Startups 100: Where are they now? Cera

Dr. Ben Maruthappu, founder of Cera, tells us how appearing on the Startups 100 Index helped the healthtech startup achieve £263m in its latest fundraising round.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

When we first featured Cera Care Limited in the 2021 Startups 100 Index, we knew it was a business that had the potential to go far. But even our experts couldn’t foresee what awaited this promising healthtech startup.

From humble origins, the company has evolved to become one of Europe’s leading providers of digital-first home healthcare. It has so far delivered over 25 million nurse and carer visits, medication delivery services, and telehealth phone consultations to households across the UK.

In a truly meteoric rise, Cera also leaped up to come second place in the Startups 100 2021, having helped to build back customer confidence when COVID-19 saw a loss of trust in UK care home providers.

Now, Cera’s founder, Dr. Ben Maruthappu, is continuing the healthcare heavyweight’s rapid growth trend with the announcement of a successful funding round, worth a staggering £263m.

Startups sat down with Maruthappu to shine a doctor’s pen light on the journey so far and his scaling strategy. Plus, his number one tip for business owners applying to the Startups 100 Index this year.

The healthy idea

As the runner-up in our 2021 index, Cera (pronounced Sarah) greatly impressed our judges with its pioneering use of technology to provide quality healthcare in the home.

“We were really grateful to be featured in the index”, Maruthappu tells Startups. “It's always fantastic for the team to get that degree of recognition for our hard work and the impact we're trying to make on the healthcare sector in the UK and beyond.”

Having begun his career as a physician at Ealing Hospital in 2013, and worked as an advisor for the NHS since 2014, Maruthappu was already a well-known face in the world of medicine.

But Cera was born from personal, not professional, experience. In 2016, Maruthappu’s mother fell and fractured part of her back. He was shocked by the difficulty of finding a carer at short notice.

“Seeing the challenges first-hand of trying to look after an older person showed me that technology could really make a difference if it was better adopted by the sector,” he explains.

The Startups 100 Index helped us to be noticed more in the startup community, and to recruit talent more easily.

Even now, Maruthappu says his personal experience remains a strong, motivating factor for Cera’s mission to ensure that other families don't end up in a similar situation.

“We don't want them to be [contacting] multiple care companies, trying to find someone who could provide care at short notice. We're able to start care very quickly because of our technology.”

A waiting-room game

During last year’s competition, one of our key considerations when selecting the top 100 new businesses was consumer demand. After all, there is no business without customers.

Cera’s smart business strategy has left it far from short in this area. But there are other external influences which have contributed to the increasing demand for at-home care services.

Poor funding as well as the UK’s ageing population has put considerable strain on NHS hospitals, leading to longer waiting times and difficulties finding in-person treatments.

In February 2022, the Department of Health and Social Care pledged to ensure that everyone who has been waiting at least two years for hospital care would be treated by the end of July. Earlier this month, it admitted that the target will be missed.

How does Maruthappu feel when he sees headlines like that?

“I have huge empathy for frontline NHS staff who are working harder than they've ever worked before,” Maruthappu says, “[but] on the other hand, I also think it's a shame that ministers aren't following through with their pledges.

“I think Cera can play a key role in taking [these] pressures off the NHS so that it can look after the patients with the greatest needs who may require operations or cancer treatments or others.”

One of the organisation's more ingenious service provisions is its specially-developed technology. Patient information is gathered by carers and inputted into the Cera app. This is then stored securely so that families can access their loved one’s up-to-date health and visitation records, instantly.

But the startup’s business model is also about preventative – not just reactive – care. Via a clever AI algorithm, Cera can also analyse the information it gathers to predict health outcomes, including even supposedly random events.

“That gives us an important window of opportunity to intervene and keep that person healthy at home rather than their health getting worse and needing to go to hospital,” Maruthappu explains.

The platform is already responding to more than 5,000 ‘high risk’ alerts a day for conditions like dementia and diabetes, while Marathappu claims it reduces the likelihood of a fall at home by 20% – helping to improve NHS care capacity as a result.

The greatest wealth is health

Appearing on the Startups 100 Index has given Cera more than just an accolade. According to Maruthappu, it also contributed to a valuable injection of new talent and brand capital.

Maruthappu reveals that the brand’s appearance on the list has “helped us to be noticed more in the startup community, and to recruit talent more easily. As we later embarked on fundraising, it was also an important piece of recognition there too.”

The numbers speak for themselves. Cera celebrated raising £263m in funding in early August, after securing 140+ NHS and government contracts last year.

Maruthappu says this latest funding round will be used to expand the number of service users to “over a hundred thousand patients every single day”, as well as improve its app algorithm to be “sharper and more accurate.”

The company has already scaled very rapidly since last October. On average, Cera now delivers over 40,000 visits to client homes per day – made possible by its more than 9,000 frontline staff.

Excitingly, Cera has also expanded to Germany – one of the largest ageing populations in Europe.

As a list of achievements, there’s plenty to celebrate – particularly as this is Maruthappu’s first business. How has he approached scaling the startup to such impressive heights?

“There have been challenges,” he acknowledges. “[I have] had to change my leadership style to really grow as an entrepreneur.

“Sometimes there have been family difficulties because of COVID-19 and that has made the road to being a strong leader difficult. But it's also forced me to push myself beyond my comfort zone and develop my character to be more empathetic.”

As he explains, his method of leadership has centred around “building a strong company culture that aligns with our mission of empowering people to live longer, better lives in their own homes.

“I'm very fortunate that we have a really strong team at Cera. It has taken time to grow and build that team [but] the whole company is very much focused on that goal.”

We were really grateful to be featured in the index. It's always fantastic for the team to get that degree of recognition for our hard work and the impact we're trying to make.

It’s clear that Cera’s bold vision is what Maruthappu is probably most proud of about his business. When we ask Maruthappu what his advice is for those applying to the Startups 100 this year, it’s the first thing he mentions.

“Have a business that has great financials, but also makes a great impact”, he replies. “It's the combination that I think allowed [us] to do well in the Startups 100, but also is much more fulfilling for people working in the business as well.”

What’s the prognosis?

Cera has already come leaps and bounds since Maruthappu first dreamt up the idea of instant care access. But with plans to expand further internationally, there is still plenty of space left on the company’s growth chart.

The goal, however, remains the same. With no sign of the NHS crisis improving any time soon, Cera continues to develop innovative solutions to fix the problem, to both predict and prevent future hospitalisation.

“The need for a more sustainable model for healthcare has never been greater”, says Maruthappu. “What I read in the news on a daily basis only reinforces that point.”

“[It makes me] feel really positive about the impact that we can make, because there's so much demand for our model and our solution.”

Should your business be featured alongside industry greats like Cera? Apply now to the Startups 100 Index 2023.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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