When you visit your doctor, their advice is personalised based on what you tell them about your condition and their analysis of your symptoms and reports. They won’t give the same advice to the next patient with the same condition. The intervention of digital tools in healthcare brings scale and efficiency that minimises the healthcare burden but lacks personalisation of care. Saathealth is building AI-powered digital tools that allow healthcare organisations to personalise the experience of healthcare workers and patients.
Using the Power of AI to Personalise Digital Healthcare
“Our hypothesis is that you can segment user profiles and build deep learning models to create deeply personal interventions for them,” explains Aakash Ganju, Co-founder and CEO, Saathealth. “We’re trying to give the right cohort the right message at the right time with the right nudges to bring about a change in their health outcomes,” adds Aditi Hazra-Ganju, Co-founder and COO, Saathealth. The startup’s products bring behaviour change nudges based on variables like geography, gender, clinical status, risk and digital phenotypes to create personal experiences for different users. “If you’re creating a digital intervention for patients with hypertension, by applying those variables, you could have more than 200 different ways of reaching them,” says Aakash.
The co-founders surveyed leading healthcare executives to understand what they think was missing from their digital health investments. Three points stood out as gaps– integration with care pathways, personalisation and real-time analytics. “They want digital tools that are better integrated with healthcare pathways because you can’t have siloed solutions. There is a need for greater personalisation because you can’t treat all patients the same, and they want insights that can change their behaviour,” says Aakash. The co-founders are excited about the changes in healthcare. “We’re sitting at the cusp of a major shift away from uni-directional healthcare to participative healthcare,” notes Aakash. “Health consumers and patients want to be a part of their provider’s decision making,” he adds.
Saathealth recently formed its first advisory board that includes global healthcare leaders from organisations like McKinsey, Johnson & Johnson and Novartis. “They are avant-garde thinkers about how healthcare needs to evolve globally,” says Aakash. The startup is part of Microsoft for Startups and Google for SDG startups. It is also one of 14 companies in India to be selected for the National Health Authority’s market access program. “We’ve just completed our second peer-reviewed publication on our AI work and hope to do two more this year,” says Aakash. The co-founders are excited about these developments that act as external validation for the work they’re doing.
Their work with the Swasth Alliance and COVID relief in India led them to work on an app that offers healthcare information in Hindi to underserved communities. The app currently focuses on COVID-related information about precautions, treatment, recovery and vaccination. “We’ll expand to other infectious diseases, NCDs, adolescent and women’s health,” says Aditi. With the free app, Saathealth aims to offer all the information an average Indian family would need to manage their health.
Running Startups and Raising Kids Together
The business partners are also life partners. While Aakash is a trained physician, Aditi is a trained clinical biochemist. The duo spent the first decade of their 20-year career working with big pharma before turning to entrepreneurship. Aditi was the first to take the plunge, followed by Aakash. “I think Aakash saw me having too much fun being my own boss,” says Aditi on Aakash’s motivation to turn entrepreneur. Two startups preceded Saathealth, and they worked in public health, technology and consumer-focused communication. The first company was a healthcare consultancy in which Aakash consulted on digital health and Aditi on clinical R&D. “We worked with some good companies within India and globally. It shaped our thinking and convinced us that eventually we want to do a product company,” says Aakash.
The couple’s entrepreneurship journey coincided with their parenting journey. While they joke that they wouldn’t try it again, they draw several parallels and learnings from the combined experience. “Like kids, startups have different needs at various stages of their growth. Sometimes they need nurturing, at other times, they require firmness. We find these similarities quite interesting,” notes Aakash. “Some life lessons we were learning as parents proved valuable for running a business. For example, empathy, having patience and letting something tide over because the time is not right,” adds Aditi.
The anxiety of paying salaries at the end of a month remains the greatest challenge of running a startup, says Aakash. Besides that, another challenge is finding the time to think strategically about the company. “The entire day is taken up by tactical tasks, responding to customers, talking to the product team and funders. You have to make an effort to step away from everything to reflect on the company’s direction,” he says. For Aditi, it’s keeping spirits up at all times. “You’re living and breathing the passion that the company stands for, but sometimes you have bad days and aren’t always in the state of mind to motivate your team with the same energy,” she says.
Looking back, if there’s anything they would do differently, Aditi says it would be to have a longer financial runway. “It’s believed that fundraising can take from six months to a year, but sometimes you’re not ready to start the process. Having more financial runway gives you the freedom to make the decision on your own time,” she notes. The best advice Aakash has received is to be mindful of whose advice he takes into account. “When you become an entrepreneur, there’s a lot of free advice. It’s well-meaning but not always from people who have skin in the game,” he says. Before taking someone’s advice, Aakash believes it’s vital to ensure they understand what it means to be an entrepreneur. “The priorities and choices you have to make as entrepreneurs are completely different from those we made when we had jobs,” he adds.
Advice to Entrepreneurs and Partnering With Galen Growth
Between parenting and running startups, the couple unwinds in opposite ways. While Aakash needs time alone, Aditi enjoys the company of people. Apart from catching up with friends and family, she likes singing and often jams with her older son. Aakash prefers to catch up on reading which allows him to zone out. Before he became an entrepreneur, he devoured business books but avoids them now. He recommends that aspiring entrepreneurs find their inspiration from non-business books. “There’s a lot to learn from history, anthropology and the arts. It pushes you to think laterally,” he says. Currently, he enjoys reading history. “I’m amazed that almost everything we do now, people have done before in some form.”
Aakash advises aspiring entrepreneurs to understand what they’re signing up for because it can be a lonely journey. “You don’t have a boss with whom you review goals every quarter, so you need to be able to validate and know your markers because you don’t get external validation,” he notes. One has to be opportunistic as an entrepreneur, but one has to be wise too. “It’s important to be clear from the beginning what you will say no to because you could sign up for things you didn’t want to,” says Aakash. “You won’t get it right every time, and you will evolve, but you must have that honest conversation with yourself,” he adds.
The entrepreneurs appreciate how the Galen Growth HealthTech Cohort springboards opportunities and accelerates the journey for startups. “We spend all our time looking inwards and at our customers. We don’t get the chance to look at people we want to reach out to,” notes Aakash. “It’s fantastic to be a part of Galen Growth and get the visibility, ecosystem exposure, potential customers and funding networks,” he adds. “It has opened some conversations for us in Southeast Asia, which may not have been possible otherwise.” Thrilled by the COVID-led digital innovations in healthcare, Aakash signs off with an appeal for digital health entrepreneurs. “Don’t let the world regress to pre-COVID healthcare delivery,” he says.
About Galen Growth’s 2021 HealthTech Cohort
Saathealth is part of the Galen Growth 2021 HealthTech Cohort, the only acceleration programme built to scale digital health startups to be the next generation powering healthcare innovation across the globe. For more information, visit Galen Growth’s HealthTech Cohort webpage or read this article on the launch of the Galen Growth’s 2021 HealthTech Cohort.