India is in the midst of a health tech boom. Alekhya Boora talks to Jumpstart about how she, along with her co-founder, built their healthtech company Ripsey in the face of this opportunity.
A few years ago, the definitive face of the healthtech industry in India was telemedicine platform Practo. Few, if any, had access to personal health management, fitness tracking, diagnostics and medicine delivery via online platforms, and the like.
Today, however, the industry looks very different. In mobile-first India, where 3G and 4G rates are the lowest in the world, users have access to an app for everything from fitness and nutrition, to health management, menstruation, and mindfulness.
A PwC report points out some startling statistics to put India’s healthcare system in context. A third of India’s population does not have access to primary healthcare, and 70% of healthcare infrastructure in the country is restricted to just the top 20 cities. Further, India has just one doctor for every 1000 people.
The report highlights another data point of interest – India is ranked among the top five countries for search engine results related to ‘mobile health,’ ‘health apps,’ ‘medical apps,’ and ‘mHealth.’ Health apps can help to bring down costs and increase access to healthcare providers, and as Alekhya Boora explains, the growth of this trend is already well under way.
India’s healthcare crisis breeds opportunity for health apps
Boora is the Co-founder of personal health management app Ripsey. She explains that the focus on preventative healthcare, which boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic, has increased significantly enough for the healthtech industry to take note.
“If you look at the demographics, and the kind of disease maps that we have in India, over 51% of population is either diagnosed already or at a higher risk for lifestyle diseases,” she says. “A lot of times it’s easy to prevent something from happening, and most people are actually understanding this way better than they did two years ago.”
This increasing attention to managing one’s health proactively has built up the market for health apps in India.
Healthcare apps, valued at INR 27 billion in 2018, were expected to grow at 31.6% until 2024, which in itself is a steep growth rate. Come national lockdowns, there was a spike in the usage of health and fitness mobile apps in the very first week. Worldwide, the number of medical apps downloaded grew by 65% after the onset of the pandemic. In India, it grew by 90%, second only to South Korea.
That lifestyle diseases have been on a rising trend in India over the past year only makes a stronger case for app-based health management in India. Ripsey is placing its bets.
Getting started with Ripsey
Ripsey is a personalized health management app that aims to help users manage their lifestyle and existing or potential lifestyle diseases. The app uses user information, knowledge engineering, adaptive logic, and AI to provide personalized health plans to users based on factors related to their lifestyle, health, diagnostic profiles, and external environment.
The company was incorporated in 2018 with Boora and second-time entrepreneur Silky Singh as co-founders. An experience with a uterine growth prompted Singh to start Ripsey. Boora, who was previously with a New York investment bank, returned to India to do some soul-searching around the same time.
“It was a total happenstance for both of us. She was looking for a co-founder, I was just networking,” Boora says. Singh took to Boora, and Boora found herself relating to Ripsey’s mission. The two women started to consider the possibility of working together.
Seeing that their skill sets complemented each other’s, they decided to give it a month and gauge the potential of a partnership. It only took them a week, however, to realize that their relationship would work. Boora then officially joined Ripsey.
Building the app
Singh kickstarted the prototyping process soon after founding the company. Data insights from 30,000 surveys, along with the founders’ personal health experiences, were utilized to build Ripsey’s model.
One of the most important insights they gleaned through this process was a better understanding of people’s perception of weight and weight loss.
“The way people understand diet is very linear. What they fail to understand is your body is much more complex. You can’t pick the things that you want to address and forget about the remaining body that exists,” Boora says.
In its prototype days, Ripsey helped users with sustainable, healthier ways of managing their weight and health. The model focused on tracking users’ health metrics, planning a personalized nutrition and workout regime, and delivering meals to users daily.
However, localization and cultural context needed to play a role in order for the app to be successful. Many Indians, for instance, only consume meat on specific days of the week, may follow a vegetarian diet, or can be extremely selective in their choice of protein depending on their cultural context and personal preference.
This is the kind of complexity that Ripsey’s technology wants to address for its customers, so all its users can have a seamless experience of managing their lifestyle through the app, Boora says.
“Managing a disease should not be as tough as the disease itself… so the two pieces that we worked on were convenience and personalization,” she adds.
Ripsey currently focuses on clinical health, and has included diagnostics and a variety of health tracking options on the app so far, with plans to launch more features. The app recently launched on both Google Play and App Store.
Where there’s a woman founder, there’s bias
As a founder, Boora has found the journey so far to be “equal parts frustrating and exciting.” Having to repeatedly go back to the drawing board can be an exasperating process. But the process of watching Ripsey users transition from being skeptical about the app to embracing it has been invigorating, she says.
This is very typical of what founders experience in the process of building a company, with the exception of one roadblock – gender bias. On being asked if there’s gender bias within the startup community, Boora responds with an unwavering yes.
“I think it’s largely because of the financial gap between a man and a woman, that’s probably why the investor community is largely men. It’s not like they’re ridiculing us, they actually feel that they’re giving us advice,” she says.
Overall, it can take anywhere between 100 years to 257 years to close global gender gaps across different streams of activity, according to the World Economic Forum. In 2018, women founders earned 78% for every dollar invested, whereas men made only 31%. Despite this telling metric, barely 3% of VC investment in 2019 went to companies with women founders.
Boora goes on to explain what this bias looks like in practice. From facing doubts about why two women were building a company, to being asked about plans for children, to being questioned about how marriage would affect the startup they were running as single women, various aspects of her identity have been picked apart in conversations that were meant to be about her startup.
For women founders, however, giving up doesn’t just mean losing your startup. It means succumbing to the systemic sexism that has hounded the founders before them, and allowing it to continue to plague women who choose to enter the industry after them.
As a self-styled data person, Boora has a close affinity with numbers. So it comes as no surprise when she says that the way to beat the bias is through numbers. The industry needs more founders, more women in business, more professionals, and more women on boards, she says.
“If there’s ten people in a meeting, five of them are women, your voice will be louder. It’s just a numbers game.”