Entrepreneurs and tech startups in the healthcare space in Asia have not raised as much funding as consumer and internet startups in the last two years of easy money.
But that might be changing as startups get about solving everyday problems in the region.
In India, a big problem is finding the right doctor, because government healthcare centres are over-crowded and poorly serviced, while private healthcare is expensive for the majority of people who earn less than $2 a day.
China’s population is not as poor, thanks to two decades of economic growth, but still has too few doctors for its huge population. Users, particularly in smaller towns, are busy downloading apps that make it easier for them to find good doctors, and book appointments. Huangzhou-based Guahao Technology Co. makes two apps that do exactly that, and are very popular. The company raised $394 million, the biggest round for a healthcare startup in the region last year. Healthcare startups in China have raised the highest cumulative funding in Asia.
A similar app in India, Practo, raised the highest among healthcare startups in the nation, and is now expanding to other countries. The market for such apps is huge, because of the large populations that need quality healthcare.
Other apps that have raised funding rounds above $100 million include Lamabang, made by Shenzhen Wangzhi Technology Co., which is an app for mothers. Moms can share parenting tips, as well as talk about food and fashion in dedicated communities in the app.
Then there are exceptions, such as startups engaged in advancement of healthcare technology. For instance, Singapore-based TauRx Pharmaceuticals, a spin-off from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, aims to develop new treatments for a range of neuro-degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. The company’s aggregation inhibitor, which targets abnormal fibers of tau protein that form inside nerve cells in the brain, is now in global phase 3 trials. The company raised $177 million in funding, the highest in Southeast Asia.
China-based Yuwell, a medical devices and equipment manufacturer, has also raised more than a hundred million dollars, by focussing on devices like electronic blood-pressure and temperature readers. Other innovative apps are AliveCor, which uses a tablet to instantly detect serious heart conditions, and iRhythm, which uploads heart rhythm data to the cloud for sharing with doctors.
In India, Portea leads the race in the home healthcare space, which entails general healthcare, post-hospitalization care, chronic disease management, besides allied services such as renting out diagnostics and medical equipment.
A huge increase in the usage of smartphones, particularly in India and China, has empowered the middle class to access such apps to solve some parts of the healthcare problem. As they use apps more often, startups are able to generate more data on patients, which in turn helps them design better products.
Going forward, healthcare startups that generate and analyse big data will be attractive opportunities for investors. Data is changing healthcare, by improving clinical intelligence by combing through vast amounts of data. As users become more conscious of how to stay healthy for long, and earn higher salaries, both health and wellness app have a huge market to tap.
The common thread running through all apps is that they are affordable and provide easy accessibility to experts. For Asian markets outside of Japan, these attributes will continue to draw funding, even though investors are being more cautious than they were in the last two years. And Chinese startups, that have cumulatively raised the largest amounts of funding, will continue to be strongly positioned for growth.