When she was 10, Dr Smita Naram had a severe stomach ache. The pain was so acute that her parents suspected it was appendicitis, and thought of rushing her to the hospital for surgery. However, her father called her uncle, who lived in their native village and was a leading ‘vaidya’ (medicine man) there. The uncle gave her father a recipe of an herbal cure. Her father made the concoction and gave it to Smita, and voila, the pain disappeared! What was probably a major health scare was easily solved with a home remedy.
That incident reinforced Dr. Naram’s faith in Ayurveda. “My father, grandfather, and uncles were Ayurvedic doctors. Since childhood I never took any allopathy medicines. If I fell sick, I was given ‘Sudarshan ghanvati’, and every Sunday, I had a spoonfull of castor oil,” recalls Dr. Naram.
Many such first-hand experiences and close proximity to the ancient science made Dr. Naram choose to study Ayurveda. But she was not content being just a practitioner, she went on to start Ayushakti Ayurveda Pvt Ltd, which is a result of her love for the science and the urge to go beyond convention.
Harnassing the power of Ayurveda
Dr Naram met her husband while she was studying Ayurveda and after graduation they decided to start their own practice. Their command over the subject helped them accumulate a good group of customers, but Dr. Naram wanted to do more than just reach out to patients locally. “Ayurveda has immense power to cure diseases, and I wanted to do something through which more doctors could spread the goodness of Ayurveda across the world,” says the doctor.
Did you know that illness such as arthritis, infertility, fibroids and psoriasis have remedies in Ayurveda? To validate these claims, Dr. Victor Manhave from Netherlands came to Ayushakti. For three years, he studied and observed Ayushakti’s infertility patients who had different problems like PCOD, low sperm count and low motility, habitual abortion and general infertility. He found promising results regarding the treatment. On the basis of his findings, he submitted a thesis to Eramus University, Netherlands, which said that the percentage of success rate in normal treatments (read allopathy) for overcoming infertility is 15 to 20%, while Ayushakti’s Ayurvedic treatment had a success rate of 42% – double the effective rate.
This proved to be a turning point, as word spread and doctors from the West wanted to partner with Ayushakti and take their treatment abroad. Dr Naram and her husband started working on developing a line of Ayurvedic products which could be sold over-the-counter. They co-founded Ayushakti Ayurveda in 1987.
Their first manufacturing plant was setup in Palghar, Maharashtra, and they had one machine to produce the products. While production was the easy part, getting them tested and certified according to European standards was one of the biggest challenges faced by the company. “We found a lab, tested the products and sent it to our distributor in Europe. He kept it there, but routine checks done a year later in an European lab showed that all our products were off track. The Indian lab proved to be unreliable. The purity of our products was being questioned,” recalls Dr. Naram.
Her whole team worked hard to rectify the issue and they finally found an IIT technologist who helped them solve the problem. They decided that they would now test every new batch of product from a lab in Germany. “We wanted heavy metal free, microbian free, pesticide free products, and in whole of India there was no AASF machine which checks for heavy metals. Even the biggest labs working for big pharma companies didn’t have this machine. This was 1993. We have bought the machine now, but that was our biggest challenge. What I learnt was where there is a will, there is a way,” exclaims Dr. Naram.
Till 2005, Ayushakti was more of a personal practice; there was no PR or advertising. But despite this they were very popular and would get over 300 patients at the clinic. That was when the idea of a franchise chain struck them. Since then Ayushakti Ayurveda has opened seven clinics in India and three in Germany.
There is an interesting story around their international alliances. An Italian lady, Victoria Rasidoria, had come to India for spiritual healing and on the day she was scheduled to leave, she developed a severe case of Hepatitis A. Through someone’s recommendation she came to Ayushakti and stayed there for 15 days. “Hepatitis A spreads very fast. You don’t see symptoms for two-three days, but bilirubin increases very fast. Her eyes had become turmeric yellow within a day. We didn’t have a hospital back then, but kept her in my house and gave her a treatment of special diet, herbs and Ayurvedic medicine. She was in contact with her doctors in Italy on a daily basis. Those doctors checked her when she went back and were amazed by the results. What we had managed to achieve in 15 days couldn’t be done even in six months,” explains Dr Naram. Five Italian doctors came to India to learn Ayurveda and that is how Ayushakti started its European operations. International expansions so far have been through partnerships. Today, they have 100 alliances around the world, including in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Dr. Naram says she has plans to setup company-owned Ayushakti clinics in UK and Europe soon.Support cast
Dr. Naram cannot stop gushing about the support her husband lent her during the early days. “Not only did he help me in business, he also supported my decision to delay the birth of our child,” shares Dr. Naram. Her in-laws, extended family and her faithful staff have been her pillars of strength, admits Dr. Naram. “Some of my staff has been with me for over 25 years, and it is the blind faith that I can repose on them that has helped us grow,” she says.
According to ASSOCHAM, the Indian herbal industry is likely to double from Rs 7,500 crore to Rs 15,000 crore by 2015. Ayushakti is one of the many players poised to ride the wave through its product partnerships and franchise expansion. Dr. Naram claims that Ayushakti has been growing 30% year-on-year since the last 10 years. “People are realising that taking a pill is not a solution for everything, rather prevention and healing through natural means is safer. We have grown step by step and now have all the resources. I now want to create an Indian MNC,” she says ambitiously.