The covid-19 pandemic has pushed people to be more health conscious, especially when it comes to lifestyle diseases that require constant monitoring. Tapping into this segment, is Bengaluru-based medical device startup Inito. Founded in 2015, by IIT Roorkee alumnus, Aayush Rai and IIT Madras alum, Varun AV, the duo have built a technology that allows a single device to do dozens of diagnostic tests at home, a product which may see many takers as Covid-19 continues to rage and people prefer to stay at home. Currently, the startup that has received $4 million in funding and has its fertility home test in the market.
The Y Combinator-backed startup’s co-founder Rai, talks to Forbes India about the dire need for monitoring one’s health and the challenges of catering to a rise in demand during the pandemic. Edited excerpts:
To what extent has demand for health monitoring devices increased due to the pandemic?
Lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, cholesterol, thyroid or fertility issues need constant monitoring and you are on some form of medication throughout your life. But our healthcare system is not designed to have continuous interaction with the patient. You visit a doctor for a consultation and then get need to get tests done over and over again at periodic intervals. The whole idea is to have a single device that can let you do multiple diagnostic tests, sitting at home.
The pandemic is not just about testing for Covid-19, it is also ensuring that people who have other lifestyle diseases don’t need to go to the lab for tests and can stay safely at home. The number of tests taken per user has gone up by about 30 percent due to the pandemic. Although supply chain has been an issue for us and things are getting streamlined now, demand is through the roof.
How does the device work?
Our first fertility hormone test for couples trying to conceive comes with the device with 10 test strips and a mobile phone application. One has to dip the test strip in urine, close the cap, connect the oval-shaped device to the phone and then slot in the test strip. You get the results within five minutes.
The single device—which costs Rs 3,199—allows one to do dozens of diagnostic tests by changing only the test strips and the mobile application, depending on the disease that is to be tested. We have a 99.12 percent accuracy as compared to a lab device which costs $5,000 per piece, and we are 100th the price.
What makes Inito’s fertility test stand out from the other ovulation kits available in the market?
Our test measures two hormones instead of one, which allows them to get the full fertile window. Another benefit is that we are a digital test; whereas with the others, you have to read a line, so it’s a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ test. Since everyone’s hormone levels are different, you need to measure value. The application also tells you when to take the test. But the primary thing is, because we combine the data across different days and an actual value rather than only a yes and no, we are way more accurate than anything else.
To what extent was your business affected with the onset of Covid-19 lockdown?
We couldn’t ship for the first 35-40 days and then we finally got permission, being a medical devices manufacturing company. The day we opened sales, we registered 2x sales in the number of strips sold, our peak, in a matter of two hours, since people were waiting for refills.
Secondly, imports were a big problem. Although a majority of our parts are from India, there are still some—less than 10-15 percent—products that you need to get from outside India, since there are only two-three people in the world making it. We faced a lot of issues to import, because customs were not operating at full capacity and flights were not coming in.
At this point, labour is a big issue. A lot of the labour in manufacturing has gone back to their hometowns and, in fact, labour prices have gone up by 60-70 percent during the pandemic. Even now, we are holding back our marketing to ensure that our supply chain is fully fixed. However, our customer acquisition costs have come down over 40 percent. People in general have been more focussed on healthcare education and we have also changed our marketing strategy to be more educated in nature.
The perception is often that ‘made in India’ raw materials might not be upto the mark. Your thoughts?
Everything that we’ve built from the chemistry to the software has been built completely from India, barring a couple of parts that aren’t available in India and need to be imported. Our product meets all the global manufacturing standards of the FDA and ISO 13485.
It’s not just about what you can get here, but also getting expertise in every area, we feel that getting that [expertise] is a harder problem. It was very hard to manufacture our now-patented optical components because nobody knew how to get the specifications right in terms of production. For this particular area, we get consultants from Germany and Japan—experts in the field—to help us with that. In fact, that allowed us to ramp up a lot of Indian supply because we discovered that a lot of Indian vendors really wanted to make good stuff, but they didn’t know how to. With these consultants, we could bring in that expertise and get our Indian vendors up to speed.
What are your future growth plans?
We are expanding our portfolio to include tests for Thyroid, Vitamin D, and Hemoglobin A1c, some of which should be in the market by mid next year. We are also working on something specifically to help with Covid-19, but it’s still a work-in-progress.
Our focus is now on going global, so we are working towards getting our US FDA validations and very soon we will be launching in the US.