Taking The Patient To Hospital Safely Is A Mission For Roy & Tripathi
FOR years, calling an ambulance in India has been a painful experience for those needing emergency care and their dear ones. An eternal wait would be followed by the visit of a rickety vehicle lacking much sophistication beyond a bed and siren. Apathetic drivers on the road would ignore the vehicle as they nudge ahead in traffic jams and the golden hour would often be lost before reaching the gates of the hospital. Death would be blamed on god and everything would be back to square one. And nobody did anything about it. Until two years ago.
Then, two engineers without any knowledge of automobiles gave up their engineering careers with German firm Dragger and started selling well-equipped ambulances, in which emergency treatment could be started as soon as the patient is taken aboard. It was a new concept and hard to sell initially. But with their relentless marketing, the duo have made hospitals see the value of treatment on the go and made their startup — Aeon Medical Services — a preferred name among healthcare institutions in the country.
Ranjan Roy and Abani Tripathi, the entrepreneurs, say most ambulances in India are merely passenger transport vehicles and are inefficient in the task of handling the first hour after an emergency. “In most ambulances, there is only an oxygen mask and few other equipment which are not enough to start point of care treatment by emergency response units,” Mr Roy says. Aeon, on the other hand, buys vehicles, imports equipment from Europe and builds integrated ambulances for intensive care, trauma and cardiac care applications. A patient being taken on one of these vehicles would be getting targeted, specialised emergency treatment even in the midst of a traffic bottleneck.
“Considering the traffic situation in a city like Mumbai or Delhi, if a patient has to go from Borivli to Asian Heart Institute in Bandra, it takes at least one hour. We fit our ambulances with specialised medical equipment such as cardiac revivers and other such type of equipment as is mostly found in ambulances abroad. What this does is that it allows the emergency medical personnel to start the treatment immediately thus improving chances for survival for the patient,” says Mr Roy.
Roy and Tripathi founded the company in late 2005, tapping into a market that was largely dominated by garage owners and local mechanics. “When we entered the market, more than 60% of the industry was unorganised. Doctors and hospitals that wanted specialised ambulances, had no choice but to go to a local auto body-builder to get their medical equipment fitted in the body of a vehicle mostly, a tempo or a large-ish jeep. Moreover, the garage owner would not have much knowledge about medical standards nor were they interested about what are the medical requirements are for an emergency response vehicle. Thus providing doctors with a shabbily made vehicle,” recalls Mr Roy.
Companies such as Tata Motors, Eicher and Bajaj Tempo do offer vehicles that can be converted into ambulances, but selling fully-appointed ambulances has never attracted them as a business. That’s where the two engineers found their opportunity. The medical fraternity was on the look for standardised vehicles matching the quality of those running in the advanced world. Tripathi and Roy used their European connection from Dragger and started sourcing equipment from Italy’s Spencer. “But this was not the tough part. Since both us have biomedical background, we knew where to look for medical equipment, but knowledge about the auto industry was as good as anybody else in the country,” Mr Roy says.
Undeterred, they decided to put up a fabrication unit in Pitampur, an automobile manufacturing hub. “The decision to have a facility in Pitampur proved to a good one in the long run, as we could then source our ambulance bodies from auto sector heavyweights like Tata Motors and Eicher,” Mr Roy adds.
Aeon has already bagged many high-profile customers. Wockhardt group accounted for nearly Rs 7.5 crore in its fiscal 2006-07 revenues. Aeon also services other clients like the Apollo Hospital in Calcutta and Satyam Group’s EMRI in Andhra Pradesh. But the ride for Aeon was not always smooth for Tripathi and Roy. “Getting the right people was a big problem for us. For not only did we need people with the right skill set, we needed them to shift lock stock and barrel to Pitampur,” says Mr Roy. They recruited garage mechanics from Kolkata, Mumbai and North India and trained them.
The customers, too, needed a lot convincing for buying their products due to cheaper competition from local vendors. “We had to convince our customers really hard to buy into our vehicles despite the higher price tag,” says Mr Roy. The local vendors were able to sell at nearly half their prices.
Surprisingly, money was never a problem for these two professionals. Friends chipped in to bolster the starting capital. Aeon was started with an investment of Rs 2 crore including an equity investment of Rs 8 lakh from the promoters, while the rest being in the form of loans from financial institutions and banks. The market for specialised ambulances and medical equipment is still nascent. Mr Roy says that the market for basic life support vehicles is around 500 per year priced at Rs 15 lakh per vehicle while that for advanced life support vehicles is also 500 vehicles per year but priced at Rs 20 lakh per car. Bulk of the business for Aeon now comes, not from hospitals but from emergency service providers like EMRI and Chikitsa.
Now Roy and Tripathi want to bring disaster management portfolio under Aeon’s wings. They are also looking to scale up their pan-India presence. They plan a joint venture with an European firm to trade in medical equipment in India. “We have now trained our guns on Mumbai’s disaster management cell and other such government units across the country. The 7/11 blasts in Mumbai and tsunami in South India have made government realise how important point of care treatment is during such incidents,” says Mr Roy.
Author: Ritwik Donde is the Chief Editor in the The Economic Times, Mumbai and the article appeared in one of their successful columns on Entrepreneurship/Start-ups called "Starship Enterprise".