Kumaravelu Palanivelu - An Entreprenuer on a Mission

Health is your real wealth
We had the opportunity to meet up with a former Dhool champion.More than a decade ago, this young man was on a war path, setting dance floors on fire. He was part of the NUS Puyal Team that won the Dhool 2003. These days, he is on a different mission, one that may not be as entertaining as dance but is of greater importance to our lives.

How did you first enter the healthcare industry ?

I was pursuing Biomedical science in university but had to leave halfway due to some unfortunate circumstances. Following that, I went back to work in the SAF as an Armour Officer since I was a SAF scholar  at that time. I finished up my minimum term of engagement with the SAF in 2007 and was  subsequently with an event management company. That was when I met my previous employer. He was actually a client of ours and I was working closely with him for his company event. He told me that he had this vision about enhancing workflow processes within the hospitals using an innovative healthcare automation technology and had acquired the distributorship for this region. He asked me if I wanted to come on board for the ride and I did. Together with an awesome team, we built up a huge company called Omni-Health

What products did Omni-Health sell  ?

A complete inventory/medication management solution. Our first sale was to NUH and TTSH. We introduced the inpatient pharmacy automation solution for the entire hospital. It was a few million dollars-worth deal. At that  time , Omni-Health was the first company to fully automate a hospital in Singapore. After that, sales picked up and other hospitals came on board, and we implemented a few solutions across this region. The company underwent a massive expansion and grew to become a multi-million dollar company.

How did you get into this business without any background knowledge or expertise in healthcare ?

I was trained by the principals via conference calls and night-time Skype calls.  I also learnt on the job, from manuals and training guides. It was basically learning how to swim in the deep end of a pool. We were also under close supervision from the Health Ministry and had huge expectations to be met. I then went on to get a professional certification in project management to improve my project management skills . Because after we sold and implemented the system, I also had to manage the project and provide after-sales support.

Why did you decide to leave Omni-Health  ?

Omni-Health was focused on hospital automation. But when you look at the healthcare market around the world, it's constantly changing. Singapore's actually quite late in catching up. Right now, everyone's talking about home care, elder care, geriatric care and all that. People like talking about them but nobody actually goes and looks at what needs to be done. So the reason why I left Omni-Health, was that, I wanted to start my own business and more importantly, start one in an industry that I was already good at. Healthcare was something I had been doing for the past 10-12 years. I was established in both the Singaporean and Malaysian market , since I was based in KL for 3 years as the Country Manager . With all these networks established and knowledge acquired , I set out to change the industry. Or at least, try to.

How then did you come up with your next business idea?

The next wave in healthcare is going to be home care. People want to take care of themselves and take care of their parents by themselves . But they don’t understand what ‘taking care’ actually means. Just keeping your mum at home while she watches TV and plays with your kids, is not taking care of her health-wise. There's actually a lot of clinical work that needs to be done. A lot of people don't see the need for it. It’s not the case whereby every 3 months or 4 months , you see a doctor to get a body check up done. Because nothing comes out of that.

Just imagine - If a person who always has high blood pressure and on the day she goes to the doctor, does ten minutes of yoga and meditation , her pressure will be normal. The doctor will look at the reading and say she has normal blood pressure. Or take a patient who has normal pressure all the time but before she walks into the clinic, hears some shocking news. When her pressure is taken, it will be high. She'll be diagnosed as high blood pressure. In both cases, there is a false diagnosis. Your health should always be studied and monitored as a trend. And that's what you should be diagnosed based on .
A lot of people are into wellness and taking care of their health but if you go to someone and actually ask them "How healthy are you?" , nobody can give a quantitative answer to that . There are many people out there who are completely fine in the morning but get a heart attack in the evening. A perfectly healthy-looking person can collapse on the middle of the day. My dad was one of them . He sent me to work in the morning and in the evening, I got a call saying he died of a heart attack. Maybe if he had monitored his health every 7 or 8 hours in a day after his first attack, he could have corrected something. Or at least, detected a diversion or a “bad” trend.
That is why I wanted to make health monitoring an easy task. I wanted  to create an awareness of its importance and come up with an effective solution that aids people to monitor it. If you spend 5 minutes everyday monitoring your health and plotting it somewhere with the tools that you possess , you might detect something that may save your life. There's no point in monitoring anything after life is lost - It's too late. Healthcare should always be preventive, not corrective. And how would you know the preventive methods are working unless you're constantly checking on it?
People nowadays, spend a lot of effort, time and money in trying to keep themselves healthy. They sign up for Zumba, gym memberships, yoga classes and invest in eating well. But how do you know that these “investments” are paying off? You need a constant report card to guide you. And that's what I'm trying to provide.

What are the health monitoring solutions that your company offers?

My flagship product is the iNOV8-Bolt. It's basically a body organ life tracker. So what it does is it's a small hub that connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth and there is also an app you can download . The device connects to a blood pressure cuff, blood oxymeter- which calculates your blood-oxygen concentration-and it also measures your pulse and temperature. So these probes measure your 4 vital signs and these vital signs are then synced onto your phone and a cloud. The comfort that working adults can get from this is that while they are out working, their parents who are at home can actually SMS or email them their readings and wherever they are, they will know how their parents are doing. They can go about their day with greater peace of mind. We also have an additional product feature called the Bolt+ which, in addition to the 4 vitals, would measure blood glucose, haemoglobin and cholesterol levels as well, with the help of a small plugin.

Another thing this device does is that it also plots a trend of your daily readings . So at the next checkup that your mother goes for , the doctor will be able to refer to the app to observe all the readings and assess how her health has changed. He can then give a better diagnosis with more data.

What were the challenges that you faced in bringing in the products and selling them?

It was a struggle trying to find an investor and raise funds for the product. Medical device companies need a very high capital investment , so we needed to raise a lot of money to secure the distribution rights and set up the infrastructure . For fundraising, I had gone to many people who had previously promised to support me but when push came to shove, it was someone completely outside my network who came to my aid. He was my angel investor.

A lot of effort also went into getting approval from the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) .We had to go through 5-6 rounds of clarifications before we finally got approval after around 8 months. But it was completely worth it going forward, because it ensured that if anyone ever questioned the product, I could easily say that it was HSA approved.
But the biggest challenge is making people understand the fundamental needs of constant health-monitoring. We spend a lot of money, time and effort in trying to be healthier. But we do not seem very keen on actually monitoring our health status consistently

Where can we get these products?

Right now, it's being sold by a few online retailers or you can write in to our website to get it. What we are promising now , for the initial market,  is that once you order the device , we will actually visit you at your home and train you on how to use it, free of charge .  In due time, our product will also be available in all Watsons stores and in BigBox .
My main distribution channel that I'm looking at right now is actually GP and specialist clinics. We’d like to to expand the solution to them as well. For example, a GP or specialist clinic can now say that they want to monitor 100 or 150  patients of theirs. So they buy or they get each of their patients to buy our product and then on a daily basis, we can set up a dashboard for doctors who can look at all these trends on their laptops. Let's say, a doctor sees one of his patients' pressure or pulse going up, he can call that person immediately and ask him to come in for a secondary checkup .

What’s next for you and the company?

My vision is to bring in “tools” that will help the caregivers such as you and me, to take better care of our parents and grandparents.
There is an array of solutions that are in this niche but not all would be suitable for our region. I would like to set up my distribution channels right, so that I can spend my time in sourcing for appropriate solutions which would be then fed through these channels to our markets.
I am also looking for aspiring entrepreneurs who'd like to contribute in this space and be my distribution channels to the community. This will allow me to look at the wider spectrum of creating the awareness for the benefits of assistive technology and also source for appropriate solutions for the ASEAN region. iNOV8 Pte Ltd will be a one-stop hub for the caregivers and the patients.

Are there any other things you are passionate about or want to help change, in the healthcare industry or otherwise?

If you realize, in developed countries, there’s a concept called the retirement home. Where people actually go to retire. The problem is many Singaporeans think retirement is working at McDonalds’ or driving a taxi . I feel very sad when I go to McDonalds' and someone as old as my grandfather clears my tray or pumps petrol for me at the petrol kiosks. These people need to be resting somewhere or be taken care of properly .

In Australia, they have entire retirement villages by the sea . Where, once you hit a certain age, you and your wife will just go into this home and everyday, a nurse comes and takes your vital signs and every month, a doctor comes and visits you. And you're taken care of properly. The thing about Asians is that they think that pushing your mum to another home is being an unfilial child . But keeping your mum at home and spending an entire week not speaking to her is not exactly taking care of her either . She'll be better off in a retirement home where there are people in her age group to interact and spend time with. The reason dementia is so prevalent here is because old people have no activities at home to stimulate their minds. They are either watching TV or doing household chores. But if there's a place where they will be well taken care of and there are people whom they can talk to and spend time with , their minds will stay active. They will be happy .

There are some people who have suggested to me the idea of having an activity centre for the elderly. Yes, Singapore has them now but they’re just stipulated areas in void decks. Not activity centres. Activity centres are places where people of the same age group can interact with one another and sometimes, fitness instructors or physiotherapists can lead them in doing some exercises, helping to keep their mind and body active. It's end-of-life care. You don't need to be bedridden to get end-of-life care. You can be an active healthy person who receives end-of-life care. So these two concepts are what I want to work towards in the future.
Because I would want to retire by the beach in a villa, with my wife by my side and my best friend living next door, I decided I wanted to make this change.

Special Offer for Our Readers

The BOLT retails at $588. I can possibly tell you that this is cheaper than 2 bottles at some places. But it is your money and you have every right to choose what to spend it on. We just hope you have your priorities in order.

It is also cheaper to get the BOLT than to get individual gadgets with the same functions. Plus, we are giving you a one special 10% if you make the purchase with the  promo code  "iNOV8GURU

All you need to do is email to sales@iNOV8grp.com and mention the promo code. You will get it delivered to their doorstep and also get a free on-site training (30min) for their family members on device usage.


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