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Published on: Oct. 6, 2022, 12:53 p.m.
Empowering pharma, education sectors, the Athena way
  • Manchala: healthcare and education have high growth potential

By Lancelot Joseph. Executive Editor, Business India

Unlike many software services companies, Athena Global Technologies Ltd (AGTL) is shifting to higher gears. From IT services as the business focus, the company is moving into and reinventing itself as an internet technology company. The business plan? To invest in new digital products that can become giant segments on their own with the use of cloud and integrated technology for the benefit of thousands of pharmacy stores and students looking for high calibre education.

The man leading this change is Satish Manchala, MD of Athena Global Technologies. Manchala reckons that technology has been shifting towards digital transformation across various industries with the seamless integration of e-commerce and digital efficiencies brought about by advanced technological capabilities.

Towards this end, Athena launched Medley Medical Solutions for pharmacy businesses, and Tutoroot Technologies for new-age education. Athena Global has been investing for some time in these two new ventures, and the efforts of labour are now beginning to bear fruit.

“We began the journey of delivering digital products and services a long time back, and post Covid we have seen the shift accelerate. We want to empower medical and pharmacy stores all across the country, and at the same time we want to make higher education personalised and effective for students. Both healthcare and education are high growth potential, and we believe we are taking the business models of single mom-and-pop retail pharmacy shops and online higher education to a different level,” says Manchala.

Consider this – there are over 8 lakh-plus standalone medical stores in India. Almost all of them face a big challenge: competing with giant e-pharmacy stores. While all these big pharmacy stores have pumped in billions of dollars in e-pharmacies, they continue to disrupt how medical products are distributed across the country.

Further, single pharmacy stores are also falling behind on business metrics compared to pharmacy chains. Both these segments are huge competitive challenges for single stores.

Most of these small pharmacy stores are not digitised and have hardly any brand pull to be able to maximise sales. They also conduct their business in an inefficient manner. For instance, while the larger players have big brands, they are also able to source a larger volume of products for pharma producers and distributors.

As a result, the smaller stores are not able to get the discounts that the larger pharmacy players command in the market. This becomes a huge competitive disadvantage as wholesales give higher discounts to larger players and cut back on the same to the smaller ones.

AGTL’s Medley Med has become an aggregator for thousands of small pharmacy stores for stock replenishment. The firm aggregates orders on a single platform online from all the small pharmacy stores on the network. This allows Medley Med to combine all these small orders together and place a bulk order with distributors, thereby getting huge discounts in the process equal to the those of the larger pharmacy players. The firm then passes on these discounts to the small retailer, who then can compete effectively with large pharmacies.

Empowering medical stores

Additionally, the system works automatically on the Medley Med network. Retailers do not have to go through the lengthy process of writing orders separately. They can upload their requirements in the system. Medley Med's backend network provides 95-98 per cent-plus delivery as it has a very strong backend. This system not only lower costs of services but also ensures quick delivery of medicines.

Medley Med also provides loyalty rewards, much like a big player. It started this model in FY16 and has now tied up with hundreds of pharmacies for order sourcing requirements.

  • Kochattil: providing skill sets for students

    Kochattil: providing skill sets for students

“We are helping retailers get their orders from different pharma companies through a single source. We use technology to ensure that ordering medicines by pharmacies is done online and in a seamless manner. Our ERP software brings in efficiencies of scale and helps owners of pharmacies to access data at their fingertips. With this we feel that smaller pharmacies have a level playing field with the larger players,” says Manchala.

Building on this platform, Medley Med later added the franchise model on this platform. Any new pharmacy that is opening its store can partner with Medley Plus with a deposit of Rs1.5 lakh and get stock worth Rs5 lakh to start a pharmacy store, plus all the IT infrastructure, and backend support for the franchisee.

Not only does this save capital expenditures for a new pharmacy store, but it also reduces establishing and infra costs. It provides the ability to compete for a new player regarding stock, and in stock management.

This makes the lives of hundreds of pharmacies much easier. The firm will also be extending the service to existing pharmacies on its sourcing model. Medley Med has also extended its tie-ups to some FMCG products, and going forward, the firm will continue to improve its sourcing and supply model. “We are a one-stop shop as far as sourcing and pharmacy infrastructure is concerned,” says Manchala.

Further, pharmacies can also run an efficient inventory model on this platform and avoid unnecessarily loading of stock in their shops. The company helps pharmacies track fast-moving products, etc as compared to others, which will land plenty of savings in the long run. Medley also provides the ERP backend, which is another leg of the business to make pharmacies more efficient.

This tech platform can be scaled rapidly anywhere as the platform is cloud-based. The firm has access to huge amounts of data as well, which will help identify the kind of products made across its locations.

Medley Med also has an online SAAS (Software as a Service) telemedicine platform where it provides online doctor consultancy, and diagnostics. The firm offers this as a white label product to businesses, and hospital chains which can integrate this on their websites. It's an all-in-one software.

Taking this further, Medley has also started local street clinics. The firm has partnered with pharmacies that have enough space within their premises to put up a kiosk or private place to provide consultation via a laptop or printer.

A patient can take advantage of instant consultations – with the help of tie-ups with a doctor provided by Medley Med at the backend. With this model, a pharmacy can expand its revenue streams through online consultancy, diagnostics, and the sale of pills.

Education's big potential

Another vertical that Athena has made a splash in is education. The education vertical Tutoroot provides personalised learning to its students. With today's teaching models revolving around digital and centralised classes in the post Covid world, the digital classroom has lost the effect of personal coaching.

  • The company’s ERP software helps owners of pharmacies to access data at their fingertips

“Besides, over the past few years, the school education system around the world has undergone a tremendous revolution. Students are looking for enhanced skill sets, and personalised guidance to achieve their academic outcomes,” says Suresh Kochattil, broadcaster and presenter at Tutoroot.

“We are incorporating digital tools into the classroom so as to enable educational institutions to deliver better learning outcomes and working models. We aim to revamp the education system and raise it to international standards, and we are equipping schools and education institutions with the latest ed-tech equipment. With seasoned faculty, we are able to foster higher engagement and learning outcomes for students,” says Manchala.

As a part of its ed-tech endeavour, Tutoroot launched a 24-month Gateway ‘To Success’ programme for students to tackle the IIT-JEE. Tutoroot has experienced faculty drawn from IITs, NITs, and PhDs across the country. Besides, Tutoroot has incorporated an International Exam Excellence Centre (IEEC) to facilitate the growth of distinctive sets of skills essential for excelling in the secondary and senior secondary exams of international schooling systems.

Further, Tutoroot has partnered with schools to offer Direct to School Digital Online Learning support for students in the 8th, 9th and 10th grades in the IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) and IBDP (International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme) curriculums. The subjects offered are English, maths, physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, economics, business studies, visual, and theatre arts.

In fact, the latter is offered exclusively as personalised tuitions. Further, Tutoroot also offers EGDE, a foundation course in math and science for national level entrance exams, adding value to the existing teaching content.

All this is done through interactive online classes with the best faculty with extensive experience. Batches consist of only 20 students, so teachers and professors can provide a personalised learning experience.

The unique mentor scheme, exclusive sessions for queries followed by partnerships with internationally recognised education organisations, is set to prepare students at an international level of learning. In fact, Tutoroot has a roster of key foreign tutors to provide strategic inputs and raise the level of students to international standards.

“We are excited to be a part of Tutoroot for the IBDP and IGCSE programmes. The classes are modelled on the Oxbridge tutorial and supervision teaching systems, recreating the teaching experience of Oxbridge as part of an immersive and tailored programme, guided by experienced mentors who have graduated from, or are currently studying at Oxford or Cambridge. Classes will be taught in line with the teaching philosophy based on Bloom's Taxonomy. This theory focusses on helping students through the processes of remembering, understanding, analysing, evaluating and creating. The mentors’ teaching approach will lead the students through each stage to help with their studies," says professor Louis McEvoy.

Tutoroot aims to be one of the top learning brands in the country and focuses on tech courses for students who graduate from engineering colleges. This platform enables schools and teaching institutes to incorporate the platform into their curriculums.

Of scale and size

For Manchala, the journey is getting exciting, and could be immensely profitable. The education technology platform is taking root. With a focus on personalised education that is missing in the online and hybrid education models of today, Tutoroot should easily transform student learning outcomes over time.

  • The education vertical Tutoroot provides personalised learning to its students

In the pharmacy model, once Medley Med starts to scale up and add more pharmacies on its platform, massive economies of scale are set to kick in. Turbocharging the small mom-and-pop pharmacy with new age digital technology has made Medley Med one of the most compelling ideas in the business world.

A vast chain of pharmacy stores under its wing will allow Medley Med to become a large e-commerce pharmacy player, much like some of the biggies. In fact, Athena Global Technologies has invested nearly Rs34 crore in Medley Medical Solutions, which is a fraction of the investments some of the e-pharmacies have made and continue to make. In the education venture, Tutoroot Technologies, investments so far have been to the tune of Rs15 crore.

“We are making strategic capital allocations to these sectors, and we think that there is a potential to build a substantial business from these investments over time,” says Manchala. Despite these investments, Athena Global Technologies stock has gained a 23 per cent CAGR in the last four years as investors seem to be warming up to the potential. Currently, its shares trade at Rs60.

Indeed, Athena Global Technologies is incubating and nurturing two unique business models with huge potential. With every passing day and with scale and size, these new digital businesses could easily become the envy of large, deep-pocketed players.

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