India-based mfine, an app that lets users link with doctors through live chat or video under a minute, has just bagged US$17.2 million in fresh investment, led by SBI Investment, the VC arm of Japan’s SBI Group, with participation from new and existing investors, including Singapore’s SBI Ven Capital and Beenext.
The healthtech startup, founded in 2017 by Myntra Co-founder Ashutosh Lawania and former CBO Prasad Kompalli, follows the model of partnering with hospitals instead of aggregating individual doctors on its platform. mfine, which delivers an AI-driven, on-demand healthcare service, will use the money to expand its hospital network across India.
e27 talked to Kompalli to know more about the company, its investments, local market and future plans.
How does mfine aim to transform the healthcare delivery model in India using technology?
mfine provides an Artificial Intelligence-driven, mobile-first platform which is used by patients to find doctors from our large network of hospitals. Consumers find it more convenient to consult with doctors through our chat and video interface. Our AI engine is capable of diagnosing and triaging over 1,200 common diseases, reading hundreds of health parameters in the diagnostic reports thus saving significant time for the doctors.
Why is the current round important and what do these investors bring to the table?
In the last year and a half, we have built a strong network through our partner hospitals. We have managed to reach towns and villages even we had never heard of. This round of funding comes at a great time, when we need to push our own limits and try to reach more patients and onboard more doctors. Our investors have come onboard as strategic partners, and with their help we can build India’s largest healthcare network.
Health-tech in India as an industry has witnessed a massive growth over the past few years. However, it has not really taken off in smaller cities and towns. Why is it so? Also companies like mfine are mostly catering to the educated population…
Technology is the right way to cut across economic segments and geographical boundaries in delivery better healthcare. As the technology penetration like smartphones and cheaper bandwidth is rapidly increasing, there is a bigger and better opportunity now than before to take services like mfine across the length and breadth of the country.
At mfine, over the next three to four years, we will be developing solutions that are intuitive for the the user and also support all interaction paradigms (audio, video and text ) and multi-language support to ensure quality healthcare is accessible for all segments.
AI has the potential to drastically change the healthcare industry in India. But it has not really happened yet. Do you expect this to change in the near future?
So far, tech companies largely focussed on peripheral topics in healthcare like appointment booking, practice management, e-pharmacy etc. However, AI is increasingly becoming a viable way to bridge the gap in doctor-patient ratio and help the doctor become 4x to 5x more efficient.
With streamlined data collection and analysis, we can make very powerful domain specific, AI-driven diagnosis tools that will help the doctors and patients. We see that this will be the dominant approach for tech companies in the next five to ten years.
Most of your investors are from Japan and Southeast Asia. Why did you decide to go to investors from Japan and SEA rather than India? Also, why do you think startups from India are increasingly getting funded by Japanese and SEA funds?
As a startup we keep engaging with different investors all the time. We found in SBI and Beenext the match of long-term vision and deep tech focus to solve hard problems like healthcare delivery. We hope to benefit from their global perspective and long term support.
Japan and other SEA countries are seeing the huge potential in India. Adoption of technology by consumers makes India a great learning ground. There is no other market where mobile technology and internet-based businesses has taken off so well. Investors who have realised this trend are diverting funds towards Indian startups.
How a partnership with SBI Holdings benefit you in the long term? What synergies do you have with them? What about Beenext etc?
SBI Goup has several AI and blockchain-related investments globally and we hope to benefit from that global perspective in shaping mfine. Beenext has been a prolific investor in India and brings in several important collaborations that are possible within and outside India that can help accelerate various aspects of our business.
Does India face a shortage of AI talent?
Actually, India is having a huge pool of ML and Data science engineers and as a startup, we are able to find the talent that’s required for us.
What are your plans for the next 12 months?
Over 100,000 customers have consulted on mfine in the last 15 months and customer base is growing 30 per cent month over month. More than 500 MD/MS doctors, including some of India’s top doctors from over 100 reputed hospitals practice across 20 specialties on mfine. Our customers belong to over 800 towns in India.
In the next 12 months, we are hoping to onboard over 2,500 doctors from 250 hospitals and reach 150,000 monthly consultations.
Both founders were part of Myntra’s core team. But now you two are into a separate industry altogether. What learnings did you carry with you to mfine?
We come from the experience of building tech-driven consumer internet platforms. All the learnings of building from scratch and scaling such platforms, building the right organisation and culture are important and applicable again at mfine.
Image Credit: mfine