand the supreme importance of the work they do; Techindia monitors, in near real time, vitals of patients in step-down ICUs and homes in countries like the U.S., Japan and Australia. In case a patient develops an emergency, Techindia’s ‘central command center’, manned by highly skilled clinical techs, activate the emergency services protocol as per the SOP.
Techindia’s clients – mostly Hospitals, GPs, IDTF’s and Satellite clinics – have adopted the advanced healthcare monitoring technology.But, while the technology is at the cutting edge, real-time monitoring of healthcare data was a bottleneck for several of these clients from a cost and program efficacy perspective. And, that is the problem Techindia solves for them.
The early days – a chance meeting with a ‘sleep lab group’ entrepreneur
The Smart CEO caught up with Sathya last month to get a first-hand account of his entrepreneurial journey. The biggest question we had was how did he manage to convince a hospital in the West to outsource such a critical process. After all, there is a zero percent tolerance for error, and usually, healthcare processes that were outsourced were around workflow management, billing and insurance, but never real-time healthcare vital data processes. So how did Techindia bag its first client?
Sathya explains in detail, “I still remember the early days very clearly. It was around 2003 when a friend in the US was building a network of sleep labs – a facility that monitored and treated patients with sleep apnea and other sleep disorders. Techindia was actually roped in to build a workflow management ERP application for this client. We did this well. As the sleep lab scaled up, our client realized that real-time patient monitoring could not be done in a financially viable fashion, on-site besides shortage of skilled technicians in all care centers.
We said – let’s take a shot at it. We’ll hire a small team, primarily electroencephalogy technicians and a neurologist – who’ll then be trained by the client. We got started with this, delivered this well and fortunately for us the client then opened 12 more sleep labs in the US and we scaled up with them.”
Over the last decade, Sathya has developed a deep passion for healthcare, personally picked up the technical knowhow and has setup a professional training academy for all clinical technicians working at Techindia. The clinical team has to go through an international certification process, with all relevant regulatory approvals, continuing education and clinical compliance in the client’s country.
The segment Techindia initially tackled was sleep disorder diagnostics. As this business grew, there was an opportunity to build multiple business verticals like real time patient heart monitoring, clinical trials, e-ICU/ step down ward monitoring and e-Nurse desk.
Sathya proudly says, “Today, through our clients, we monitor over 5000+ cardiac patients daily; Over 1.2 billion heart beats are monitored every single day here at Techindia.”
The clinical data team is ably supported with a voice-support team that calls for an ambulance or an on-site physician support if needed, after the interpretation process is complete. There is a 3-minute window to take action, if an event is detected. Sathya says, “Our recruits are often critical care nurses. They understand the value of time, the value of care coordination and the value of a life. They are people who’re ‘ON’ 100 percent of their time at work, focused on delivering hospital-grade oversight.”
High barriers to entry business
Sathya explains that the space he operates in has very few players. “It is not an easy segment to break into. It took me two years to close my first cardiac services order,” he says.
Once the business comes in, there are a few critical areas to take care of – high quality ‘zero tolerance to error’ operational process, robust sales process, compliance, certifications, training and continuing education.
At Techindia, Sathya leads the sales efforts personally. “I do have the support of our sales people in the US, but it requires the entrepreneur to be there. A prospective client has to see our facilities, our sincerity and our work process besides good referrals.” In addition to sales, the entrepreneur is also focused on further building the core team. “The certifications and training are part and parcel of what we do,” he says. These certifications are not only about compliance; there are impromptu workshops, online classes, concordance exams and special training programs specific to client process.
Betting on healthcare startups
As Sathya built Techindia, he also made a few investments – ranging from angel to Series-B – in several disruptive medtech companies. He’s been tracking the sector for a while. On one end, there are consumer companies like Apple and Samsung building apps for tracking health data. On the other, there are healthcare companies collaborating with these consumer companies to launch IoT devices that supplies the data needed by these apps.
However, Sathya believes that it is still early days. “My biggest grouse against the consumer health app segment is that – how reliable is this data? Is it medical grade data that can be used to make serious actionable healthcare decisions?” These are very valid questions and Sathya says, he’s betting on healthcare technology startups that are working at the cutting edge of real time, highly available, multiple vitals monitoring using scalable cloud architecture. “The crucial aspect here is to ensure various medical sensors work cohesively with secure data, analytics funneled with business intelligence to take meaningful and actionable decisions, customized for every patient.”
In India, he’s part of few start-up forums that offer funding and active mentoring. Globally, he’s invested in a few ventures that are working on next generation healthcare IoT, medical robotics, real time patient monitoring and assisted living.
The next three years at Techindia
For the global markets, the next frontier for the company seems to be in the e-ICU, medical robots & Healthcare IoT area. The company has made early inroads in this segment and Sathya is convinced of the potential here.
Over 4 years back, Sathya wanted to launch the sleep and cardiac monitoring business for the Indian market. However, when he studied the market with a consulting firm, he felt it may be too early. The insurance industry was still in its nascent stages and there was no access to high quality patient monitoring device. But, he believes, now the time is ripe.
Sathya is working on a confidential project, in sync with a European partner, to launch an affordable care continuum & management program that is medical grade and remotely manageable for urban & rural India. “The key is to get the logistics and pricing strategy right. At this point of time, the thinking is we won’t charge for the device itself. The idea is to charge only for the care management service time line,” explains Sathya.
Techindia plans to roll out its India strategy and product within the next financial year.
“Of course, the opportunity in e-ICU, medical robots, healthcare IoT and cardiac monitoring for patients abroad continues to be tremendous and we’ll continue to build our capabilities there,” says Sathya, as he wraps up.
His area of focus: Divides his time between sales, strategy and growth
Key Mantra: Every team member at Techindia must understand the value of time, the value of care coordination and the value of a life
Professional passions: Healthcare and Disruptive Technology; Angel Investments and mentoring
What next for Techindia? Expand capabilities around e-ICU, Healthcare IoT, medical robotics, real time patient monitoring and assisted living
Techindia, in numbers
No. of employees at the firm
Time available for a Techindia technician to activate the emergency services protocol as per the SOP
Serves clients in 4 global markets – U.S., Canada, Japan and Australia.
No. of patients monitored everyday at Techindia
No. of heartbeats monitored every single day