Siddharth Rastogi, Meta Wellness, India’s first medically-directed lifestyle change programmes for heart disease prevention


About Meta Wellness:

We are introducing India’s first medically-directed lifestyle change programmes for heart disease, in partnership with The Leela Hotels. We bring research-backed models of healthcare for preventing and reversing heart disease, proven for over 30 years in the U.S., with all residential components delivered within calm retreat environments, which enhances the effectiveness of the programmes. Our programmes are developed and directed by the National and International leaders in the field, including a Harvard-trained physician, India’s leading cardiac rehab expert who treated Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and the President of the British Association of Cardiovascular Rehabilitation.

Market differentiators:

In the area of prevention and reversal of chronic lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, we bring India’s only physician-led, intensive (part-residential) programmes that handhold you to clinical results. There is currently a lot of information on heart health, and fragmented solutions to support lifestyle change(such as nutritionists, personal trainers, yoga therapists) that are at a distance from the medical management of your heart disease. Our programmes pair these two together – aggressive and comprehensive lifestyle change with medical management – to deliver clinically measured outcomes.

What is the story behind Meta Wellness? How much capital was required to startup?

For over a decade in New York, Jyotsna has led public health programmes on lifestyle-change to tackle heart disease and diabetes among Indians in the U.S. She was struck by several of her friends and their peers in their 30s and 40s struggling with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. A few even turned out to have blockages and needing stents. Yet, despite the advances in acute care in India with newer, state-of-the-art hospitals, there was nothing available to help them fix their lifestyle and reverse their disease. In deeper exploration, she found some were cobbling together a piecemeal strategy of dietitians and personal trainers towards fixing their lifestyle. Others hesitated even with their day-to-day activities, numbed with the diagnosis of coronary artery blockage.

Jyotsna had a solid understanding of the lifestyle-change solutions for heart disease reversal in the U.S. She reached out to friends and colleagues in the medical fraternity across the globe, including Dr. Aashish Contractor, who attended medical college with her and is now India’s #1 cardiac rehab expert and head of preventive cardiology at Mumbai’s Asian Heart Institute. Thus was born this idea to bring the latest science from the U.S. to India delivered in an intensive format that can produce real results for Indian patients.

Even though we have started at the premium end, our partnership with The Leela Group has allowed us to develop an asset-light business model that eliminated tens of crores of rupees of investment in high-end physical infrastructure. However, in order to implement the idea, we still required capital for state-of-the-art medical equipment, clinical staff training and salaries, programme development, marketing and corporate operations. That said, we aren’t sharing specific numbers.

Tell us about your background.

Jyotsna and I have known each other since high school, are married with two young daughters, and have co-founded this company, so both our backgrounds complete the story. Jyotsna is a public health expert who completed her medical training in Mumbai at Nair Hospital where she received her M.B., B.S. and then went on to attend Harvard School of Public Health on scholarship where she received her Masters in Public Health. She has also trained in lifestyle medicine at Harvard University. She is faculty at New York University School of Medicine and has received over 50 grants from the renowned U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), New York City and State Departments of Health, and private foundations to support her work. Her research is published in the American Journal of Public Health, Journal of General Internal Medicine, Ethnicity and Health, and elsewhere, and has also served as an advisor to the U.S. Government on its strategic U.S.-India “Health Dialogue”, led by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I have broad start-up experience and co-founded U.S-based SimulTel Inc. with Jyotsna in 2004. SimulTel’s VoIP technology is currently live in a number of U.S. hospitals, where it bridges the language gap between patients who don’t speak English and their doctors. At Bellevue Hospital, America’s oldest public hospital, SimulTel’s technology supports over 5,000 patient interpreting sessions per month. I have previously headed business development for Oracle Corporation’s start-up North American retail core banking applications business, and for a California-based online retailing start-up sold to a strategic acquirer in 2002. I have also been an investment banker with Lehman Brothers and Prudential Securities in New York specializing in mergers and acquisitions for financial services and information technology companies. I earned an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business, and a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from University of Mumbai.

We moved back to India after 11 years in New York because, with this startup, we felt that we have the power to make a huge difference and in a very critical way. We packed up and moved lock-stock-and-barrel with young kids and cats – which was pretty crazy when we think of it, but that's also the adrenalin rush.

Let us know about the tie-ups that you have. How has the acceptance been so far?

This field of lifestyle medicine for heart disease reversal and prevention has been proven over more than 30 years of research, published in leading international medical journals. It is so well accepted in the U.S. that is covered by Medicare and Medicaid insurance, and eminent personalities such as President Bill Clinton have benefitted from this treatment. We are bring these proven protocols to India, directed by an eminent scientific advisory board that includes the president of the British Association of Cardiovascular Rehab and the head of cardiac rehab at the world-renowned Rusk Institute at New York University. In terms of operational tie-ups for introduction of these programmes in India, we have entered into a strategic partnership with The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts to provide the hospitality and gourmet, heart-healthy cuisine that will be part of all residential components of our programmes. This tie-up marks India’s first business model in bringing together health services and hotels/resorts.

Where do you see Meta Wellness five years from now?

We see ourselves as the most respected brand in this exciting new field of medicine in India covering multiple disease areas (including heart disease, diabetes and obesity) with a pan-India presence in the premium and mid-market segments. We also see ourselves as leading research and publication in the area of application of this field of medicine to the Indian population.

What is your revenue model? Are you looking at fundraising?

Our revenue model consists primarily of all-inclusive programme fees paid by participants and corporates – initially self-pay, but we will also be working with insurers for coverage. We are currently self-funded. While we have been focused on launching, we have received a lot of interest from venture investment players in India and are open to considering strategic investment.

As an entrepreneur, what are your joys? What are the challenges?

The biggest joy is bringing something to the market that can make a real difference to people’s lives. This, for us, has involved taking something tried and tested, and adding our creativity to make it work in India. A diagnosis of heart disease is the closest many people come to facing their own mortality. One out of three people in India die of heart attacks. And it is very disturbing to know that over 95% of these deaths could have been averted. We believe what we are doing is a significant step in changing that, and has the potential to revolutionize the treatment of heart disease in India.

The challenge we’ve faced may just be particular to our situation, or likely shared by other couple-entrepreneurs. Because we are married and doing this together, work-life boundaries are blurred and sometimes we have to check ourselves and talk about something other than work!

How big is your team? Tell us a little bit about your team? Are you looking at hiring?

Our core team consists of our founders and medical/scientific advisors – this is a team of 7 that brings together national and international leaders in cardiac rehabilitation and prevention, diabetes, lifestyle-change and public health. I bring the financial and business background. Plus, each site has a clinical team of cardiac rehab specialists, nutritionists, yoga instructors, stress management counselors, and health coaches, in addition to attending physicians and programme faculty. We have currently put together our team for our first site in Mumbai. We are in the process of completing our team for our second location, which will be at Kovalam, Kerala. We are hiring to complete our clinical teams.

Let us know about your expansion plans.

We have launched with re:verse, our programme for heart disease reversal for people who have coronary artery disease in Mumbai, and with re:tune, our programme for heart disease prevention for people who are at high risk for heart disease in Kovalam, Kerala. We will expand in both, locations across the Leela properties (starting with re:verse in other city and resort properties of The Leela, and re:tune in additional resort properties of The Leela), and also in the target lifestyle diseases to include programmes for diabetes and obesity.

Anything else that you want to share with us?

India accounts for 60% of the world’s heart disease; prevalence of heart disease among adult urban Indians is up from 3% to 11% since 1980. 70% of heart patients in India are under the age of 50. India is estimated to have over 50 million diabetics. One out of three deaths across India is because of a heart attack. In urban areas, such as Mumbai, it is almost one out of two deaths due to a heart attack. The statistics are worsening every year. From 2009-2010 alone, deaths due to heart attacks went up by 32% in Mumbai. Compare this with the U.S. where deaths due to heart disease dropped by 40% from 1980 to 2000, and another 25% over the past decade. Only 7% of this drop has been shown to be due to revascularization (angioplasties and bypass surgeries). The rest of the drop – over 90% - is because of reduction in risk factors and optimal medical management, including cardiac rehab.

Key fact: 95% of the risk of a heart attack comes from 9 risk factors that can all be modified. Benefits of programmes pairing intensive lifestyle-change with medical management: 23% drop in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and 20% increase in exercise capacity in just 12 weeks; 91% reduction in chest pain within one year; 60% of patients can stop or reduce medication for high blood pressure and diabetes.

Large market: premium market in India has 2.2 million affluent individuals with heart disease. The mid-market is 10 times that size in terms of number of individuals with heart disease.

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Varsha Adusumilli |