African health start-ups are vying for ideas that will allow people and practitioners to be better informed and exchange information while simplifying the patient’s experience: from making appointments to paying for telemedicine consultations and delivering medicine.
Although 180 start-ups were active in 2020, according to data from Attali & Associates, only 13% of the sector’s innovations were conceived in Africa. African health start-ups raised $141m last year through 52 deals, according to French investor Partech.
The sector attracted investors’ attention in 2020 thanks to the global pandemic, however, it is still suffering from underinvestment. Here are five major health entrepreneurs who are determined to fill the gaps in a system that currently only has one doctor per 1,000 inhabitants.
1. Jean Lobe Lobe – Waspito (Cameroon)
Jean Lobe Lobe is not ashamed of the fact that he is ambitious. In fact, his goal is to create the ‘Facebook for health’. At the moment, Waspito, which he created in April 2020 following his father’s death in 2016, is an application that brings together several services – from telemedicine to drug delivery – and discussion groups where practitioners provide advice to users.
The aim is to prevent, rather than cure, and to build a massive loyal audience. The healthtech platform was launched in Cameroon, where it has managed to sign up 30,000 users, despite a lack of advertising. The company formed alliances with the big insurance companies and plans to set up operations in Gabon and Nigeria this year.
To do this, the former head of human resources for West Africa at British American Tobacco is preparing a seed round of $4m. Waspito already has some major backers, including French mobile operator Orange, which invested $500,000 in November 2020.
Lobe already has big plans for the start-up, as he is planning to change his business model from charging commissions on medical consultations and drug purchases to monetising his users’ data for advertisers in the pharmaceutical sector.
2. Zineb Drissi Kaitouni – Dabadoc (Morocco)
The Moroccan company founded by 30-year-old Zineb Drissi Kaitouni welcomed Axa (which already held 25% of its capital) and Orange as majority shareholders at the end of May.
Kaitouni, a former Goldman Sachs analyst who trained at HEC Montréal, is at the helm of the now ex-start-up, which offers online appointment scheduling services in French and Arabic.
The company – that she runs alone – has won awards several times, notably in 2014 by the incubator and investor Seedstars, which named it Morocco’s best start-up. Dabadoc – which was founded in 2013 and is available in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria – is expected to quickly enter the Nigerian and South African markets, thanks to its two new majority shareholders.
3. Sedric Degbo – Rema Medical Technologies (Benin)
A general practitioner who graduated from the Université d’Abomey-Calavi in 2017, Benin’s Sedric Degbo won the Seedstars pitch competition in Cameroon in 2018. His hope is that medical errors, which, according to him, “result in more deaths than from malaria and AIDS combined” every year in Africa, will become less common.
To that end, he came up with the idea of creating a socialmedia platform in 2017 that would be dedicated to practitioners so that they could exchange their knowledge and feedback with each other. This platform is called Réseau d’Échange Entre Médecins d’Afrique (Rema) and is currently being used by more than 7,000 doctors across West Africa.
The Cotonou-based start-up recently formed a partnership with the Société Béninoise de Neurologie, which is now making 20 years of research available to Rema members. Its business model consists of monetising its professional audience via public and private advertisers from within the health sector.
4. Gregory Rockson – mPharma (Ghana)
mPharma was incubated at Microsoft in Tel Aviv and co-founded by Gregory Rockson. It has been based in Accra since its creation in 2013 and is one of many companies that closed a round of funding at the height of the global health crisis.
The UK’s CDC led the Series C funding round, which raised $17m, thus bringing the total raised by mPharma since its inception to $53.2m.
Rockson – who moved from Ghana in 2009 to study political science at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri – created a platform that streamlines communication between insurance companies and pharmacies to better manage and distribute medicine to two million patients in six countries.
It has 850 pharmacies and 155 hospitals in its network. The World Economic Forum has named the firm as one of the 100 most pioneering technology start-ups in the world.
5. Alain Nteff – GiftedMom and Healthlane (Cameroon)
In early 2021, the multi-talented entrepreneur Alain Nteff had the honour of being featured in GatesNotes, Bill Gates’ personal blog.
At just 29 years old, Nteff runs two e-health start-ups. The first, GiftedMom, aims to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates in developing countries through a service that monitors pregnant women via SMS and voice messages in English and French.
The mobile app also provides information on diets to follow during pregnancy and offers the possibility of consulting with specialists.
Healthlane, meanwhile, is based in Lagos and raised $2.6m (including $2.4m in convertible bonds) in May 2020. The app is in direct competition with Waspito and has 60,000 users between Cameroon and Nigeria.
It benefits from the support of the prestigious incubator Y Combinator, which opened the doors to Silicon Valley, and two big funds: Sequoia Capital – which invested in Nigeria’s Opay – and SVB Capital, which is based in Palo Alto, California.
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