We love pioneering entrepreneurs. Sylvana is working on upgrading the healthcare system in Bangladesh. Wonderful, inspiring story!
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start with some background about your own journey. How did you get going with Praava Health?
Sylvana Sinha: I was born and raised in the United States, but my family is originally from Bangladesh. I’m a lawyer by training. I’ve worked in international law and development, mainly at big law firms in New York. I also spent some time in management consulting. I’ve had some amazing experiences in my life and career. I was about 10 years out of graduate school and had been visiting Bangladesh for a family wedding when my mom was hospitalized for an appendectomy.
It was an extremely eye-opening and a jarring experience. The surgery had all kinds of complications. We ended up having to airlift her to Bangkok where she had her second surgery. A year later, she had a third surgery in the United States. As someone who would work in emerging markets, it struck me that despite the tremendous progress, there is really no amount of money that can get you quality healthcare.
This is a country of 170 million people with a robust 40 million middle class. I was not a healthcare person but fell in love with the problem and started thinking if there was anything I can do to influence change. That was almost eight years ago.
Sramana Mitra: In that quest, what did you learn and where did you decide to position your venture?
Sylvana Sinha: I really enjoyed that first year. I went on a listening tour. I spent a lot of time in Bangladesh. I just tried to ask people what are the biggest challenges in the healthcare system in Bangladesh. I also spent a lot of time globally. I spent a lot of time in India and elsewhere in Asia. On social development indicators, Bangladesh is doing better than any other country in the region. There are models in the public sector that we can learn from.
Around this time, this was 2014, everyone was obsessed with people building Uber of things. A lot of people said to me, “Why don’t you build Uber for healthcare?” It struck me that that works when you have the underlying infrastructure, but, in Bangladesh, we don’t have the underlying infrastructure.
Sramana Mitra: Not only that, I don’t think Uber is the right model in healthcare.
Sylvana Sinha: I agree with you, but there are those models that exist. In Bangladesh, there are only a handful of internationally-accredited labs for a country of 170 million people. 10% to 15% of drugs in the market are counterfeit. The average amount of time doctors are spending with patients is 48 seconds. It wasn’t very interesting to me to connect people to doctors who weren’t spending time with them, to labs that weren’t running tests properly, and to pharmacies that were selling them counterfeit drugs.
That’s how we decided to build click-and-brick healthcare model. We built the infrastructure and we layered it with technology. Our model is a fully-integrated outpatient care model. It’s a one-stop-shop for high-quality in-clinic and remote and virtual healthcare needs.
Sramana Mitra: How did you get this off the ground? It sounds like a capital-intensive affair.
Sylvana Sinha: That is true. I bootsrapped and self-funded for the first year. I did raise my first round of funding by the end of 2015.