Digital Innovators: Q&A with Cera co-founder Ben Maruthappu

Ben Maruthappu
Cera's AI-powered chatbot, Martha, help carers and patients answer questions. (Source: Cera)

Cera is a multi-award winning technology company transforming social care.

Last year Cera was identified as one of 50 of the freshest and most inspiring digital companies using technology and innovation to shake up their sectors in our Digital Innovators Power List. Following a public vote and after careful consideration by supporting partners and judges, it was named as one of the top 10 Digital Innovators. Later this year two of these companies will be identified as a "life changer" or a "market transformer".

Co-founder Mahiben (Ben) Maruthappu tells us his long-term vision for the company and gives us insight into why it's one of the UK's leading digital innovators.

Talk me through the business. What sparked the idea? How do you compete with other players/what sets you apart?

I co-founded Cera after experiencing the challenges of elderly care first hand - as a family member trying to organise care for a loved one (which was very challenging), as a doctor seeing patients repeatedly attend A&E due to poor quality care at home, and as an NHS policymaker, seeing the tremendous effect a challenged social care system was having on the NHS, leading to spiralling bed-blocking numbers and patients being stuck in hospital for longer than they needed to be, as their care package took far too long to organise. At the same time, it was clear to me how technology could transform the sector, especially after seeing how digital had already disrupted so many other parts of our lives such as banking, food, and transportation.

Cera is a technology-enabled home care provider. We use digital and artificial intelligence to automate our operations and predict if a patient's health is about to deteriorate. In short, this allows us to provide our patients with much higher quality care and is one of the reasons we are one of the best-rated care providers in the country. Our service is faster, with 96 per cent of patients starting care within 24 hours if they want to, and more efficient as we pay our care workers more, and charge patients less for care.

How has your company grown in the past few years? What are the most crucial things you have done to grow it?

Over the past year alone, we have grown over 25 per cent month-on-month, in both revenues and volumes of care delivered. We have also expanded geographically and in terms of the services we offer our patients. We have partnered with the NHS to tackle bed-blocking, accelerating the safe discharge of patients from hospital to home, allowing patients to be in the comfort of their own home sooner, and hospitals to have more bed space for newly admitted patients. It is these services, underpinned by our technology, which allows us to operate much more quickly than other care providers.

Where do you hope to be in a year/two years? What is your long-term vision for the business?

We want to be a global home care company, empowering older people to live as independently as possible, for as long as possible in the comfort of their own home. In two years, we expect to be expanding initially to 5 additional cities in the UK, and then internationally. We will also be offering a broader suite of services to our patients including food delivery, transportation, and other healthcare services focused on care at home.

How do you see the state of the market in which your business operates? What are the biggest challenges you will face in the coming years and how do you hope to overcome them?

With 1m people currently requiring care but not receiving it, a relative shortage of care workers, quality issues and constrained public funding, the care sector in the UK is under tremendous pressure. We use our technology and our innovative model of delivering care to overcome these challenges, but they nevertheless make the care market difficult to operate in, which galvanises the need and urgency for transformation.

How important is innovation to your business? How do you engender a culture of forward thinking and creativity with your staff?

Innovation is at the heart of everything we do at Cera - from how we recruit care workers and how we deliver services to how we involve stakeholders in the development of our technology. Without innovation, Cera would not exist.

What is it about your company that makes it one of the UK’s leading digital innovators?

We bring together the right blend of culture, team skill-mix, passion, purpose and creativity, spanning healthcare and technology, which is required to be innovative and crack the challenges that elderly care is facing, through harnessing innovation and doing things differently.

Look out for the next Q&A with Pavegen, another top 10 Digital Innovator, on 25 January 2018.

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