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Siraj Dhanani: Achieving Dreams through Disruptive Innovation

Siraj Dhanani InnAccel Technologies.
Siraj Dhanani, Founder and CEO, InnAccel Technologies

The devastating waves of COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the needs and importance of the healthcare sector. There was a major gap between demand and supply of medical devices. From ventilators to oximeters, the medical field suffered to the shortfall of such devices. MedTech companies too suffered through the overloading demands for their products.

While adapting to this situation was a mammoth task, MedTech companies overcame and dominated the battle, and InnAccel Technologies is a prime example of this phenomenon.

In the following interview, Siraj Dhanani, the founder and CEO of InnAccel Technologies, shares his valuable insights into the industry and the prevalent challenges.

Let’s go through the following interview and read how this journey unfolds.

Give us a brief overview of your journey as the Founder and CEO of InnAccel Technologies.

InnAccel was conceptualised as a medical technology innovation hub in 2012 and began developing new product technologies in 2014. The journey started when I met and partnered with Mr. Vijayarajan, a veteran in the Indian MedTech industry, to create a new kind of medical technology company – one focused on ‘disruptive innovation’ as opposed to incremental innovation. The team grew over time to 30 members today and was focused on new technology creation and product engineering for the first 5 years.

In 2019, we launched our suite of technologies in the critical care, and maternal & child health spaces. As co-Founders, Mr.Vijayarajan and I donned a number of different hats through the journey – from recruitment and team building, to managing engineering projects in time and within budget, to raising capital to fund projects, and now commercialising our technologies in India and globally.

Tell us more about InnAccel, its vision, and the key aspects of its stronghold in the MedTech space.

InnAccel has a simple, but audacious, vision – to be the world leader in innovative medical technologies specifically for India and global emerging markets. We aim to achieve this vision through disruptive innovation, i.e., developing novel, patented technologies that create new markets, as opposed to incremental innovation, i.e., innovation that improves on existing technologies to compete in existing markets.

We believe we are the only group in India systematically pursuing such innovation across multiple medical specialities. This is the core differentiator that sets InnAccel apart from other players in this field. Our hope is that this will help us create impact at a larger scale, in terms of saving lives.

From a business leadership perspective, what is your opinion on the impact of the current pandemic on the healthcare sector?

The current pandemic truly has been a ‘black swan’ event for businesses and has demanded both clarity and agility on the part of business leaders. Many MedTech companies have been badly hit if their products were not related to COVID care and has necessitated drastic measures such as layoffs. Some organisations have been able to pivot and convert this tragedy into an opportunity.

At InnAccel, we had just launched our portfolio of novel technologies (non-COVID) when the pandemic hit – and we were badly impacted as the focus shifted entirely to Covid. Fortunately, the team rose to the occasion, and during the first lockdown, developed two products for the respiratory care of Covid patients. Due to this, we were able to contribute to fighting this tragedy, and generate revenues to keep InnAccel going without any layoffs.

What is your opinion on the necessity for healthcare companies to align their offerings with modern technological developments, especially when it comes to catering to the ever-evolving patient needs and preferences?

Healthcare companies do not have an option but to get aligned with current technological trends, or risk getting left behind as patients grow more savvy, and demand more from their healthcare provider.

What efforts did you take during the pandemic to sustain operations and ensure safety of your team at the same time?

At InnAccel, every team member knew that this was a make-or-break event for the company and responded accordingly. We kept operations running throughout the first lockdown, obtained permission from authorities to travel and keep the office open, and our administrative staff ensured that the premises were sanitised, and team-members were regularly tested, and asked to work from home if they had any symptoms.

InnAccel also purchased Covid health insurance cover for all team-members, and reimbursed vaccination costs for all team-members. On a lighter note, people with cars drew up route maps they would take to pick up other team-members, and effectively ran a bus service to ensure everybody got to where they needed to be, for their work.

As a result, the entire team was engaged throughout the first wave (March to Sept 2020), developed, and launched two products in August 2020, and we kept the company thriving without any layoffs. In fact, far from pay cuts or layoffs, we gave out the largest pay raises in our history in 2021 – as a humble acknowledgement of the team’s terrific efforts in together converting this crisis into an opportunity.

If given a chance, what is the one thing that you would change about the MedTech space in India?

That’s a tough one – as there are so many things that need to change if India is to attain its rightful spot as the medical innovation hub for global emerging markets. But if there is only one thing that I could change, it would be related to procurement in the public healthcare system.

State and Central Governments should have a small component of their budget earmarked for ‘indigenous innovation’. This budget can be spent only for procuring novel technologies that have been identified as global innovations developed in India.

This would ensure that a limited, early adopter market is available for innovators – and will spur critical elements of the ecosystem to come together and innovate. For example, if Rs.1000 crore (less than 1% of public healthcare spend) is earmarked annually for purchase of indigenous innovation, innovators, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists, all would focus on creating IP and novel technologies to tap into this large, guaranteed, pool of funds. Just this one change, if implemented, can completely transform the MedTech innovation space in India.

As an established industry leader, what would be your advice to the budding entrepreneurs and enthusiasts aspiring to venture into the MedTech industry?

Firstly, I would say, be prepared for a long haul. MedTech innovation, if done right, will take you 4-5 years to develop a world-class product and get it through global certifications, and another 3-5 years to establish even a limited market presence and generate cash flows. So, this is a 7–10-year play if things go right.

On a related note, be clear about your budget and sources of funds. In my experience, it will take anywhere from Rs.5-25 crores to develop a MedTech asset with novel technology – there are only a few players in India willing to fund development expenses to that level. Find them and start talking to them.

Finally, be as close to your customer and care setting (that your new technology will operate in) all throughout the product development process. At InnAccel, we spend 6-9 months in hospitals in specific departments to gain a deep understanding of how things work, and the clinical problems that could be solved with new technology. Only after this research, we select a problem to solve, and initiate a new project (with allocated time and budget) to create a novel technology solution to the problem.

How do you envision on further strengthening InnAccel’s stronghold in 2021?

2021 is shaping up to be a transformational year for InnAccel. We are in discussions with several industry leaders for commercial partnerships on our products. Such partnerships will bring us the scale, resources, and expertise for successful commercialisation of our technologies, both in India, and beyond.

We are also continuing our product development activities, to enhance our existing portfolio, and initiate work on new problem areas. By 2025, we are targeting commercial success (through partnerships) of our current portfolio of products, as well as commercial launch of our next set of novel technologies.

If we achieve these goals, we would have cemented our position as the leader in MedTech innovation for India. But I would like to clarify, we have no intention of ‘capturing’ the innovation space. There is so much scope for MedTech innovation here that 10 InnAccels cannot do it justice.

So, I would say the best measure of our success would be 10 or 20 similar companies (with much better funding and resources) coming up to tap the opportunity we have identified, and hopefully some of them will do even better, and save even more lives, than InnAccel. As we love saying at InnAccel, let a thousand innovations bloom!



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