From Lucknow to the world, Dr Sanjiv Agarwal takes on diabetes with Diabetacare
In Bengaluru’s Koramangala locality, there resides a doctor from England who wears an entrepreneurial hat with pride. He has his own portable coffee machine, with which he fixes coffee for his guests and his leadership team. Some people may see this as a bit over the top coming from a CEO. But once the coffee is served, the man immediately enters into business mode, picking on every bit of sales and revenue information. He calls up hospital owners about signing agreements and also checks up on the expenses of the business. The business development teams and the clients (hospitals) that Diabetacare serves cannot escape his gaze at the details.
One look at the CV of Dr Sanjiv Agarwal would lead any individual to wonder what this studious man from Lucknow hasn’t achieved. In England, he is a member of practically everything associated with the title Royal. We must clarify that he has nothing to do with the Queen of the island nation, but is associated with most royal charters in the medical field. Among the societies that have honoured him are the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal Society of Medicine. He is also an entrepreneur, in the course of his second stint. His first was with 4 Ways Healthcare, which was sold to a PE firm in 2012 in a multimillion pound deal in the UK.
“That’s how a business is built by an entrepreneur. You must be good at time management and go after what you want to achieve,” says Sanjiv, founder of Diabetacare.
The fastest growing disease in India
His current startup is taking on diabetes, building technology that could create a data repository of the disease in hospitals and treat patients before it leads to complications. He decided that this venture would kick start in India before going global, and there was a reason for that.
According to the World Bank, there are more than 60 million people in India who suffer from diabetes. It is also the fastest growing disease in the country, due to the changing lifestyles of citizens. This metabolic disease occurs because of high blood sugar levels and is known to be fatal to organs like the kidneys and heart if not treated.
Diabetacare has built a complete suite of diabetics screening intervention through technology. Hospitals use the tech to connect doctors and patients on one platform after the patient is screened for diabetes. The hospitals, through Diabetacare, monitor their patients through IoT devices and the app. The company also serves the patient with content about managing his or her health, and it has manual and automatic interventions when blood sugar levels go up. The company has served more than 37,000 patients since its inception four years ago and works with 65 clinics and hospitals.
“Some may say that we have taken four years. But I have made sure that the technology we have built is completely secure and allows hospitals and clinics to scale up their diabetic services across the country,” says Sanjiv.
The company has raised millions of dollars to build its business. They do not, however, wish to reveal the number as of this moment because of reasons related to valuation. But Sanjiv is preparing to take this business global, and therefore, expanding in India is important for him. “To create a data bank of a disease and to use it to change people’s lives is a powerful idea,” he says. But before all this, he began as an ordinary individual from Lucknow.
The early days
Sanjiv began his MBBS in Lucknow at King George’s Medical College in 1985. He worked in the hospital till 1995, and he had it made as an MD in Medicine. “I could have taken care of my father’s medical practice in Lucknow,” he says. However, he wanted to study further and moved to England, where he finished his MSC is Dermatology at King’s College London. While working in England, he studied the healthcare system of the country and finished an MBA in 2005 as well. The entrepreneurial bug bit him when he began to see gaps in healthcare while he was doing his management course. Although a dermatologist himself, he noticed how hospitals were struggling to get good radiologists and that patients waited many days for their reports.
He began wondering why radiology images could not be sent to the best doctors over the network, thereby saving time for patients. Back then, hospitals and care providers in the UK had to wait for radiologists to show up at their centres or make assessments of images sent to them over snail mail. Sensing an opportunity here, Sanjiv bootstrapped his company and employed a technology team, in India, to build a system that could allow the crunching of image sizes and the sending of them to radiologists for their opinions. 4ways Healthcare became a runaway success as it worked with the National Health Service, the government-owned care provider, to get reports from radiologists over the network. The best part was that all the images were encrypted and the identity of the patient was protected. “This was a business for the UK and built in the UK because of the regulation of data,” says Sanjiv.
In 2012, the company was sold to a PE firm. The technology scanned over 250,000 MRI reports a year and worked with over 68 NHS trusts at the time. This was when Diabetacare was seeded as an idea.
The business model
Sanjiv says that Diabetacare is a SaaS company. The hospital pays Diabetacare for every patient screened and also for the data analytics. The software of Diabetacare integrates even with IoT devices for patients who pay for such a service. With the World Health Organisation predicting an increase in diabetes in India to close to 100 million in the next decade, data is everything that is needed to have interventions and also help drug companies reach their target segment faster.
There are already companies like HealthPlix, Cooey Technologies and Diabeto in India trying a similar approach. However, there need to be many more such companies in this industry, because the market size is huge.
“The opportunity for new business models in healthcare has just taken off. We meet several startups focusing on different verticals. Many of them are yet to reach that critical scale,” says Rohit MA, MD of CloudNine Hospitals.
Meanwhile, the doctor from Lucknow, armed with caffeine at his side to drive him to greater heights, is hatching plans to take this technology to markets across the world. But he modestly says that it was his parents, wife and kids that helped him achieve his entrepreneurial ambition.