How ambulance startup StanPlus served 10X demand in the second wave and is building 'India's 911’
As the second wave of COVID-19 stretched India’s healthcare system thin, tech-based ambulance aggregators stepped up to meet the rising demand.
Hyderabad-based ambulance startup StanPlus claims that its network saw a 10X jump in demand for patient transportation between March and May, compared to just a 3X increase during the first wave of the pandemic.
Prabhdeep Singh, Founder and CEO, StanPlus, tells YourStory.
“Over 70 percent of our calls were COVID-linked. The pandemic has exposed how pathetic India’s patient transport system is. It has also introduced a new category [of] COVID transport ambulances."
While the pandemic may have prioritised the need for correction and organisation in the highly fragmented medical transportation sector, India has always had one of the slowest emergency medical response rates in the world.
StanPlus co-founders Prabhdeep Singh and Antoine Poirson
Data suggests that in developed countries, it takes less than seven minutes for a fully-equipped ambulance to reach a patient. But in India, it takes an average of 45+ minutes. Each extra minute reduces the chances of survival by 7-10 percent.
“When it comes to clinical intervention, India can save 20 percent of the lives that are lost due to cardiac events every year. If help is provided in the golden hour, the patient’s chances of survival are much higher,” Prabhdeep explains.
And that is what StanPlus, which he co-founded in 2016 with Antoine Poirson and Jose Leon, set out to solve.
Its overarching goal was to organise India’s emergency medical response (EMR) with the use of technology, trained personnel, and a multi-city fleet of ambulances for both critical and non-critical care.
The founder shares, “Only 14 percent Indians take ambulances. In the pandemic, that number dropped to single digits. We wanted to solve the classic 3As of Indian healthcare — awareness, affordability, and access. There should be no reason why Indians have to cry out for ambulances.”
Building the ‘Uber for ambulances’
StanPlus aggregates and standardises hospital ambulances, private operators, government-run services, and mom-and-pop ambulances through a unified tech platform. It also runs its own fleet of Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulances.
The startup has partnered with 40+ hospitals in Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Coimbatore, and Kochi to manage their medical response systems, and patient transportation needs.
The startup currently serves patients in 10 cities through its fleet of 3,000 ambulances that have top-of-the-line equipment and trained paramedics on board.
StanPlus has partnered with 40+ hospitals in various cities
Its doctors and drivers are trained to handle varying kinds of patient needs, from accident / burn victims to cardiac emergencies to surgery patients, and so on.
Prabhdeep explains, “We are a full-stack medical assistance company. We take care of everything from the software and hardware to the telephony systems, drivers, and paramedics to make our network completely seamless. We are also creating our own training modules for clinical and non-clinical staff.”
StanPlus claims that its average response time is less than 15 minutes. StanFleet, its tech stack, matches the patient's need with the right kind of vehicle, while its geospatial data systems dispatches the closest ambulance to fulfill the trip.
The startup has partnered with the likes of Columbia Asia Hospital, Sakra World Hospital, Ramaiah Memorial Hospital, KIMS Hospital, and Fortis Hospital, among others. Its full-stack solution augments the existing medical response systems of hospitals and enables them to respond at least 70 percent faster.
The founder shares, “We are 10X better than local operators. We pick calls in less than six seconds, and get ambulances on the road in under four minutes. During the peak of the second wave, when most hospitals and mom-and-pop operators were spiking their rates, we were 40-50 percent lower than market prices.”
Growth metrics and expansion plans
StanPlus has expanded its fleet size from 350 in 2018 to 3,000 at the end of May 2021. About 10 percent of its fleet is self-owned vehicles, which operate under the premium Red Ambulance category across six cities, with more to come.
The startup plans to add 3,000 Red Ambulances with ALS systems, including ventilators, Bipap machines, oxygen cylinders, etc. in the next three years. It has earmarked Rs 900 crore (with each ambulance costing Rs 30 lakh) for the purpose.
“One of our key differentiators is the huge inventory we own. We’ve realised that you can’t rely only on mom-and-pop operators. You have to create our own supply to have control over the entire network. Healthcare cannot work on an asset-light model when existing infrastructure is of such low quality.”
StanPlus claims to have answered one million emergency calls and assisted two lakh patient transfers in the last three years.
StanPlus wants to build an efficient air ambulance system in India
In the next 36 months, it plans to scale up its patient trips by 3X. And, by 2026, it looks to expand its fleet size to one lakh ambulances, with 100 ambulances stationed in each of India’s top 30 cities.
Besides beefing up its on-ground network, StanPlus is also building an efficient air ambulance system (StanAir), which can handle even cross-border patient transfers.
“There are no air ambulance routes in India. We don't even have helicopters [to ferry patients]. Over this decade, we’re going to build a stable emergency air ambulance system for patients who need urgent care,” states the founder.
Riding on expansion in new markets, StanPlus is targeting an ARR of Rs 100 crore by the end of 2021, and Rs 2,000 crore in the next five years. “We’ve seen 3X topline growth and have been profitable for the last 18 months,” Prabhdeep adds.
Funding and market opportunity
At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, StanPlus raised $1.5 million in a Pre-Series A round led by Pegasus FinInvest and Hyderabad Angels.
It plans to use the funds to expand its ambulance services to India’s top 30 cities, including Tier II and III markets, which have higher demand, but limited clinically viable vehicles.
Prior to that, in 2017, StanPlus had raised $1.1 million in a seed round led by K-Start (seed fund of Kalaari Capital), with participation from CM Diamant (a chain of medical centres and hospitals in Canada and Africa) and INSEAD Angels (Asia).
StanPlus has earmarked Rs 900 crore for expansion of its ambulance fleet
It is also in talks to raise a $12 million round in 3-4 months, as per reports.
The startup competes with the likes of Medulance, HelpNow, AppBulance, Ambee, eSahai, VMedo, Dial4242, and Ambulancee in a hugely cluttered medical transportation and EMR sector, which is growing at 30 percent every year. Its immediate goal is to reduce the ambulance ETA from 15 minutes to 8 minutes.
Prabhdeep signs off by saying,
“We are building the largest integrated emergency response system. You don’t need a thousand emergency numbers. Let us answer all calls and consolidate the experience for you. If the US can have a single helpline number (911) for all emergencies, so can our country.”
With the third wave of COVID-19 knocking on our doors, StanPlus has its task cut out.