In conversation with Franchise India, Saarthak Bakshi, CEO, International Fertility Centre (IFC) talks about the factors that are boosting these fertility centres’ growth.
Who founded International Fertility Centre? What was the inspiration behind it?
International Fertility Centre was founded by Dr. Rita Bakshi, my mother, and me. The story behind IFC is very interesting. I was offered a graduate position at Ernst & Young immediately after my degree in computer engineering but I was always passionate for entrepreneurship. It led me to quit a comfortable job and start a gaming application enterprise with my friends. I had to shut it down because of the team’s risk averseness. I embraced failure and immediately joined Adiva, a women centric hospital co-owned by my mother. I started to manage operations at the hospital and soon became an integral part of the management. I realised that fertility is highly valued in most cultures and for women; barren hood is an emotionally devastating experience, which is considered as a stigma in the society. With profound shift in my awareness of the infertility issues, I became passionate about helping couples with infertility concerns and created a vision of at least “One Child Per Couple” (OCPC).
Adiva was a profit venture and I found it impossible to convince the stakeholders to follow the vision of OCPC. The emotional motivator of serving the society for this noble cause helped me convince my mother to open our venture named International Fertility Centre (IFC) headquartered in New Delhi. With spurring success, IFC became a renowned name in a short span of time reaching out to 1000 surrogacy patients and 4000 IVF patients since its establishment in early 2012.
Stand alone fertility centres have become a widespread phenomenon these day. What is the reason behind it? What are the factors that are boosting its growth?
Infertility is becoming a very common phenomenon these days. This is the prime reason behind the flourishing fertility centres in every corner of the world. With the rising infertility concerns, a great need of creating more and more fertility centres is felt.
The present boom, witnessed by the IVF segment, is a result of various factors. From increasing number of infertility cases in the country, to a relatively low-cost high-end treatments that attract a lot of foreign patients, skilled doctors, plentiful supply of surrogates, increased awareness, less regulations, all these factors have contributed well to the growth of the IVF sector in India. Also, easy availability of surrogate mothers, gamete donors and low-cost infertility treatments has made India a favoured destination for reproductive medical tourism.
In India, IVF treatment is available at an affordable cost which is nearly one quarter of the cost in developed nations. Fertility clinics in developed countries like UK and Australia are finding it more and more difficult to fulfil the demand for donor eggs and hence, turning to India. Furthermore, India is also home to some of the finest international IVF centres and top-notch IVF doctors. Most of the major global IVF stakeholders have recognised the size of this opportunity, and some have already entered the market.
How do you see the consumer’s mindset changing towards fertility treatments?
Earlier, people used to resort for adoption when they were unable to have a baby of their own. With the inception of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), people were introduced to ART treatments. At first, people were not much aware of how ART treatments work and how successful it is and believed that they can afford it. However, as years passed, Assisted Reproductive Technology gained popularity worldwide. Now it is gradually becoming a more preferred option for couples. Also there are varied treatment packages available in the market that is affordable for everyone. Growing awareness of people along with an increasing progressive shift in their mindset have also led to ART treatments become a popular choice.
Typically, what are the challenges faced in expanding a healthcare centre like yours? What strategies do you adopt to take care of these challenges?
One of the main challenges in setting IFC centre is the technicalities of the subject which is sensitive and has emotional and physiological effects. To overcome this we have spent laborious months and years in research, understanding best practices prevalent across countries, travelled destinations to secure best infrastructure and hire a talent pool that commands in depth knowledge and experience in treating the subject. Average IVF success rate across the world is between 30-40 per cent and we at international Fertility Centre (IFC) manage to keep the success rate more than 50 per cent. This is primarily because of our focus on creating the best IVF labs by procuring the most advanced technology and ensuring the best clinicians and embryologists.
Another challenge was scaling up. Each centre requires a minimum investment of one crore and with no external funding, it was a daunting task for me to think about replicating IFC centres in other locations. As a strategic move we started partnering with hospitals and widened out network. Hospitals started to outsource the entire IVF wing to us. As a result I was able to cut my establishment costs to half and expanded much faster than expected. Now, IFC has around 14 centers across North India and Nepal.
Why have you chosen franchising for expanding your centre?
Franchising will help us in expanding fast and in penetrating local markets. Additionally, it will also help us replicate our already successful business model at several other locations and create a bigger brand.
What are your plans for franchise expansion?
With the overwhelming ardour and yearning to eradicate the stigma associated with infertility in society, my immediate business vision is to launch a minimum of hundred IVF centres in the next hundred months through franchise model. The need to develop IVF centers is constant, irrespective of the terrains. We aim to transform this need into a success reality for as many people as we can. Headed towards this expansion, we aim to target large sections of society and provide the best treatment with success rates escalating with each new treatment.
Additionally, I plan to forge partnerships with bigger and more qualified organisations, explore international funding opportunities and create a multinational culture within the organisation. Later I will diversify into newer geographical areas such as Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia and then enter developed countries in the West. I will also explore avenues of moving into other functional areas that can be added to IFCs portfolio. I aim to diversify into genetic labs. Genetic diseases are in-borne and cannot be cured but they can always be prevented with timely detection. Therefore, we will employ the best Genetics Facility to ensure that we prevent the birth of an anomalous child, repeated miscarriages and repeated IVF failures. Such a diversification is lucrative from both the business growth perspective and the social perspective.
We also have our own training arm by the name of International Institute of Reproduction & Fertility Training (IIRFT) to deliver high-quality expertise and competitive hands-on learning to doctors, embryologists, paramedics and fertility nurses in the field of fertility. IIRFT has successfully trained over 500 candidates till now. I wish to expand it further and create a chain of these educational institutes.