A major French operator, the Doctegestio group, has launched a new platform called Avec, which combines everything from dentistry and primary care to hospital and nursing homes. We talk to Bernard Bensaid, the entrepreneur behind Avec.
Doctegestio has merged its care and healthcare platforms – Anapa and Doctocare – to create a single platform called AVEC. The idea is to offer an ecosystem covering all aspects of health care services.
This is backed by a digital platform, produced by 50 programmers, that both enables the patient to book treatments, view their history and communicate with doctors and nurses, but which also is a workforce tool for the group’s 12,000 employees.
Bensaid says a new digital version comes out every month and says that all 12,000 employees use Avec daily.
Bensaid says Doctegestio sales came to €650m in 2021 (this includes Popinns, a family hotel chain), and that he expects it to reach €3bn by 2026. An academic turned banking economist, Bensaid launched Direct Gestion (a web platform) in 1999 and launched the present group in 2010 and says he still owns 90% of the shares. The business is financed by debt and property sales. He is nothing if not ambitious. In our last interview in 2018 when sales were running at €240m, he said he wanted to grow sales to €1bn in 2022. Covid will mean that he misses that target, but perhaps not by much.
Critics portray Bensaid as a bottom-fisher who picks up and turns round second-rate assets. To achieve this would be no mean feat, but Bensaid says it is not accurate: “Take the hospital network we acquired in Grenoble. We got it because we paid the top price, €100m, beating Vivalto, who came in at around €75m. We then sold off the property for around €50m.”
He agrees that the ecosystem only works best when the patient has access to the complete range of health care assets close by. He says that the cities where Doctegestio has achieved this density – Metz, Melun and Grenoble – have demonstrated that the concept works.
But he accepts that to achieve scale he will need to add partners to the platform: “We will actively recruit and add other hospitals, nursing homes and homecare groups in 2022.”
Meanwhile, he is going to make the 12,000 employees all shareholders in a move which will see them own 5-10% of the company. He says that the concept of an ecosystem, which delivers care and healthcare, is readily understood by politicians and policymakers in the Agence Regional de Sante in many regions. But he says private equity finds it harder to grasp. “They typically want to invest in a pure play which is all dentistry or all imaging.”
Our Analysis: It is not often you meet a real entrepreneur in healthcare services! Bottom fisher or not, Bensaid has achieved something that is very impressive. To grow a business this fast and to still retain 90% of the equity is quite an achievement. But Avec does face intense competition from digital platforms like Doctolib, which has consolidated French primary care appointment-booking and is also used by many private and public hospitals.