Lessons from Docpreneurs

By Deepa Natarajan

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Deepa Natarajan speaks to three ‘docpreneurs’ regarding their journey so far and the challenges they faced in setting their now, extremely successful, businesses up.   

“No matter where you are from, your dreams are valid.”

This thoughtful quote of Oscar-winning African actress Lupita Nyongo is highly applicable to all the doctor or physician entrepreneurs ( or ‘docpreneurs’, as they are called) of today. After all, there is no written rule that once you study medicine, you have to tread down the usual path of clinical practice or work in a corporate hospital set-up.  

With more and more doctors and healthcare practitioners jumping on the entrepreneurship bandwagon thanks to advancing technology and the need for state-of-the-art healthcare, today’s healthcare practitioners are an effervescent mix of doctors and innovators. Of these, many have walked on the path less taken and not just fulfilled their dreams but also served the society in their own ways. 

As students of MBBS in M S Ramaiah Medical College, Bengaluru, the husband-wife duo Dr Navneet Motreja and Dr Nithya K never thought that they would turn entrepreneurs someday. Care on Call, a company that provides healthcare at your doorstep 24/7, was more like a hobby for them at start. “We were preparing for our post graduation and in our free time, we would visit family and friends and provide them medical treatment. Whatever money we generated out of this was used to buy small things for our visits like say, a BP apparatus,” says Dr Navneet.

But soon they realized that there was a huge dearth of doctors catering to patients in their homes and decided to take things more seriously and that’s how Care on Call was born around five years ago.  “The biggest challenge that we faced initially was to think outside the box and not go down the orthodox route. Convincing our families and accepting the fact that we were going to be entrepreneurs was a big challenge too,” says Dr Nithya.  

A bootstrapped company with zero investment, Care on Call has grown completely out of necessity and caters to over 6000 families today. “We have done over 5000 corporate consultations and are the preferred healthcare partners of most hospitality giants from the Taj group and The Oberoi to Shangri-La and Radisson Hotel Group,” explains Dr Navneet. “We are not an emergency service but we do take up emergency services too when required,” adds Dr Nithya.

Ask them for tips for budding ‘docpreneurs’ and Dr Nithya says, “There is a world out there for entrepreneurs from the medical field and doctors make the best entrepreneurs. That’s because we are natural problem-solvers who are trained to address problems in high pressure and work in situations of uncertainty. We are also willing to put in long hours for no financial gains initially, just like an entrepreneur. Moreover, doctors are disciplined and determined because without that, it’s very hard to finish our course!” To this, Dr Navneet adds, “So if you have a passion and wish to go down the offbeat path, we suggest you explore it further.”

A medical professional who did his MBBS and MD in Internal Medicine, Dr Deepu Sebin worked in primary and tertiary care centres in Kerala before donning an entrepreneur’s hat. “I studied in Stanley Medical College in Chennai and as I was practising and learning medicine, I realized that many interesting things could be done in the field. But it was only after I completed my residency and was working in IIT-Madras that the ‘shift’ happened.”

When he came across expensive international medical journals with immense information during his numerous trips across the country, Deepu realized that not the entire medical fraternity had access to such a vast expanse of knowledge. “It was something that I hadn’t seen in the IIT. So I thought why not put my own cases online so that the other healthcare practitioners could learn from it?”

The perfect blend of social network and a medical journal, Daily Rounds in Deepu’s words is like “Instagram but with graphic pictures”! “When we started out, we had only my cases online but soon, the website started to do well and we formed a team to work full-time and build a business around it.” In 2015, the company became official and today, Daily Rounds comprises a team of 120 people and boasts of being the largest network of doctors in India along with the largest case repository. 

One of the biggest challenges he faced, like many entrepreneurs, was acceptance from family, friends and of course, investors. “For a doctor, it’s even more difficult to become an entrepreneur because the question is, do we really have to do something like this since we have studied so much? In the West, the concept of docpreneurs is more widespread but in India, you don’t see any doctor into full-time entrepreneurship. Most of them who run a start-up also practice medicine on the side. That’s the culture that we have so convincing investors was a challenge too.” Convincing other doctors to drop their clinical practice and join the team was no mean feat too.  “But today, we have a team of 30 doctors who work for us full-time.”

Another big problem faced by them was the lack of guidelines. “There is no guideline on online pharmacy and absolutely none on how to publish a case on the internet. We do have policies but none of them are built for the online era. With our content being sensitive, it was a tad bit challenging. But then, there is no such thing as part-time entrepreneurship. If you want to run your own business, you have to go all in.” He adds further, “Take risks, learn from your mistakes. Indian healthcare is full of opportunities and it’s the best time to become a ‘docpreneur’. So if you want to build something, take the plunge".

Dr Ashim Roy is not your usual 'docpreneur' as he isn't from the field of medicine. With a qualification in electrical engineering and almost 30 years of experience in the field of telecom, Dr Ashim Roy always had the dream of starting a socially relevant venture. After a lot of market research and consultancy, he decided to start Cardiotrack along with Mr Avin Agarwal in late 2013.

Cardiotrack is a device that captures 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG) of a patient, transfer it onto a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth and then upload it to the cloud for permanent storage. Cardiotrack allows the results to be easily sent to a cardiologist for evaluation.

Making heart healthcare available to all was definitely not a cakewalk for Dr Roy and his team as they had a number of challenges to face with funding being the biggest of them all. “India does not have an established ecosystem for investment in hardware-centric startups. There are many reasons for this - lack of success stories in hardware startups, lack of manufacturing ecosystem, product dumping (which means most of the diagnostics products in India are imported) and the lack of government action to support 'Make in India’ initiative,” says Dr Ashim Roy.  

Numerous loan schemes of the government also don’t make things easier, according to him. “For instance, the Government has recently launched MSME loan scheme. Online application process is very smooth and within minutes one can complete the online application and get an approval for the loan application. However, the banks have not called back more than week after the “approval". The online “approval” is meaningless, if banks are not on board with disbursement of loans.” He further adds, “Venture Funding firms invest in ideas or teams that they believe will give them the return on investment. Most venture funds do not invest in ideas or solutions that will deliver social impact. In fact, largest amounts of venture funding goes to startups losing most amount of money."

Despite all this, Dr Roy is believes that the start-ups in the country do have a very bright future. "India remains a crucible of innovation. Indian entrepreneurs have not come this far to be bogged down by small challenges that are listed above. They are rapidly evolving and adapting to survive, grow and flourish. Darwin would be proud to see this new species, 'the Indian Entrepreneur', who adapt so rapidly for survival and success.”

Conclusion

Tough as it is to take the leap of faith and dive into entrepreneurship, these docpreneurs are bubbling with innovative ideas and an equal enthusiasm to execute them all. After all, life is too short to live someone else’s dream isn’t it?

 
Vivek desai