UK healthcare app built by Iranian refugee set for £3bn New York stock listing

·Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
·3 min read
Babylon health founder and chief executive Dr Ali Parsa. Photo: Babylon Health
Babylon health founder and chief executive Dr Ali Parsa. Photo: Babylon Health

A British-Iranian entrepreneur who came to the UK as a teenage refugee is on track to become a billionaire from the listing of his business in the US.

Babylon Health, a London-headquartered healthcare technology business, announced on Thursday night it would join New York's Nasdaq (^IXIC) stock market in a deal valuing the business at $4.2bn (£3bn). 

Dr Ali Parsa, Babylon's founder, is set to reap a major windfall from the transaction. He debuted on the Sunday Times Rich List this year with an estimated net worth of £825m thanks to his ownership of just over half of Babylon's shares. The surge in valuation since then means his stake is now likely worth over £1bn.

“Frankly, you shouldn’t believe everything you read and it’s irrelevant – they’re clearly counting more than I am counting," Dr Parsa told Yahoo Finance UK. "But the reality is I have enough – even before Babylon as a retired investment banker I had enough money to live. The question is really what to do you do with your life."

Babylon's blockbuster stock market debut caps a remarkable career for Dr Parsa who came to Britain as a refugee in 1982 after fleeing the Islamic revolution in Iran. He arrived in Britain aged 16 with little to his name but Dr Parsa now downplays this difficult period in his life.

"Saying I was a refugee is kind of dramatising it a bit," he said. "I was that, but I was lucky enough to be born in a very loving middle-class family and so by the time I left Iran at the age of 16, all the foundations were there."

Dr Parsa, 56, earned a place at UCL in the mid-1980s and went on to gain a doctorate in engineering physics. He then pursued a career in the City – working for Credit Suisse, Merrill Lynch, and Goldman Sachs – before founding a chain of hospitals, Circle Healthcare.

He left the business in 2012 and set up Babylon a year later. The company works with the NHS in the UK to offer virtual GP consultations and uses artificial intelligence to help with healthcare. It expanded to the US last year where it has grown rapidly.

The Babylon Health app. Photo: Babylon
The Babylon Health app. Photo: Babylon

"The question is: can you do with healthcare what Google did with information?" Dr Parsa said. "Can you make it accessible, affordable and put it in the hands of every human being? What we try to do in Babylon is fundamentally to solve for this accessibility, quality and affordability. If I can deliver most of the healthcare most people need on devices they already have – mobile devices – that’s highly accessible."

Babylon has raised hundreds of millions from investors including Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund and German insurance giant Munich Re. US data analytics company Palantir (PLTR) is the latest business to support the health-tech startup, which will back the business through its stock market listing.

Babylon will join New York's Nasdaq market through a merger with Alkuri Global (KURI), a special purpose acquisition company or SPAC. Babylon will raise just over half a billion dollars through the transaction. Dr Parsa said the funds would go towards expansion in the US.

“I think we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface in the US," he said. "We have a huge amount of work to do in the US still. That’s where our focus is going to be in the next few years. We also are seeing a lot of demand from South East Asia and that probably will come after.

“For us, this is always about how do you surely but safely grow the business. The demand is more than what we’ve got. The reality is we have to manage that demand very carefully."

Watch: What are SPACs?