How this founder birthed a new idea to keep his medical device startup afloat amidst COVID-19
Subhag HealthTech that was set to take off in India this year with its low-cost, home-based infertility treatment solution, temporarily shifted gears and started manufacturing copper face masks.
The COVID-19 tsunami has caused many ships to sink. But the beauty of a bootstrapped, revenue-generating startup boat is that it can quickly steer and ride the wave.
When Vikram Rajput, Founder of medical device startup, felt the rising tide threaten to drown his fledgeling startup, he did what all hustle-happy founders do. He pivoted.
The startup that was set to take off in India this year with its low-cost, home-based IUI (Intrauterine insemination) treatment solution, temporarily shifted gears and started manufacturing face masks — the frontline defence against the dreaded virus.
But it is no ordinary face mask. The copper-infused face mask, named VSafe, is one step ahead in its protection promise as copper is considered a naturally antimicrobial material and is believed to be more resistant to the coronavirus.
“We had started offering our IUI solution in Bangalore since last year through trained nurses because the concept of self-administration is still new in India,” says Vikram, over a long-distance call from Berlin where he is based.
Early this year, following the lockdown, that process had to be halted. “We are a bootstrapped company. It was important for us not to let the revenues dry out,” he explains.
The copper masks not only kept the cash register ringing but also helped the startup build and establish a trusted distribution network that is coming in handy now in distributing their IUI device VConceive.
“We have tied up with four distributors for VConceive as of now,” shares Vikram. As for VSafe, besides selling in India, the masks have been exported to ICICI Bank in London, Dubai, and Singapore.
Both the products — VConceive and VSafe — have been included in Amazon Launchpad and will soon reach the US as well.
Lean business process
“I am proud to say that we have developed a medical device on a shoestring budget,” says Vikram. He adds that the startup has been modest in terms of its operations too, something many others are waking up to now in the pandemic.
“We have been working like this for a long, long time. We employ cost-cutting measures wherever possible,” he adds.
From renting labs to running a virtual office and work-from-home for his team — all these measures taken in pre-COVID-19 times have helped the company not only stay afloat now but also dream of growing.
“Our unit economics looks good. The cost of making the IUI device is Rs 800 and it is being sold on Amazon at Rs 4,000. It is a win-win both for us as well as the customers, considering IUI is much cheaper than an IVF,” claims Vikram.
Since they formally launched in February this year, Vikram claims their month-on-month revenue has increased by 200 percent. “Last month, we sold 600 units of VConceive. The plan is to sell 5,000 units in a month.”
He believes that since the startup has been able to put in place a trusted distribution network in five states, it will be able to achieve the target. His math adds up to a revenue forecast of Rs 20-Rs 25 crore in the next year.
Assisted reproductive technologies are becoming popular the world over. It is estimated that the global fertility services market size will reach $36 billion with a CAGR of 8.5 percent by 2023 (Market Research Future report).
In India, “infertility affects about 10 to 14 percent of the population, with higher rates in urban areas where one out of six couples is impacted,” according to data from the Indian Society of Assisted Reproduction.
The startup Subhag was conceived by Vikram following his personal pain points suffered at each stage when he and his wife were planning a baby.
Despite a multi-billion-dollar opportunity, the infertility treatment market, according to Vikram, “is ridden with unfair care provider dominance, lack of transparency to patients, the tediousness of the treatment delivery, and extremely high costs making the treatment unaffordable to a vast majority of the target population”.
Subhag aims to bring all infertility treatment-related services on a single platform — online consultation with doctors, tests done at customer’s convenience, perform IUI at home, receive recommendations to best infertility centres, and make the whole journey more credible and efficient.
“Some of the customer testimonials speak of the intensity and impact of the product. It also lowers the stress levels in couples, who are already anxious about going through an IVF,” says Vikram.
Claiming a success rate of 20 percent per cycle for the first three tries, Vikram says IUI is in no way an alternative to IVF treatment. However, it certainly helps couples who may otherwise have no other option but to go with the costlier IVF treatment.
The startup came up with two products after three years of R&D -- home insemination kit VConceive and sperm washing device Androwash.
Vikram and his Korean-German Co-founder and CTO JI Kwang Jeong are based in Berlin and ready to raise VC money “now that we have proven the product-market fit and are looking at scaling the business”.
In the US and Europe, a number of startups providing everything from hardware to mobile tracking apps are playing in the infertility treatment space that is ripe for the picking. Fertility.com and The Stork OTC are some of the global startups that Subhag is competing against.
Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta