Couples who fail to conceive normally opt for in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). However, the process is not 100 percent successful. Many couples undergo several gut-wrenching and failed attempts of IVF.
For a former gaming entrepreneur Saarthak Bakshi, 29, this was a revelation. During his stint at a Adiva, a women-centric hospital, Saarthak realised the value of fertility and how deep the problem of infertility actually was. He was managing operations at Adiva, which is co-owned by his mother Dr Rita Bakshi. Rita is an IVF Doctor for decades now.
With an aim to help couples with infertility issues, Saarthak created the concept of One Child per Couple (OCPC). Adiva is a profit-centric organisation. Since Saarthak found it difficult to convince the stakeholders to run thought this vision and concept without a focus on profits, he decided start his own fertility centre. In 2011, Saarthak along with his mother opened International Fertility Centre (IFC) in New Delhi. Currently, IFC has a network of over 10 clinics located across India, Nepal and Afghanistan.
To ensure that their IVF has the best results, the team uses ICSI unit from RI with micromanipulators. They claim to be the only centre in North India to offer Computer-Assisted Sperm Analysis, K-system Laminar air flow, Embryoscope and Vitrification unit.
IFC not only offers IVF treatment, but also provides surrogacy services. With the training of his mother Rita, the team is able to help each couple with a choice that is best suited for them.
The team claims that their clinical pregnancy and live baby rates are averaging at six out of 10. This means six women out of 10 are delivering healthy babies in the first attempt itself.
Explaining why he chose to set up a centre in Nepal, Saarthak, a former Ernst & Young employee, says:
Post the success of the first centre in New Delhi, I researched on the worst affected places in India, where the problem of infertility existed. I started with Rajasthan and expanded into other states. I also realised that in Nepal, a problem similar to India existed - infertility was equally or more burdensome because of the low paying capacity and the similar cultural ethos associated with infertility.
One of the main roadblocks for Saarthak was understanding the nuances and technicalities of the subject. This meant months of research, understanding the different best practices across countries, get the best infrastructure in place and hire the right talent with in-depth knowledge and experience. With the deep knowledge and experience in this field, his mother Rita helped scale and grow the team.
Scaling up was a big challenge for the team. Saarthak adds that each centre requires a minimum investment of Rs 1 crore and with no external funding, it was a daunting task to think of replicating IFC centres in other locations.
“As a strategic move we started partnering with hospitals and widened out network. Hospitals started to outsource the entire IVF wing to us. As a result, I was able to cut my establishment costs to half and expanded much faster than expected,” says Saarthak.
The past decade has seen a growth in IVF in India. According to a RNCOS report, several factors like changing lifestyles, busy work schedules and changing preferences are believed to be the key reasons that cause the problem of infertility. The report suggests that the IVF market is growing steady from 2014 at a CAGR of 14 percent.
Apart from IFC, today there are general women and fertility centric hospitals and clinics in India. There are several hospital chains like Apollo; Cloudnine, a multi-city hospital chain for women and children specialising in obstetrics, gynaecology, fertility, and neonatology. Cloudnine had raised Rs 400 ($74 million) crores from India Value Fund Advisors (IVFA) for a minority stake in December last year.
This is the third round of investment made in the hospital chain. Cloudnine had earlier raised $16 million by Sequoia India and its existing investors Matrix Partners India. Both Matrix and Sequoia retain their stake in the hospital chain
Speaking of how different IFC is Saarthak says:
“IFC is unique in the measures it has adopted to treat couples, technology that is unmatchable in any other such centre and the supreme array of doctors that we have,” says Saarthak.
The team claims to have grown from one IFC centre to 12 till the first quarter of 2016. Bootstrapped, the team says they’ve had consistent revenue growth. With a team of close to 100, the platform has an average turnover of Rs 15 crore.
Apart from this, IFC is also focussed on ensuring that there is greater awareness on the subject, Saarthak says:
We also conduct camps for generating awareness in underdeveloped regions like Ethiopia, Uganda and Afghanistan as these countries do not have access to good infertility treatments. Moreover, these countries are politically unstable and pose inherent dangers to the people there.
IFC is aiming to build over 100 IFC centres across India by 2020 and expand to international markets.