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Big Idea

Lifesavers on call
After establishing its footprint across India, MUrgency is hoping to take its emergency medical response network global

Shilpa Elizabeth Abraham

MUrgency, in that moment, was like god to me! They saved my father!”- Sweta Mangal clearly remember the words from a lady who had called to thank Mangal’s  startup for saving her father’s life with timely assistance. In the midst of Mumbai’s peak hour traffic, her father had a heart attack and in a state of complete panic and confusion she decided to call 9111891118 — to reach the call centre of MUrgency, an emergency response service. While the ambulance was on its way, MUrgency’s doctor guided her on what needed to be done till they reached the hospital and thanks to their instructions, her dad survived.

Mangal and her team have gone through several such moments. An early morning call from a man to thank them for saving his father by sending an ambulance in 6 minutes, a 7 year old girl who was airlifted from Mumbai to Delhi within 2 hours of a head injury..it goes on. According to Mangal, responding to any emergency is not just about sending an ambulance, but also about getting them through the whole emergency situation till the time the ambulance reaches the hospital and the patient is stable. MUrgency Inc, founded in 2014 by Mangal and her friend Shaffi Mather, is all of this. “In an emergency, people don’t understand what needs to be done. Most people don’t wait for any assistance and in a state of panic, might not take the right decision. Hence, patients don’t get the necessary immediate medical attention and lives are lost because of that,” explains Mangal; MUrgency’s work has saved innumerable lives.

Step one
In 2002 MUrgency’s co-founder Mather faced a medical emergency and his mother had to be rushed to the hospital in the back of a car. Recognising that India lacked a medical response infrastructure and helpline like 911 in US or 112 in Europe, he knew there was an opportunity to establish a similar reliable and financially sustainable emergency medical response system in India. In 2004, along with Mangal and three other friends, he launched Ziqitza Healthcare, an ambulance company that clocks a turnover of 350 crore today.

At Ziqitza Healthcare, Mangal was the CEO for about eight years. In 12 years, they had an ambulance fleet of around 3,400, however it proved to be a capital-intensive business with each ambulance costing around 20 lakh. Meanwhile, Ziqitza also started working with the government to provide ambulances at 108, but providing subsidies proved to be a challenge. “After 12 years of work in the space, I realised that while we contributed a lot by providing emergency medical transport to more than 7 million patients in India through Ziqizta. 90% of  the world’s population did not have access to reliable emergency medical response infrastructure,” says Mather, who took a sabbatical and joined Stanford ChangeLabs in Silicon Valley where the concept of MUrgency—one global emergency response network took shape. This idea to aggregate available medical resources to provide an emergency response service seemed more scalable and had greater growth potential. Hence, three years ago, Mangal stepped out of Ziqizta to start MUrgency, which provides emergency responses to patients at the click of a button.  

The co-founders wanted MUrgency to be a global initiative, hence, the company was incorporated in the US in 2014. The first two years were spent on extensive research and groundwork by the team.  Once the idea started taking shape  the startup moved to India, as they were already aware of the intricacies of the Indian market. MUrgency launched pilot operations in the tricity area of Punjab (Mohali, Panchkula and Chandigarh) in April 2016. “Since it’s a life-saving service, we wanted to try it out in a small state and Punjab was a perfect fit. Also, in our previous stint at Ziqitza, we had the experience of operating 240 ambulances for a period of five years in Punjab,” says Mangal.

While the idea seemed brilliant on paper, the ground reality was different. “To understand the responders’ (a person who responds to an emergency situation) point of view, we had to understand the population in each city, responding habits of the ambulance drivers and we had to train them to use our app to respond like Ola and Uber would,” Mangal remembers. Initially, the team planned to launch an app-based model only, but soon realised that during an emergency people feel more comfortable talking to someone. Hence, after their pilot in Punjab, they expanded to Delhi and Mumbai in April 2017 and launched a call centre. Today, MUrgency is present across 50 cities.

On a life mission
In the traffic conditions of Indian metros during peak hours, an ambulance might take 30 minutes to reach a spot. So, how does MUrgency stand out? Its vast network of doctors, nurses and paramedics make sure that the patient receives the first response within 10 minutes. “The concept of first response is popular in the developed world, but here we have to create a lot more awareness. During an emergency it’s not just about an ambulance coming to you, it’s about some help coming to you.” 

A central team which consists of verification experts and doctors are responsible for validation of all the resources enrolled by the 25-member field team. Every new member undergoes an interview with the medical panel, followed by training before they go live on the platform.

Apart from on road ambulances, MUrgency also has rail and air ambulances, 2,500 doctors and nurses and 250 emergency rooms as part of its network. Rail ambulances are regular train compartments with special arrangements, like a compartment that has been converted to an ICU, with the required equipments, senior physicians, doctors and nurses. MUrgency works with Indian Railways to offer these services and they also allow booking itinerary details and ticketing as well as ground travel to-and-from the railway station. As of now, they have aggregated 20 aircrafts across India for air ambulances. 

 By January, MUrgency is also planning to launch services like getting a doctor at home in 15 minutes, availing home healthcare, ordering medicines, lab tests and asking questions to doctors for free. “We are screening, validating and on-boarding hospitals, emergency rooms, ambulances, doctors, nurses, paramedics, EMTs and other responders including Red Cross volunteers to be part of MUrgency. There is no additional cost for us on the supply-side and we believe such additional features will increase the engagement between MUrgency and users,” says Mather.

Way forward
By March 2019, the startup is targeting around 88 cities and looking at water ambulance services in parts of eastern India. MUrgency also has operations in the Middle East with around 15 ambulances in Dubai and is planning to expand its presence in two to three developing countries after its expansion in Indian cities. “We have chosen Dubai as the gateway to Africa, as there is zero emergency medical response infrastructure in Africa,” says Mather. 

MUrgency charges a 20% commission on every transaction presently and sees around 500 customers per month. About 90% of its revenue comes from ambulance transfers and the balance, from first response and home care services. It has seen around 10,000 transactions and clocked a revenue of 50 lakh till date. The average ticket size varies across services for first response it is around 1,000 for an ambulance, around 4,000 and for home healthcare about 15,000.

The ticket size for air ambulance goes up to 7 lakh, but 95% of MUrgency’s services been via road. “We have not pushed other services till now through marketing campaigns, but we will get aggressive by January,” says Mangal. 

The startup which has raised around $2 million, has marquee investors on board including Ratan Tata and Infosys co-founders. In April 2016, the startup received funding from Kris Gopalakrishnan and S D Shibulal-led Axilor Ventures and in May 2016 Tata announced his investment. “We liked the way MUrgency was creating a parallel emergency response network,” says Payal Shah, head of investments, Axilor Ventures. “This parallel response network has been a big differentiating factor. Identifying potential employees, making sure they meet a certain quality criteria and getting them on the network requires a lot of training and effort. I don’t think anyone else is taking that approach to the problem,” says Shah.

The startup is using digital marketing, supply-side marketing and platforms such as colleges, schools, offices and residential societies to spread the word. They have also tied up with hospitals, doctors, pharmacies, and diagnostic centers in the cities where they are operational to promote their services among their customer base.

MUrgency’s vision is huge - to provide a single application across the world for emergency response services within 10 minutes. But Mather has good reason to pursue it, “Most of South America, Asia and almost all of Africa do not have any emergency medical response infrastructure. Many places do not have medical infrastructure, let alone emergency medical response infrastructure. So, we recognise it is going to be a very difficult and tough process,” he says. According to him, as of now there is no startup attempting to build one global emergency response network like a global 911 or a global 112. There are few startups in Kenya, Brazil and few out of Hyderabad trying to build ambulance aggregator networks regionally.

To quickly roll the network across the world, the startup is strategically forging partnerships across the private sector, NGOs, UN and Red Cross. MUrgency was selected as one of the top 10 solutions addressing the most pressing problems of the world in the UN Global Solutions Summit 2017. It had also entered into a global corporate partnership with International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies to bring their network of more than 160,000 branches and as many of the 17 million Red Cross and Red Crescent Volunteers onto its ‘one global emergency response network’ at the earliest.  “We want to achieve the goal by 2020. That’s a very ambitious one, but the world needs this,” Mangal signs off.

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