India's Forus offers clear vision for med-tech investments

Summary:Forus Healthcare's '3nethra' device can revolutionize ophthalmology in the developing world, more proof that venture capitalists in India don't have to be frightened of tech products.

Every time I meet the head of a technology company or an entrepreneur who comes from a hardcore tech background, there is invariably the lament that no VC in India really gets, well, hardcore tech. I find this a little surprising, considering many of them boast electrical engineering degrees from the temples of science globally, like the IITs or Stanford or Carnegie Mellon.

Still, the paucity of technology product companies and the proliferation of e-commerce investments tell their own truths: That slapping money down on a company that will sell you underwear delivered to your doorstep, and making sure it's funded to the hilt so it becomes the biggest — and therefore the only viable — player in the space is far easier than investing in a tech product and making it successful.

So, it was a pleasant surprise when I recently read about Forus Healthcare raising $8 million in a Series B round. I first wrote about Forus here, in an article that explored the med-tech revolution in India, but then I learned that it was having some trouble raising money for expansion.

In short, India is a country where there are 12 million visually impaired people, 80 percent of whom could have been cured through the process of preventive screening. Now, you may think that India is a land that is a giant machine churning out doctors and engineers if you live in the West. (Fact: No it's not. It's just that they've all fled and come to where you are.) The reality is we have a 1:60,000 doctor-patient ratio in ophthalmology, which makes screening impossible.

Enter Forus' "3nethra", a rugged, low-cost portable pre-screening ophthalmology device that you can throw into your backpack and chuck onto the rooftop carrier of your car as you voyage into the hinterlands. The best part of it all: It costs a sixth of the products made by its competitors. Forus' device not only detects five of the leading causes of blindness, it also provides automated reports that flash "normal" or "need to see a doctor" statuses.

For a field that is starved of medical personnel, especially in rural areas, this is a godsend. The product is also integrated with a cloud-hosted telemedicine application called Foruscare. The company says that it has undertaken 220 installations across 14 countries so far and screened 600,000 eyes worldwide.

Now, if VCs begin to act on opportunities like this, we may just have some hope of solving some of our own problems.

Topics: Start-Ups, India


Rajiv is a journalist and filmmaker based out of New Delhi who is interested in how new technologies, innovation, and disruptive business forces are shaking things up in India. He was most recently a features editor at Business Standard newspaper, and started his career as a reporter with Fortune Magazine in New York in the '90s. He a... Full Bio

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