You can call it digital health, e-health, healthtech. Whatever you want. It’s still all about people–particularly the women and children of the world. That’s the most important thing Indra Sharma wants to get across.
TEXT: KENNY GENBORG
Capital is attracted to digital health innovations. Indra Sharma sees this clearly from her position at the epicentre of the Swedish financial world.
“Things have changed. In the beginning, I saw a lot in HR-tech. But now it is all about healthtech. There is a lot of this in the Nordic countries,” she says, sounding like a true venture capitalist. As if that would be so strange.
You froze your own eggs, why?
The question doesn’t bother Indra Sharma. She doesn’t talk like any other venture capitalist. Especially not in front of an audience. Which she does often.
“Some women’s issues are very taboo. So, you have to talk about them. I left a relationship and took the risk of maybe not meeting someone new before it would be too late. It was at this point that this fertility crisis came, and I calmed myself by freezing my eggs.”
Looking for new startups
Wallenberg’s EQT Ventures has its office at Blasieholmen in Stockholm. Next door to other very capital-intensive actors.
“My job is to keep track of the whole startup-sphere in the Nordic region. Find the next company to invest in. Meet many different types of companies, and people, to understand what we are looking for,” she says.
Sometimes I think; how is it even possible to keep track of so much? To meet so many people? To make the right analyses.
“Our team is supposed to keep track of all Europe, and parts of the USA,” she adds.
In ‘Veckans Affärer,’ a Swedish business magazine, I saw that 35-year-old Indra Sharma is listed as number 16 out of 101 super talents in the business world. In her professional role, she has considerable power – a dream partner for many startups.
EQT Ventures is a fund within the larger EQT Partners’ portfolio, which manages more than SEK 50 billion.
Ventures’ fund value is approximately one tenth of EQT Partners.
“We’re a small part of EQT, but still a very large fund in the venture capital world. One of the largest in Europe,” says Indra Sharma.
The difference is evident in the office environment. Venture’s premises are bohemian. The style and dress code much more relaxed. Compared to the parent company in the same block.
Indra Sharma has been involved in three investments during the one and a half years she has been active in the industry. One of them is the controversial contraceptive app, Natural Cycles.
Large amounts of money are involved. A fund like EQT Ventures is not designed to invest small sums of money. She says it’s a job that takes time to learn.
Indra’s job focus is to search the market for new opportunities. Evaluate the personal qualities of the founders and entrepreneurs she meets. Understand technology and market potential. Stitch new financing arrangements and deals.
A princess lit the fire
However, on the personal level, Indra Sharma is passionate about what digital solutions can do for the world-and especially for the women of the world.
To explain how this fire was ignited in her, she goes back to her childhood. It was then she discovered that a little girl with a mother from Colombia and a father from India did not look the same as the blonde princesses she read about in all the fairy-tale books.
“My mom bought a storybook with tales from all over the world with princesses in all sorts of colours. I understood there were different types. But I could never identify a hundred percent with the ones I saw on television and in movies.
In adulthood, this feeling remained. Now in her working life.
“It is a homogeneous group of people in the business world and the corridors of power. I think this is problematic. Everyone sitting in a group that has power cannot be the same.
Captivates her audience
Indra also discovered early on that it was not only appearance and background that made the conditions different. The same was true when it came to girls and boys. In all cultures.
“It was then I put on these glasses that I can’t take off. And I saw women’s rights. Not only in Sweden, but globally.”
As such, she travels around with a presentation that is completely different from the one you expect from an investor.
The first time I meet her, she was captivating an audience of startup companies and other investors at Health Tech Nordic Investor Forum at Sahlgrenska Science Park in Gothenburg.
She entranced us with exuberant presentation slides, and such a personal-sometimes private-and dedicated talk that all the written words, the time axes, the logos and the strange blips that she displayed came alive on the big screen.
She should lose us all there. In everything that bubbles up and wants to escape out of her.
But the message cannot be missed. It’s crystal clear. Bottom line-it’s all about people. Healthtech is all about making people feel better.
“Mobile phones are already used by healthcare professionals in the field to scan children under the age of five. In an app, a data analysis is made directly to see if the child is suffering from malnutrition,” she says.
Everyone understands the power of technological development.
Hottest for investments
Digital solutions for healthcare and health are one of the hottest investment areas out there at the moment. In Sweden and globally. Many of the solutions to the great challenges of healthcare are presumed to exist in this area.
The wave of digitalization is creating a paradigm shift in the part of the business sector that develops products and services for healthcare.
READ MORE: 11 West Swedish healthtech companies
Just like when other large sluggish industries transition, the business environment in life science is also changing. Old business models are replaced by new ones. Value chains are broken. Newcomers challenge old traditional brands.
But how do you explain to people outside the industry’s internal circles what is happening? How do you make the abstract more concrete?
“80% of all cases of cervical cancer are in developing countries. Many cases lead to death when not treated since the disease is never detected. There, they can’t afford the equipment that is needed. But the diagnosis can be simplified with an algorithm,” says Indra Sharma.
“In India, digital midwives are being tested to reduce mortality in connection with childbirth.
It is hardly possible to be more concrete than that.
“In India, digital midwives are being tested to reduce mortality in connection with childbirth.”
Changing women’s lives
Digital solutions can do much to change women’s living conditions. Give them greater power over their own bodies. Influence equality. Improve health and economic situations. Give children a greater chance to live and become adults. Eradicate injustices.
“I have worked as a volunteer at women’s help organisations and in other contexts for more than ten years. Much has been focused on sexual violence against women and children.”
“Technology can help and solve this type of problem. Firstly, it’s about how you look at other people. But technology can be a tool to improve the situation for people around the world. I think that is very powerful.”
Innovators, entrepreneurs, different types of investors and marketers are required for this to become a reality. As are governments and authorities that see and understand the possibilities. Needs and customers. Cultures that slowly change. Women who are given the opportunity to own a mobile. In countries where it is the man’s right.
And money. But not directly from EQT.
Nothing for EQT
“Many of the companies I mention in my lecture are not ones that EQT would invest in. The reason is that those who have invested in EQT’s funds require a certain return. A product in Kenya that works against female genital mutilation cannot become large enough for EQT’s fund.”
This type of company has a completely different focus than growth and sales to build a multi-billion company. There, other capital is needed rather than a traditional venture capital player.
Another reason is EQT’s focus on Europe and the United States. Companies in other regions are not in focus.
“We need to have knowledge about the areas and regions where we operate so we can contribute to the companies in which we invest. This is about more than money.”
“However, this type of fund still has great importance for driving technology forward. There may be others who take on the role of investing in use cases in developing countries.
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Facts: Indra Sharma
35 years old. Venture Lead for the Nordic and Baltic countries at EQT Ventures.
Born in Uppsala.
Civil Engineer. Came into contact with the venture capital sector when she worked as a management consultant.
Initially, she made her own growth trip with the payment service company, Bambora.
Describes herself as a generalist. “All my characteristics are needed. The analytical, the communicative, the ability to form relationships and make decisions.”
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