It is not our skills which make us who we are, it is our choices, the experiences we get from those choices and the choices we get from those experiences.
“We prepare for entering IIT for most of our school days and once you enter IIT, it prepares you for rest of the life ahead”, says Mr. Ravi Meruva (MS/91/Ch), an alumnus who is an entrepreneur and a founder of two companies in two different continents in two diverse fields.
A renowned entrepreneur today, Ravi gives credit to the competitive environment at IIT Madras and some of his experiences from back then for having motivated him to pursue his line of work.
“The seed to start a company might have started during my masters program at IIT in 1989-1991″, recalls Ravi. “There used to be an apparatus called Rotovap, which was a must have for every doctorate student in Organic chemistry. Since it was an expensive apparatus and had to be imported, one Rotovap was shared by as many as 6 Ph.D. students. Students had to plan their research based on the calendar of Rotovap and its availability rather than when their idea was born. It was that time, we wanted to make and build apparatus, equipments, instruments to help and enhance research in India, for that matter in other developing nations. Though we never made the Rotovap, the idea to “make in India” was born, which is now part of the agenda proposed by BJP government”.
His new company Sensa Core Medical Instruments Pvt. Ltd. was founded in 2006 with the motive to make indigenously developed medical diagnostic equipment. It is credited with introducing India’s first Electrolyte analyzer, indigenously designed, developed and manufactured in Hyderabad, India. Located in Export promotion Industrial park, its world class 40,000 Sq. ft R&D and manufacturing unit is built on a beautifully landscaped 5 acre campus. Since the introduction of ST-100, Sensa Core has introduced 12 different models to cater to varied requirements by different diagnostics and hospitals. Sensa Core’s flagship Ion-Selective electrodes (ISE) technology is utilized by at least 20 different branded electrolyte analyzers.
Today it has 2400 customers in 20 countries around the world and is growing at 80% annually. Sensa Core will introduce a no-coding Glucose meter with strips (currently under clinical trials) and India’s first Blood Gas/electrolyte Analyzer in 2015, a must have for every ICU (Intensive Care Unit) in hospitals.
“Every time I visited hospitals, I would see products from US, Europe, Japan and China, but I rarely found anything remotely made in India. The products might have an Indian Identity or label or brand, but the product was still imported and manufactured aboard. With 13 crore diabetic patients in India, the second largest in the world, there is not a single manufacturer of glucose meters and strips in India. Similarly, we cannot manufacture fully automated Biochemistry analyzer, Hematology Analyzer, Electrolyte analyzer, Blood gas Analyzer and other basic analyzers needed to run any diagnostic center or hospitals.”
Sensa Core’s mission to provide Hospitals, Pathological Laboratories, Pharmaceutical Research and Development Laboratories with Advanced Analytical and Diagnostics Analyzers and Hand-Held Devices, would improve Patient Outcomes and Reduce the Cost of Medical and Healthcare Services.
He explains, “Ion-Selective based electrolyte analyzers was introduced in US/Europe in 1980 and is considered gold standard for the measurement of ions in blood/serum/plasma and Urine. Since the analyzers are imported, the cost of procurement, operational costs and maintenance costs are priced out for small diagnostics centers and hospitals. Sensa Core manufactured the analyzers with 60% cost reduction in procurement and 80% reduction in operational costs to make the analyzer most affordable without any compromise in features and performance. In 2015, Sensa Core plans to introduce glucose strips at 5 rupees to the end user, in comparison to current market trend of 30 rupees per strip”.
Sensa Core expects an exponential growth rate over years due its revenue model which guarantees it a continuous stream of revenue for more than six years for every analyzer sold. When asked how, Ravi explains ” An electrolyte analyzer is a closed system and it needs reagent packs (like toner cartridge for a printer) to carry out the sample measurements and calibration of the electrodes. Once the analyzer is sold to the customer, Sensa Core derives revenue for the supply of reagent packs and electrode for the entire life of the analyzer, which is roughly six years or more. Thus, with increasing installation base, the revenue stream takes exponential growth trajectory.”
Success might be sweet, but as you all know the secret behind it has to always be sweat. Ravi too delves a bit into the challenges he faced when starting up.
Among his major challenges were the perceptions of the people in favor of foreign products. “There is not much acceptance of locally manufactured products, which makes winning credibility and gaining acceptance tough in comparison to global brands. It takes lot more convincing to change that perception” says Ravi when asked about his greatest challenge so far.
Ravi Meruva bankrolled the complete project with personal funding till the company reached positive cash flow to support its own operations and continue the research funding on its own. This was made possible as he runs a parallel venture, Iconsoft Inc. in USA, which continues to expand organically over the last 16 years. The profits made from Iconsoft are put to good use in making Sensa Core a reality without external funding. SiliconIndia, a popular Business and Technology magazine recognized Iconsoft as one of the “top 20 most promising US firms founded by an Indian”.
Ravi still fondly recalls his institute life and his experiences from back then, mainly Mardi Gras, movie rituals at OAT and rooftop parties. He also tells us with pride that a lot of his M.Sc. Chemistry (’89-’91) batch mates went on to finish their doctorate studies and are leading illustrious careers in academics, industry, regulatory (FDA), publishing and law (patents).
“For a seed to germinate, the environment needs to be conducive. Water, air, soil and sunlight needs to come in right proportions to transform the seed into a plant. Similarly, for an idea to rise from scratch to product, it needs a purpose (small picture, which every team-member understands), a vision (big picture, which your team needs to believe in), infrastructure (culmination of multiple disciplines under one roof: mechanical, chemistry, electrical, electronics & embedded software), a persuasive mindset (one who thinks beyond 8 am to 5 pm) and above all, finance.” It would do a world of good for budding entrepreneurs to remember these words from a veteran…