BANGALORE: Indian startups makingmedical devices have innovated to slash costs and spawn demand in Tier-1 and Tier-2 cities. This has drawn interest from bigger multinational rivals - operating mostly in metros with overcrowded markets - who are keen to get a piece of the action. The Indian medical device market, currently about $4.5-5 billion, is pegged to grow to about $14 billion in 2020, according to a report by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopersand industry body Ficci.
Metros and Tier-1 cities contribute to about 50% of the total market, with the rest of India making up the rest. But most of the growth will occur in smaller towns and cities. Also, India imports almost 65% of its medical devices, which are too expensive for small nursing homes coming up in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities.
Startups, such as Mysore-based Skanray Technologies, have taken advantage of such gaps in medical treatment and brought out products that are dirt-cheap but effective. For instance, Skanray's USB-based ECG unit called Cardiskan converts laptops, or personal computers, into a 12-channel electrocardiogram system. As a result, rural diagnostic centres can now offer ECGs for as little as 15, compared with 100 earlier.
Vishwaprasad Alma, who quit his job at GE to start Skanray Technologies in 2007, said his company would soon bring out an ultrasound machine in which tests can be done for 75, instead of 450 now. "This machine will help diagnostic clinics break even in one and a half years and is expected to be available in the market in the next one month," said Alma.
Another startup, Embrace Innovations, started in 2012 by Stanford University students Jane Chen, Naganand Murty, Rahul Alex Panicker and Linus Liang, has brought out "baby wraps" that function as warmers and cost 15,000 - about one-tenth of an imported one. The wrap uses a wax-like substance to keep babies warm.
Currently, about 700 medical equipment companies in India make affordable alternatives to equipment supplied by global giants. On the other hand, multinational players, whose share of the Indian medical devices market has come down to 75% from about 95% a decade ago, have realised the wisdom of entering smaller towns.
GE India has set a target of cutting prices in India by 15% over the next few years. "The next 10 years will be an interesting phase for GE in India with the bending of the curve of healthcare costs," said Terri Bresenham, president and CEO of GE Healthcare India.