As a futurist, investor, advisor and philanthropist, Nitin Thakor is all too aware of the potential of alternative investments, particularly within the healthcare field.
A second-generation entrepreneur who is building his legacy in the service of budding entrepreneurs, as the founder and chairman of GeBBS Healthcare Solutions, he provides strategic leadership in key areas of board governance, effectiveness, and mergers and acquisitions.
A widely acknowledged thought leader and trend spotter in healthcare, Nitin serves on the advisory council at the USC Marshall School of Business. Harvard Business School (HBS) economist Josh Lerner has authored a case on Nitin and GeBBS Healthcare that is included in the curriculum of HBS’ MBA and Executive Education programs.
Nitin has also created a foundation in India to diagnose and treat cervical cancer for underserved women in rural India. Additionally, he is in the process of setting up a school and a hospital that will provide free education and healthcare to the poor.
Ahead of chairing Campden Family Connect’s 5th Indian Family Alternative Investment Forum in Mumbai on August 22, here Nitin Thakor talks about the importance of adaptability in business and his approach to alternative investments…
The theme of the 5th Indian Family Alternative Investment Forum is ‘Investing with agility in a Dynamic World’. To your mind, how vital is adaptability to success?
An entrepreneur’s vision - in scope, magnitude, and dimension - is subject to change. And change is constant, right? I feel like everything about what we want to do as entrepreneurs - our scope for how we want to get there, the size of what we want to build, etc.… - is all subject to change. A vision is needed to set the tone and to inspire your team.
Good entrepreneurship comes down to making sound decisions and being flexible as the business develops. Often, the direction a founder takes is not the one initially envisioned. Some choices do not impact the grand scope of things, while others forever alter the course of our lives. As entrepreneurs, we should do what we feel is best for the business at any given moment. The key is to stay confident and keep making decisions. Build on your successes and learn from your mistakes… A professional failure with valuable lessons learned is a big win.
I believe you need to make your decisions and be flexible as you go along with those decisions. In 2015, GeBBS was approaching $20 million in revenue. My team and I engineered a five-year plan to scale the business to $100 million. We designed a playbook to get us on a growth track, systematically hit revenue targets, and build long-term profitability. We undertook the challenge, invested in the business, followed the blueprint, and adjusted along the way. We allowed ourselves to dream (a little, not a lot), but our discipline, decisiveness, critical thinking, and agility kept us aligned and focused.
The forum will focus on alternative investments in the fields of AI, healthcare, private debt and more. As chairperson, and also as an attendee, what are you most hoping to get out of your time at the Mumbai event?
Alternative assets are a relatively new asset class in India and there are a lot of uncertainties and unknowns from an India point of view. It’s also important to note that alternative assets are both risky and illiquid, and few family offices have had successful exits within this asset class.
Many family offices really have limited or no experience in this space. So, a forum of this type is very helpful to give family offices the opportunity to share and learn from each other’s limited experience. As the chairperson, my objective will be to facilitate these conversation and learnings.
This is a great time to be a healthcare investor in India.
Can you talk about your own approach to alternative investments? How much of what you do is driven by the desire to boost innovative entrepreneurs with big ideas?
As a family office, besides maximising returns, I had three objectives with alternative investments: Over time invest 10% of our corpus into the broader alternative asset classes; look for alternative assets where we can be a high-value-add investor; and do a greater good to society at large.
For a couple of years, we were on the sidelines, understanding the alternative space and getting our toes wet. This was done by participating as a limited partner (LP) into a handful of venture capital and private equity (PE) firms to understand how they operate. We looked for VC/PEs that were active within the healthcare eco-system, an industry I understand and can be a higher value investor within.
Over the next two years, we started making direct investments. A significant amount of time was spend debating what stage that we should be investing at - i.e., seed, series A, B etc. Given our DNA, most entrepreneurs will gravitate to early-stage deals, and this is also where we started our journey. I soon realised that these early-stage companies have significantly higher risk and long gestation periods. To manage this risk, we would need to diversify and make a large number of direct investments. We therefore moved our focus to mature start-ups that have a capable management team and a proven revenue model.
Technology, along with other government initiatives, is disrupting healthcare in India. There are many sectors and sub-sectors within healthcare and there will be multiple leaders in each of them. These companies will increase the quality and accessibility of care or lower the cost of care. All of which are good for the people of India. This is a great time to be a healthcare investor in India, to do good and make money. To capitalize on this opportunity, I have partnered with three other family offices and raised a $100 million fund to invest in healthcare in India.
Your family office was set-up by your father and now you have taken the lead - how are alternative investment decisions now made within your family office?
My father set up the family office in 1999, while I was still Chairman & CEO of GeBBS Healthcare. In 2022 I moved into a non-executive Chairman of the Board role at GeBBS and got actively involved with our family office. Currently, we don't have a formal governance board, so decision making is relatively simple. Since I am actively looking at alternative assets, I make the investment decisions.
What would you advise to family offices looking to get into alternative investments, in particular healthcare, but don’t know where to start?
Unless you are a sophisticated family office and are comfortable making direct investments, my suggestion is that you start your alternative investment journey by partnering with credible VCs and PEs in India. There are a large number of generic and thematic funds to pick from, including those that focus exclusively on healthcare. These firms have the brand to attract the best entrepreneurs and governance systems in place to manage the portfolio. They come with an additional cost (fee + carry) but provides the portfolio diversification needed to manage the high level of risk inherent in early-stage investing. VC’s and PE’s also provide an opportunity to invest directly, albeit with a fee.
You’ve been the recipient of numerous high-profile prizes and accolades – including the 2020 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award and a featured entrepreneur in a Harvard Business School Case Study – how does it feel being held up as an example of doing right in your chosen field?
It feels good to be recognised for your efforts, but more importantly, it comes with a sense of purpose and responsibility. As a mentor to young and emergent entrepreneurs, I see my experience as a differentiator and a vehicle through which I can give back. Compellingly telling my story and inspiring others is the core of my work moving forward.
Talking of doing right, can we discuss your philanthropic work? What compelled you to establish a foundation for treating cervical cancer for underserved women in rural India?
Cervical cancer is curable if diagnosed and treated in time. Unfortunately, there is not adequate testing in Indian villages and often when women test positive, they do not have the funds to get treated. The GeBBS Foundation operates multiple mobile stations that go to villages and test women for cervical cancer. When they test positive, we work with the family to financially support them thru the treatment plan. My grandmother passed away from cervical cancer, so this cause is close to the family.