This JioGenNext alumni startup is helping patients fight oral cancer by making screening accessible and affordable with AI
Atom360, a healthtech startup working to make healthcare accessible, affordable and efficient; reveals how they are helping patients fight oral cancer.
Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world. In India, it is the second highest reason for cancer mortality, claiming more than 10 lives every hour in the country alone. What’s more, 1.2 billion tobacco consumers and 2 billion alcohol users around the world are the direct high-risk population for oral cancer.
Atom360, a JioGenNext alumni startup, is helping solve this oral cancer burden by making screening accessible and affordable to all.
The startup’s relevance and uniqueness was recognised early on, with it going on to win Elevate 2018 by Government of Karnataka and also the BIRAC Biotechnology Ignition Grant (BIG) (the largest early-stage biotech funding programme in India) by the Government of India. The startup was also the only Indian entry for the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE competition.
How it all began
Growing up in Nellyadi, a small town in Dakshina Kannada, Rizma Banu, who co-founded, was all too familiar with the struggles of accessing healthcare. Many residents had to travel around 70 km to reach a hospital in Mangalore, and the journey took over two hours.
Tragically, many never made it. These experiences hit close to home when her cousin was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. Despite her family's tireless efforts to find a cure, they weren’t able to.
“This experience left a profound impact on me and fuelled my desire to change the situation. That's when I met Reuben Fernandes, my fellow founder who had also tragically lost a loved one to cancer,” she says.
“Driven by a desire to address the care gap in the domain of cancer, Reuben and I embarked on a new adventure by starting Atom360. We teamed up to make a significant impact by utilising the power of AI and robotics to revolutionise the healthcare industry,” adds Rizma.
Fighting oral cancer with early detection
Atom360’s flagship product Berry.care is designed to provide patients with timely and comfortable mouth checkups from anywhere at any time – no appointment needed. The app runs on smartphones and uses AI algorithms to identify lesions from images captured by the smartphone's camera, enabling early detection of oral cancer.
Early detection of mouth cancer can save lives, while also helping patients avoid spending enormous amounts of money on cancer treatment - that is typically unaffordable to most patients. In fact, early detection can even elevate the five year survival rate from 18 percent to up to 90 percent Report.
The current screening methodology for oral cancer involves expert doctors being available in the screening location which makes it highly inaccessible and expensive. The current devices in the field are also costly and have very little penetration in rural India. Moreso, digitised health data for validating AI algorithms to classify oral cavity lesions are scarce globally, making Atom360’s truly invaluable.
“We present a novel method of delivery using AI which does not require the physical presence of an expert oral oncologist for screening; and it is affordable. It can help NGOs to screen many during camps,” says Rizma. She adds that their customers are government and private insurance companies, NGOs and cancer hospitals giving them a total addressable market of $6.58 billion and a serviceable market size of $4.5 billion.
The growth journey from seed to scale
The startup, which is currently in its pre-commercialisation and TRL (Technology Readiness Level) stage seven, worked within a tough dynamic in an extremely limited amount of time and used every tool in its arsenal to grow from seed to scale. This included collaborating with government and NGOs, partnering with healthcare providers, targeted digital marketing campaigns and offline advertising, R&D and international market expansion. By executing this growth strategy, it aims to become the leading provider of AI-based oral health assessment services and help more individuals detect and treat oral issues in its early stages.
Strategies that worked really well for growth
Drawing from their own growth journey, Rizma offers some advice to founders looking to grow from seed to scale in the similar space. These include identifying and solving a problem that has a large market demand and need; building a team with expertise in AI, business and domain knowledge; building partnerships with regional cancer centres; participating in relevant events like screening camps; gathering feedback from customers and continuously improving the product; and finally, applying for grants.
“We applied for grants from the government to develop a proof of concept from our idea. The two major advantages to this strategy was getting minimum funding without diluting shares in the initial phase of the startup and getting technical and business mentorship from the experts in the health-tech domain,” she says.
How JioGenNext MAP helped power their journey
Atom360 is also part of the select cohort of 11 high potential startups that were selected for the JioGenNext Market Access Program (MAP '21). MAP focuses on providing advice and opportunities to startups on two tracks.
Talking about how the program helped them with GTM, fundraising and product-market fit and other challenges, Rizma said, “The JioGenNext MAP (Market Access Program) gave us access to mentorship, networking opportunities, and exposure to potential investors and customers. The team is very hard-working and is a strong support system for startups.”
“The much-needed mentors' support was instrumental in overcoming challenges and navigating the complexities of building the startup. We met promising fellow startups in the program who were relatable and helpful,” she added.