Interview with Greeshma – COO of MedPrime Technologies

Young entrepreneurs are the economic lifeline of every country. They are agile and geared up to succeed at every cost, no matter the challenges. No wonder the world looks up to Indian entrepreneurs today!

Greeshma Unnikrishnan, Chief Operating Officer, and Co-Founder, MedPrime Technologies, is one such dynamic first-generation visionary entrepreneur who continues to contribute positively and help the company grow by leaps and bounds by the year.

She is one of MedPrime’s driving forces who fosters its progress through our domain expertise, operational acumen and client-centric approach.

Read more as Greeshma shares insights and discusses various aspects of her business and leadership styles in this interview.

How and when did you incept MedPrime?

We (Samrat, Mahesh, Binil, and I) found MedPrime while studying in the first year of our master’s in biomedical engineering at IIT Mumbai. But for me, in particular, being an entrepreneur was never on the list. It was neither plan A nor plan B.

So yes, you can say it was unplanned for me at least, and just happened. I attribute my journey to Samrat who encouraged me to become an entrepreneur, contribute better and become an employment generator rather than someone who asks for it.

I could sense some risk in it. But I decided to give it a try. It was also because IIT Mumbai had introduced a placement deferral program. It allowed only 12 students across the university to defer the placement for two years, venture outside to try something new and return to seek placement if the endeavor failed for some reason.

What does MedPrime do?

MedPrime Technologies is a medical device company committed and dedicated to developing the best, customer-centric solutions for global healthcare needs. We are a value-driven company that places innovation, quality, and affordability at the center of everything. Our aim is to contribute positively to the world’s healthcare system through efficient and technology-driven medical devices.

Our core focus area is microscopy and diagnostics. Microscope plays a significant role in analyzing all biological samples, for instance, blood, urine, tissue, semen, stool, etc. Since it deals with a critical aspect – human health, microscopic accuracy is pivotal in everything that follows, including diagnosis and treatment. This is where we come into the picture!

In India, microscopy is still conventional. So, at the outset, there’s a need to digitize microscopy and expedite aspects like information sharing. Besides, in India, you’d be surprised to know that there are only 10,000 registered pathologists!

In distant or remote places like the Indo-China border or tribal districts of Maharashtra like Gadchiroli, etc., even a malaria test can take up to seven to ten days!  

It is because, with conventional microscopy, you need to physically transfer the sample to the nearest hospital with the required diagnostic facilities.

Since basic transportation also is a challenge in such places, you can only imagine the hardships the pathologists and patients go through. Diseases like malaria if not diagnosed and treated within 24 hours may even turn fatal!

But digital microscopy resolves many of these concerns. It allows a rural pathologist or a lab technician to digitally share the image of a sample with a specialist in any part of the world and receive their diagnosis and analysis in a few hours.

Additionally, digital microscopes armed with AI/ML capabilities can assist in analysis and simplify and expedite significantly, thus further reducing the wait time.

Our product CILIKA Digital Microscopes serves these needs. It exemplifies digital capabilities, including an ergonomic design, portability, the patented TrueView technology, digital sharing, etc. We’ve done more than 800 installations across 22 states in India and have ventured overseas with installations in Oman and Brazil as well.

But we haven’t stopped. In fact, we cannot. As we believe in constant innovation, we ensure our range of products undergoes continuous evolution and improvements to integrate many other functionalities like automation and contribute positively to microscopy worldwide. We are working on it and you’ll soon see it become the buzz.

How is CILIKA Microscope different?

The most striking feature making CILIKA different from others is that it aims to completely replace traditional microscopes. So yes, it is disruptive to an extent. It is innovative and offers a plethora of features, which I mentioned earlier.

Besides, when someone says digital microscopes, usually they mean a camera is installed on top of a conventional microscope and connected to a computer. But you cannot call such an arrangement a digital microscope, as it has several limitations or constraints like the area the camera can capture, whether it is a wireless or wired connection, as in most cases, there’s a certain lag in reflecting the image on the screen. So, it isn’t suitable for daily reporting, as it is time-consuming.

But CILIKA is an out-and-out digital microscope, as we’ve redesigned the optical system of the microscope itself to integrate it with a phone or a tablet. The phone’s camera or tablet directly looks into the microscope so that the image is relayed on the screen in real-time. Besides, it is designed to provide a comprehensive view of the sample.

CILIKA has been able to replace traditional microscopy with a digital one in the realm of routine reporting. Here, we might not have any peers. But if you still ask me about competitors, I’d say companies manufacturing traditional microscopes are the ones.

How did you raise funds for this unique idea of yours?

The first round of investment happened during the IIT E-Summit, where we won a cash prize of rupees three lakhs. Being IITians really helped us, as IIT gives you numerous opportunities to participate in such contests and events. Although you wouldn’t raise enough money to sustain, you can at least fuel activities like research with the smaller sums you raise through such events. Initially, we participated in such events but then moved to the bigger ones, where we secured larger amounts for our venture. Some investments came in from my friends and family members as well. SINE, the business incubator at IIT-B has also played a huge role in supporting us through the early days, both through funding, as well as providing us subsidized office space and networking with industry and investors.

It was only in 2017 that we actually earned some revenue by selling the product and government grants for various activities like research and development.

We did our first external round of investment somewhere in mid-2021. We presented ourselves to a group of investors, including Social Alpha, who became our lead investor.

So, all in all, bringing in investments wasn’t as straightforward or breezy for us. Every investor looks for something substantial to write a check for you. But we did not have anything to show initially, apart from our research.

Besides, we were a medical device manufacturing company for investors. Also, our product, Cilika, being a capital equipment didn’t have much scope for repeat customers unlike software products and websites that were flooding the market at the time. It is a microscope that people would buy once and wouldn’t need another for at least the next three to five years!

Additionally, the R&D and manufacturing were supposed to take time. So, it was challenging for an investor to wait for as long and see their investment fetching tangible returns. So, we struggled as much as most other startups with a niche idea do. But we kept cutting through every challenge.

What was MedPrime’s first product?

Today, we’ve focused our energies and resources on developing digital microscopes. But in 2014, when we started our journey, our first product was an IV (Intravenous) monitor. Usually, when a patient is on a drip, the nurse asks the patient or their relatives to monitor the flow and call them once it stops to avoid air bubbles entering the veins or blood flowing back into the tube. So, we manufactured a monitor that would monitor the fluid level and stop once complete.

But we did not continue with the product for long and pivoted to digital microscopes instead considering its enormous potential and need in the market.

What are the various challenges you faced while growing MedPrime?

We are a hardware company manufacturing a physical product. It isn’t a software product you can sell online or a virtual solution with a key, activating which enables the user to use the product. It is a physical product that demands an extensive network of resources, including everyone from raw material suppliers and component manufacturers to distributers and shipping partners. Besides, we faced various logistical challenges, especially while transporting our products to distant states or regions.

Of course, we did not face anything that was not addressable. But we faced many unique challenges, making our way through that proved genuinely daunting.

What is your advice to new entrepreneurs?

There’s so much. But I’d cut it short and advise new entrepreneurs to focus on more market needs and requirements and identify their customer needs and the value they expect to simplify the product design and development process, minimize the number of iterations and deliver more value.

What is your vision for MedPrime technologies?

Our goal is to integrate automation and AI in digital microscopy in order to increase accessibility and accuracy of diagnostic services. We are coming up with another product, Micalys, which is a more automated multifunctional digital microscopy platform. This product is meant for use in diagnostic labs and hospitals, and will be made available in a rental model in order to be affordable to even small standalone labs.

We see ourselves as an integral part of every lab in India, with everything we have, including our microscopes, technology, sample analysis, etc. So, in the next ten years, we envision our presence in every lab, whether it is through our microscope or our technology, we aim to be there in some form serving and making things better for you!

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