Search for the Indian Healthcare Unicorn

There are more than 20,000 registered startups in India. While Fintech and e-commerce dominate the space, there is an increasing number of startups emerging in the healthcare space. Today organizations like Practo and Portea have become the poster children for healthcare space.

While the focus is on funding, in my opinion, what startups need is guidance and mentorship. In this context, I am delighted by the progress made by the Philips HealthWorks. Philips set up the HealthWorks Breakthrough program to identify bright innovators in the healthcare space. The program is a 12-week intensive program, helping startups build, test, de-risk, and scale their ideas and bring them to the market.

The first cohort was set up in Cambridge in Boston Area in the US and the second one is in Bangalore, India. There are plans to set up cohorts in Hamburg (Germany), Eindhoven (Netherlands) and Shanghai (China). In the first cohort that was showcased yesterday at the Philips Innovation Campus (PIC) in Nagawara in Bangalore. These were Niramai, an analytics startup working in the breast cancer detection space; Parentlane, focused on holistic child growth; Theranosis focused on liquid biopsy and Touchkin on the mental health space.

I had the opportunity to speak to Theranosis founder Dr Shibi Kannan, who has previously worked at MD Anderson. He explained the three ways of collecting Liquid Biopsy; Cell-based, DNA Based and RNA Based. What is interesting about the startup is that they have a hardware that serves as an analyzer and is available for free to labs. The labs then only have to buy the diagnostic strips from them.

The other startup that impressed me was Parentlane, working with the in the child growth and development space. They have collected more than 1.2 million data points across 55, 000 children to assess their growth and development. CEO Vijay Anand and the team are confident of impacting prevention and intervention in children that would need so as they grow and develop.

Later that afternoon I spent some time talking to PIC CEO Srinivas Prasad over lunch. Prasad told me that the objective of the Breakthrough Cohort was to identify that one startup that makes an impact.

“We are not here to incubate many startups, we are here to focus on a few and help identify that one Unicorn among healthcare startups that makes a difference to people and patients,” Says Srinivas Prasad CEO Philips Innovation Campus.

When I asked him about the big differentiators that the Philips HealthWorks Breakthrough program brings to the startups, he listed the following

  • Global Perspective- Prasad believes through the problems that we are trying to solve are local, still the startups need to have a global perspective. It is important to know and understand what is being done globally to solve certain problems and how to apply that to the Indian context. Philips gives that perspectives to the startups
  • Scale- For startups to succeed they would need scale. It is important that these entrepreneurs understand how to take their ventures to the next level
  • Success in business- For the venture to succeed the third important ingredient is the ability to communicate to the entire ecosystem. Philips has done that over 125 years.

More than all these Philips is looking for founders with open minds. Fixed mindsets are not helpful to the growth and development of ventures in the Breakthrough program reckons Prasad. I figured out a few more interesting things about the program

  • Philips does not take any stake in the startups
  • Philips does not mandate using any specific platform including their own
  • All these startups become the global alumni for the Breakthrough program
  • This is almost like a partnership that may or may not extend beyond the 12 weeks
  • Philips invests in the space, technology, time with senior executives, sales teams and exposure to care providers with who Philips has relationships

The last point is significant. For example with Theranosis wanted something built leveraging Nano Technology, it was Philips that put them in touch with the Nano Technology Department ay IISC Bangalore. So helping startups navigate the ecosystem is the key. What is interesting is that all three startups are in the AI space and Philips just unveiled their AI Platform some time ago. So it seems like a strategic fit.


There were 600 startups that were evaluated and finally 4 were chosen. To know more about Philips HealthWorks click here. If you are ambitious and passionate about solving the healthcare problems in India, do consider applying for the next cohort and you never know it might just change the course of healthcare in India.

Dr. Vikram Venkateswaran

Management Thinker, Marketer, Healthcare Professional Communicator and Ideation exponent

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. SurgeryXchange

    4 out of 600 Startups is quite skewed. The problems in the Indian Healthcare delivery systems are not necessarily going to be solved by tech. Tech enablers in the system have a significant role to play. I think we are missing the game somewhere.

    1. admin

      I think the absence of protocols is the missing link. Startups will not be able to solve those problems.

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